Notice, this article is not titled “Benefits to Children of Learning Martial Arts.” Unless you raise your child in a media-free cave, he or she is being exposed to the martial arts. Most television shows and movies seem to take place in a world where everyone knows martial arts. The fighting is constant, beginning in the earliest cartoons and progressing through the best adult television shows. There is also the playground, where lots of kids love to show off imitative behavior learned from the latest “Flying Ninja” show. However, what has always distinguished the martial artist from the street brawler is philosophy and tradition.
Whether you like it or not, your child is receiving some kind of martial arts education. The media and the playground teach many lessons about the kicking, punching, and grappling arts, most of them wrong. More importantly, the lessons are not tempered by the philosophy and tradition that make these arts a way of life. So the question isn’t just should your child study martial arts, the question is: what are the benefits of enrolling your child in a traditional martial arts school?
Though most people would list physical fitness as an obvious benefit of studying martial arts, few people really understand all the physical benefits. Two things separate martial arts training from the many sports and work-out regimens your child might try.
First, martial arts have developed over thousands of years, and in that time the teaching techniques have perfected the break-down and perfection of each movement.
Second, martial arts is a discipline that will continue to provide physical benefits throughout a persons lifetime. Martial artists are known, not only for long life-times, but for being physically fit well into their last years. Martial artists as old as 100 years have performed in tournaments.
Coordination – the techniques taught in most martial arts systems build from simple movements to complex combinations. The teaching techniques are accessible to children no matter how much or little natural grace they may have. The process of putting together the techniques inevitably provides improved coordination, balance, and grace.
Flexibility – Martial artists emphasize flexibility more than most sports. It is much easier to develop flexibility when young than to try and achieve as an adult.
Strength – Martial artists employ both traditional and modern exercises to develop and maintain the strength needed to support the advanced techniques.
Endurance – As children pursue their development as martial artists, they will find that they can work harder, longer, and with greater ease and enjoyment.
Though the martial arts seem at first glance to be a set of physical skills, in reality the real goal is to condition the mind. It is the mind that has to learn to act quickly, often reading subtle signs and responding with a complex set of moves. The mental benefits of martial arts are possibly more significant than the physical. Some of these are:
Focus – The martial artist must learn to bring all of his or her attention to the activity at hand. Many children do not get this lesson in their daily activity and become easily distracted.
Learning – Learning is a skill. Children who work their way through a martial arts curriculum are learning to learn. The level of challenge, the individuality of instruction, and the visible results all work to make learning martial arts uniquely valuable in the art of learning itself.
Some people have the misperception that martial arts training will lead to their children acting more aggressive, more out of control, when in fact the reverse is true. Children who participate in a traditional martial arts program often show improved behavior in several ways:
Respect – Lessons in the martial arts studio are conducted in an atmosphere of respect. Students bow in and out, show respect for the flags, the studio, their teacher, and senior students. In return, they are shown respect by other students at all levels, the teacher, and share in the respect that others show in their studio.
Achievement – As students move up through each belt level, they are shown new techniques. Before moving to the next level, achieve proficiency. This cycle of establishing and achieving goals creates an appreciation for achievement in the students.
Camaraderie – Many children are naturally gregarious, others tend to be loners. All types of children learn to enjoy the community spirit of the martial arts studio, however. Camaraderie is the spirit people share who have gone through difficult things together. The martial arts studio is an excellent place to foster this spirit in a wholesome environment.
Calmness – The most important key to success in sparring and other martial arts activities is calmness. The martial artist who can remain calm in mind and body is best able to react properly and perform effective techniques. This calmness will carry through in all areas of the child’s life.
Similar to behavior and mental benefits, attitude is such an important benefit that it deserves a separate category. A trained martial artist, at any age, has a certain attitude. This attitude is composed of several features, and is one you may wish to instill in your child:
Discipline – While natural talent might carry some a long ways in many sports, the martial arts requires discipline. The traditional forms, also called Katas or Poomse, require performance of an intricate set of movements, with crispness and rigor. Many of the specific skills in martial arts can only be achieved by doing difficult exercises over and over. In addition, the atmosphere of the martial arts studio is filled with the discipline of other students and instructors who push themselves to achieve greater mastery.
Mental Awareness – The mental abilities already discussed, along with training in self-defense and sparring, produce an attitude of mental awareness. The experienced martial artist is aware of his or her surroundings at all times. This attitude helps the student respond better to many aspects of life. Tradition – In the modern world, children are exposed to fewer sources of tradition than they once were. We have come through social periods when change and upheaval, for better or worse, have torn apart the bonds of tradition that tie each generation to the past and future. In traditional martial arts, a respect for learning that goes back 5,000 years is instilled in the students. When performing traditional forms, the student connects to the long past that went into the development of the form.
The following benefits might easily be grouped in other categories, but they really cross all the categories above. The list below is not exhaustive, however. Ask ten martial artists to list three things they gain from their studies, and you would probably get forty answers.
Self Defense – The most overrated and underrated benefit to martial arts is self defense. It is overrated in that many people believe that martial arts are only about self defense. There are so many other reasons for being in the martial arts that an experienced martial artist might forget to mention this one. It is underrated too. A trained martial artist rarely, if ever has to use his or her skills in the street. Thus, it is easy to forget that self-defense is an important element in martial arts. In fact, martial artists have a confidence, attitude, and awareness that make actual confrontations rare.
Individual Development – Martial arts is a lifetime study for many people. The path or the way of martial arts may lead the student into other disciplines, or through increasing levels in one’s primary discipline. Unlike many sports or studies, there is no end to the path through martial arts. The student can go as far as he or she is willing to go.
Fun – One of the most important benefits of martial arts training is that it is fun. It may be difficult, trying, and frustrating, but there is always the excitement that comes from accomplishment. This is true fun, which is a far different thing than just being entertained.
Written by Yong Studios Black Belt, Daniel Jeffers