Now, before you go thinking this is another article on how karate can help you defend against bad guys or even up the odds against a bully, think again!
Although it is true that martial arts were developed by smaller, weaker people who often fell victim to bands of marauders and robbers, karate can be an equalizer in a very different, yet important way. Here’s what I mean.
How many of you parents play sports with your sons or daughters? Most parents will spend time with his children throwing the football, playing catch, or even participating together in other sports, like tennis, golf or fishing. In each case, they teach the child the rules of the game as well as showing him or her “the ropes.” And in each case the parent has a distinct advantage – i.e. years of experience, wisdom, size, strength, etc. You can see that even though the children love the attention and enjoy the learning, it would be easy for them to be overwhelmed and discouraged even feeling somewhat inadequate – due to the tremendous discrepancy in ability. While it may not matter to some kids, if the parent is not sensitive to these sorts of feelings, the child may withdraw or become less willing to participate – either with the parent or in the particular sport altogether.
So, here’s what’s different about karate. First, karate is for the most part an individual sport. Being able to correctly execute a block, kick or form depends somewhat on innate, athletic ability, but more on willingness to put in the time and effort to practice. Here, kids may even have an advantage, in that they have much more time to practice than most adults. In addition, they may even have more enthusiasm, plus the extra energy it takes to put in those hours of working out that are sometimes too draining for a parent who has put in a full day at the office. In the area of our dojo, Vision Martial Arts Center, upwardly mobile parents with families are striving to achieve more and get ahead of the game. This means a lot of them frequently put in 10, 12 and sometimes 16-hour days. That hardly leaves time for practicing karate, and sometimes causes them to miss classes as well. Kids typically have a lot more time (and energy) and can then use their time to practice and “out do” parent.
Second, the great majority of parents do not have prior experience in martial arts. This puts the situation on a much more even keel – i.e. parent and child learn together from ground zero – neither having prior experience. Again, in some cases the child even has an advantage in that he or she may be more gifted athletically. Also, kids don’t have so many preconceived notions about how things should be, so they sometimes pick up things quite rapidly, even faster than adults.
Third, martial arts were designed for smaller and weaker people. I remember one instance, where a parent got started in karate, immediately after his 10-year-old blue belt had practiced a one-step on him and executed a perfect take-down! You should have seen the look of pure joy on that kid’s face when he walked in the door with his parent ready to enroll! Most adults have a fear of looking stupid (in fact, it’s the number one fear of adults who consider martial arts). This causes a tendency in the adult to hold back and again gives the freer, more spontaneous child an advantage. Children are also generally more flexible, which allows for higher kicks and more graceful forms.
And what about moms? I’m always amazed at the number of women who want to enroll in classes with their kids. I attribute some of that in our school to the fact that as a female school owner with several female instructors, moms are more willing to become involved. They may feel somewhat more comfortable and less intimidated by a women instructor. However, our school can’t be all that atypical. So with moms doing karate with their kids (both sons and daughters) it really creates a family atmosphere that is conducive to kids feeling more an equal part of the family.
All these factors combine to give martial arts a distinct advantage over other sports as a family activity. About 50-60% of my students are related and I have all combinations: brother-sister, parent-son, parent-daughter, mother-daughter, brother-brother, and even mother, parent, son, daughter and aunt! I even have one set of twins and a set of triplets! These families experience the joy of a common interest (which is sometimes rare for parents and children these days) as well as an increased sense of accomplishment for the child who can perform as well or better than mom or parent or even out rank them! There is a great thrill for a child who attains an instructor rank to be called “Mr.” or “Ms.” By his or her parent! And we all know that working out together really creates a special and unique bond that is hard to match anywhere else. Yet even though size and strength do matter in some aspects of karate (like sparring), that is more than outweighed by all the aforementioned benefits.
Additionally, training in martial arts together gives parents a perfect avenue for teaching their children life’s lessons. Karate offers constant opportunities to teach kids the positive life skills they will need for success in life. Parents or moms can use examples from class or practice to emphasize proper conduct outside the dojo. At the end of every class, I sit down with the students and we discuss a word of the week. Sometimes it’s focus, humility, self confidence, self control, honesty, perseverance, courtesy, etc.
We usually discuss the definition of the word and then the students volunteer examples from their own experience. Sometimes there are homework assignments like saying “yes ma’am” or “yes sir” to all teachers, parents and adults for that week. This reinforces what the parent has told the child about the importance of being respectful and also gives them added ammunition (i.e., “Remember what your karate instructor said about respect?”) if the child forgets or is not as respectful as is desired. The students always hear that being respectful courteous, focused, etc. will bring them one step closer to being a Black Belt. The parents always enthusiastically raise their hands when asked, “How many of you would like to see your child have more _________.” The word of the week is filled in and the parents get this great look of relief on their face like, “Ahhh – I’m not alone out here! There’s someone to back me up!” Even the parents who stay and watch without actually doing karate can use these lessons to help their child grow and become successful. Focus, honesty, discipline, respect, courtesy, humility and indomitable spirit are all qualities that are emphasized during training in martial arts. And all of these will help both children and their parents grow in martial arts and as human beings.