Whether it’s judo, taekwondo, or karate, martial arts training builds stamina, strength, confidence, and more!
When Cobourg mom Liz started searching for a sport for her shy six-year-old son Clayton that didn’t involve large groups of people or players, she never anticipated that signing him up for taekwondo training would have such an impact. Nor did she dream that in just eight years, her formerly introverted son would become a third-degree black belt, with the confidence to teach skills to others and give a speech in front of his whole school. Or, that his younger sister would follow in her brother’s footsteps and would now, at 12 years old, hold a first-degree black belt.
“Martial arts teaches kids: yes, you can,” says mom, Liz. With its focus on acceptance, respect and self-development through the achievement of different levels, or belts, the training has allowed Clayton to break out of his shell and it has “done wonders for his shyness and ability to communicate” in public. At almost 15, Clayton is now training as a referee in the sport and, at times, is actually in charge of adult learners.
Teresa, a mother of three sons, has also seen the benefits of martial arts training, noting, “Once [my older sons] started learning some of the forms (sets of movements), I realized there are many benefits to taekwondo for children. Not only is it a form of exercise, but it has precise patterns to learn and follow that require concentration of the mind. When my third son turned three, he and I soon joined in on the sport, to get the benefits of the ‘mind and body’ exercise.”
And, it’s not just taekwondo that gets rave reviews. The success stories seem remarkable, regardless of the type of martial art training involved – judo, karate, jiu jitsu, and more. (See sidebar for information on some commons types of martial arts.)
Peterborough dad Martin was looking for a physical activity for his eight and 10 year old sons, and discovered a recently launched karate program at the Peterborough YMCA. Sons Toby and Timothy have been taking the karate classes twice a week since January and Martin feels there has been a big improvement in the boys’ stamina and strength. “It’s kind of a loop,” he says. “They see improvement and strive for more.”
There are a number of research studies regarding the benefits of martial arts training. Although most studies focus on kids with specific health or behavioural issues, the positive benefits apply to the average child as well.
A 2004 study by Dr. Matthew Morand looked at the effects of martial arts training on the academic and behaviour performance of boys with ADHD. It found that homework completion, academic performance and classroom participation all improved after the training. Moreover, there was substantial decrease in the number of classroom rules broken, the number of times the boys inappropriately left their seats, and the number of “call outs” during classes.
Another study in 2008 reported on the effects of karate on children with epilepsy, noting an improved health-related quality of life for these kids in all areas.
Off the couch
It’s no secret that a lack of fitness among our children is a national problem. Sensei Bob Burnett of Greater Durham Jiu-Jitsu says martial arts training provides kids with great exercise, getting them off the couch and doing something active. Flexibility, speed and endurance are just some of the skills a child needs to develop as he or she progresses through levels, Burnett notes.
Children as young as three can work on balance skills, hand-eye coordination, and small and large motor skills through warm ups and game playing that lead them into the patterns and movements that the older children practise, says Master Glenn Marian of Elite Martial Arts in Colborne.
Liz says that in order for her children to get each belt, they had to have their physical ability tested. For instance, they had to show how many push-ups they could do and their flexibility was measured to determine improvement. She was particularly pleased as her daughter grew to realize she could be just as athletic and competitive as the boys.
Teresa and her sons were introduced to martial arts after attending a birthday party, when her six- and four-year-old sons wanted to use a trial week of lessons from their loot bag. “Here we are still attending five years later!” she says.
“I have to admit, I had my hesitations at first, since it seemed to contradict what we were teaching at home with no hitting or kicking each other!” Teresa remembers. “Well, it so happens, ‘Master Glenn’ (Marian) set that as the very first rule: hitting and kicking are allowed only in the ‘Dojang’ (school) while training.” Master Glenn believes that martial arts training teaches children the discipline of when and where aggression is okay, provides an outlet, and “gets the aggression out within the rules.”
“When I asked my eldest what he likes about taekwondo, he says that if a bully were to confront him, he feels more confident to stand up to him,” says Teresa.
Liz notes that while violence can be found in almost any sport or activity, she has found that martial arts training does not bring it out in her children. It does teach young people how to defend themselves but more, she says, it teaches them to respect themselves, their martial arts masters and other people. Liz says the kids develop a strong relationship with their master and do not want to disappoint him/her with inappropriate behaviour. They are taught that “you do taekwondo at taekwondo, not at home,” she says.
Sensei Bob notes that while martial arts training certainly plays a role in self-defence and can help children feel able to deal with bullying, it doesn’t teach aggressiveness, but rather stresses balance. The children learn to take what they get and turn it against any opponent in a non-violent way. The goal is to learn self-discipline, control and respect so they know they have nothing to prove.
Martin agrees that violence is not at all a concern. He says there has been a very slow introduction to karate with a focus on endurance and stamina. After six months, his sons still have not been taught any moves that strike each other. Peterborough Y’s karate teacher Mike Chinadi agrees karate is not about violence, “It promotes self-confidence and self control, as well as the importance of family and community. We teach how not to be a bully.”
Choosing the right school
Master Glenn and Sensei Bob, along with moms Liz and Teresa offer this advice about choosing the best program:
- Check out and visit the programs and facilities in your area. Ask how long a particular facility has been in business.
- Talk with the instructors and discover their teaching philosophies. Ask about their credentials and experience.
- Watch a class in action and talk with the parents whose children are students. Ask for their opinions of the program, the instructors and the school in general.
- Some martial arts schools focus on competition, others are more recreational. Ask questions to find out what you and your child are more comfortable with.
- Make sure the school has liability insurance coverage. Note that most credible school are members of a provincial, national or international martial arts association; membership often provides insurance coverage for the local MA schools.
- Ask about the first aid; is there always a person trained in first aid and CPR present?
- Ask about fees, equipment and uniform costs, any travel fees, etc. Many facilities offer a monthly rate, with all but unlimited access to classes during that time. Others may offer specific hours and sessions. Some schools even offer classes for parents and kids together.
Parents, teachers and research attest that signing children and teens up for martial arts training provides positive, lifelong physical, emotional and social benefits. As for the kids, along with the sense of self-esteem and achievement many receive from participating, most just say – it’s fun!
Martial Arts Primer
Here are some brief descriptions of the more common forms of martial arts.
Aikido Canada (www.aikidocanada.org) notes that the philosophy and principles of modern Aikido are based upon more than 800 years of Japanese samurai life. While it is a complex and highly disciplined art, the techniques of Aikido emphasize smooth, graceful movements that can be learned by anyone.
Chinese Martial Arts (Kung Fu, Wushu)
Kung-Fu Canada (www.kungfucanada.ca) says “Wushu” is a more correct designation of Chinese martial art, but the term “Kung Fu” has become popular and describes a broad spectrum of martial arts practices that combine fighting techniques, physical fitness, performance routines and weapons training.
According to the Canadian Jiu Jitsu Council (www.jiujitsucouncil.ca), the roots of Jiu Jitsu go back over 2000 years and are deeply embedded in Japanese history and tradition. Jiu Jitsu is defined as the “martial art of flexibility”. This means the flexible or efficient use of balance, leverage and body movement in the performance of Jiu Jitsu techniques. It also means flexibility in any or all situations.
The Japanese word “judo” literally means the “gentle way.” Balance, timing, strategy and tactics, are essential characteristics of this sport and art. The various movements and techniques can be learned with games and are perfected through practice with a partner. Judo Canada (www.judocanada.org) says judo has a wide range of appeal as a sport, an art, a discipline, a recreational pastime, a social activity, a fitness program, a means of self-defence, and a way of life.
The word karate means “empty hand.”In traditional karate-do, the true opponent is oneself. Karate can also be described as a martial art, or fighting method, involving a variety of techniques, including blocks, strikes, evasions, throws, and joint manipulations. One of the unique features of karate training is a series of intensive practices during which participants try to face themselves and polish mentality or spirit.
Taekwondo is a systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial art, which teaches more than physical fighting skills. It is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing spirit and life through training body and mind. It is one of the official games in the Olympics.Taekwondo means “the right way of using all parts of the body to stop fights and help to build a better and more peaceful world.”