As parents, we want our children to become the best versions of themselves. We want them to be able to navigate a tumultuous world with ease and grace. We need them to have the mental capability to assess situations and come up with effective solutions.
It’s also simply imperative for them to have the emotional control to interact well with others and harness an inner calm; and, additionally, we are desperate for our children to discover how to best control, nurture, and challenge their bodies.
Emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally, we want and need our children to thrive and find control in a sometimes-unstable world.
And this is a tall order. How, as parents, are we to do all this before they reach the age of 18 and move on to create their own lives? Will these needed skills be taught at school, in team sports, at the dinner table?
What many of us forget, however, is that martial arts can be used to foster these values and abilities. As an ancient discipline focused on uniting one in mind, body, and spirit, what better way to help our children grow into the most mature versions of themselves? What better way to help them achieve harmony and move about their future with foresight and assuredness?
Sadly, our sense of community has dwindled in the recent years. Neighborhood moms are a thing of the past, people don’t know their neighbors, most grandparents live far away, and many people live isolated lives. This is unfortunate, especially for children who need a community to excel within.
With such training, however, children can be given a sense of community. They can come together with peers, learn from authorities, and belong to a long tradition of discipline and strength. They can engage with both the local and global community involved in the same study as them, and this common goal is important for developing children.
Such constant interaction with the same people involved in instilling and being instilled with the same values only helps teach emotional intelligence. It only helps children find where they belong within the group and figure out how to connect with those around them, and being a part of such a long-tradition only enhances this sense of community by connecting children to the past.
From this sense of community, being involved in such training will inevitably foster a sense of respect. Ask any school teacher what is missing in most young people today, and they will say respect for authority, peer, and self. While this might be an art form lost in the cultural transformation over the years, children do best when they master the value and art of respect.
Right from the start of training, students learn to respect their masters. They also learn to respect their opponents and their own capabilities. Without it, the hierarchy would crumble. To succeed, they must respect those helping them, those challenging them, and those rules guiding them. They must learn to act within limitations. Unlike most children today, those involved in this training learn to become less self-focused and more forward-facing as they find ways to show and feel respect.
Students essentially must learn to respect their instructors and their instructors’ time, and from this outward respect of others, students naturally learn to respect themselves through the development and embrace of self-discipline.
Martial arts are, contrary to some popular opinion, not about the use of raw force but the use of controlled movement. It is about holding back when necessary and applying the least amount of force needed. It is about respecting physics enough to control yourself and look ahead to the outcome. It’s about motivating yourself enough to do something that is hard, even when you’re tired and frustrated.
Students study these arts and develop growth mindsets. They learn that they control their destinies. It is up to them to move on to the next belt, to achieve the next challenge, and to get along with their teammate they might dislike.
While they are a part of their community and their teammates, their mastery depends on themselves. What better way to teach children to compare themselves not to others around them but to who they were the day before? To move up in ranking, they must take responsibility, they must persevere and work harder than they thought possible. They must learn to value effort, to look at the world in a “I can” versus “I can’t” lens. They, without doubt, will discover how they have the control over their outcomes, and those individual achievements will only perpetuate a positive feedback loop, prompting them to continue achieving within and throughout their lives.
In a country fighting an obesity epidemic, children often suffer from being overweight. They lose confidence and self-esteem. Yet, here is a way for children to learn to master their bodies, to find they can gradually get better and learn to work towards health and strength.
Imagine that mental strength that comes from challenging your body. Imagine how bullied children feel when they finally master self-defense. They are no longer at the mercy of their bullies. They no longer have to play the victim.
For many students, this is the first time they are given the tools to control their environments. In their future, they no longer have to be so afraid of others. They no longer have to live in fear of someone overpowering them.
Emotional and Mental Empowerment
Of course, children can’t always control their environments. We can’t always control ours, but we can control our reactions. From learning respect, one places in a community, and the art of control, martial arts is the best way to teach our children how to manage themselves.
Because they will not always win or be the best, they must face defeat and frustration with humility. They must learn to balance their emotions on the mat so that they find peace within their environment.
Students must adhere to the structure laid before them when studying with their masters, and this structure is what so many children need to really thrive. With so many children being diagnosed with ADHD and related issues, our society is in dire need of anything that uses routine and limitations to help young people focus. Such promotion of self-control and concentration will only help our children, from those with attention deficits to those without, develop the confidence we wish every child had.