Children in Martial Arts

The other day, my wife and I were reminiscing about the children we have taught karate to. Our classes ranged in sizes of over 50 and down to six. We taught classes with ages from four years on up.

I even remember Louise teaching children and carrying their younger siblings, still in diapers, on her hip. At all times, parents would be sitting along the sidelines, quietly watching. We figured that during a 20-year period, between the two of us, we probably taught over 1,000 Yukon children.

In all those years of teaching children karate, I have noticed two significant benefits: physical improvement and self-esteem.

Children we received, over the years, who suffered from low self-esteem or discipline, very quickly adapted to the structure of a karate class and seemed to thrive in that structure. As they moved though the ranking system, their self-esteem improved and the discipline they showed increased to such a level we were often able to leave them in groups to help each other practise. In almost all cases, this would have been impossible when they first came.

There have been studies done on the impact and benefits that traditional martial arts have on children and, in reading them, they support our own unscientific observations. A 1985 article in Psychology Today listed self-esteem, discipline and ability to concentrate as the main benefits seen in children who practise these arts.

Another study, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and conducted in Ontario, showed similar results.

Many parents bring their children to martial arts for reasons other than what I have seen in teaching other sports. When asked what they are expecting from these classes, the answers often are consistent: they are looking for a structure in which their children will learn discipline, self-esteem, all-round physical fitness and some degree of self-defence – a very tall order for any activity, but the traditional martial arts is well-suited to meet these expectations.

The teaching in a traditional martial art is different than your regular sports or more- modern martial arts and it is nowhere more noticeable than with children. In the traditional arts, children will be exposed to layers of instruction that often do not seem part of the physical activity.

Some examples of this include a language other than the one that the children are familiar with. Advancement is based on individual effort and development of skills and not on winning or defeating anyone.

Respectful conduct toward each other and the instructor is often exhibited through bowing and partner training. There is almost no separation between the ages in what is taught. Children have a very early and simple exposure to meditation and a different philosophy, often derived from the culture in which the art originated from, are often shown and discussed with the children.

The expectation is to do as well as you can as an individual while training in a group setting. All of this is being taught while teaching a physical activity.

The journey is full of new challenges, yet many children are drawn to it.

At the end of the day, my fondest memory is seeing 20 to 30 children, of varying ages, in one line, kneeling down and silently breathing without moving … such peace.

Todd Hardy has studied and taught a variety of martial arts for over 38 years and has trained with many people from around the world. Would you like to comment on what you read here? Contact him at [email protected]

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