KARATE KIDS – The Value of Martial Arts

by Amy Kirkcaldy

There are countless articles about the benefits of Martial Arts on the mind and body. This is not meant to be one of them. (Although, by all means, google the benefits of karate–because there are MANY!)

Instead, this is about the positive changes we have seen, in both our boys and in our family, since enrolling the boys in a Chinese Kempo Karate dojo. We are loyal fans of Bridgewater Martial Arts in Bridgewater, Mass. We like the old-school, karate-only philosophy. However, each family should shop around and find the dojo culture that is right for them.

We’ve seen countless benefits since choosing to compliment our family hikes and outdoor adventures with karate classes for the boys at least twice a week. Here are some of the skills and gifts karate has given our boys and our family:

  1. Physical strength and coordination; grace and balance We signed up our twins just before their fifth birthday. Our sensei is adamant that although some dojos will take kids before that age, they will NOT be learning real karate until around age five. Once they hit this age, however, kids have the gross motor control and maturity to learn the karate forms and tackle the training exercises. It was at karate, not in gym class, that our boys learned to do jumping jacks, forward rolls, push ups, sit ups etc. And much like dance classes, learning karate forms taught them to follow instructions to learn a precise sequence of moves. As a person who never did karate herself growing up, I gained a new-found appreciation for the grace, skill, self-control, and memorization that go into learning–and executing–a kata (karate form).
  2. Self-discipline In addition to providing actual routines and skills that the boys could learn, karate reinforced the idea of self-discipline and self-control–something that our boys were (and are still) lacking. We knew from they time they were quite young they have impulsivity issues, and it has been invaluable to us to have self-discipline taught, reinforced, and enforced at home, school, and karate.
  3. A physical outlet I initially had my doubts about whether or not karate would just encourage my impulsive kids to punch or kick when they are angry–they are already inclined to do so. But I have felt good about them learning to channel their energy, frustration, and emotion in productive ways at the dojo. It provides an outlet and a safe place for them to let their energy out physically.
  4. A challenge Learning katas, doing the training exercises, sparring–these are hard challenges. Karate class is not always fun. Much like running, karate is a sport that is difficult when in the midst of it. It doesn’t always feel good being in horse stance. It hurts when a kick gets by a block when sparring. But it is the kind of activity that makes a person feel great afterwards. The feeling after the hard workout is completed is exhilarating. My boys always tell me they feel better afterwards. To be clear, mine aren’t always in a good mood when they finish–occasionally after a full day of school and a hard karate workout they are tired and cranky–but physically they get a helpful release of pent up energy and stress.
  5. A reinforcement of the rewards of hard work While there is no regular winner or loser in karate class and no game to be played (tournaments are another beast), there are still obvious things to work towards. Working towards the next belt or stripe requires a lot of preparation and hard work and practice, and earning a belt is something to be proud of. There are well-defined combinations and katas that students need to know and use to move up in the ranks. And because it’s an individual sport, when your child has earned the belt, they’ve earned it by themself (with the help and guidance and knowledge of the senseis, of course) without a team to carry the day for them.
  6. Role models Karate has given our boys valuable role models and authority figures to look up to and admire. The senseis at our dojo range from college-aged to middle-aged, and they all have different styles. But they all command respect. My boys have come to appreciate each sensei’s unique personality and way of teaching, and they enjoy working with them all. It’s great to have these authority figures/teachers/role models in the boys’ life. They are part of our family village.
  7. Friends We attend karate in a different town than we live. It has been a great way for our boys to make friends outside of school. Thanks to the dojo, they know people from diverse circumstances, family backgrounds, towns, ages, etc. It’s a much more diverse class than a soccer team would be, as the classes are grouped by a relatively large age range and belt level, not just age/grade like many sports. So, in our boys’ class, kids range from about 7-12 and purple belt and up. I like that the boys watch the older students and have them to look up to and admire.
  8. Practice with stress management Belt tests, where you demonstrate that you know your forms and combinations, are nerve-wracking for my boys. They get butterflies in their stomachs beforehand. The dojo door is closed and off they go to test in front of various senseis and their peers. While stressful, it has taught them to learn to deal with stress. It’s also helped us teach them that it’s good to feel nervous–it means you care. We practice some deep breathing before they go in, and once things get started, they are fine. We love that they are experiencing this feeling of healthy stress and anxiousness at a young age and when the stakes are relatively low. When the time comes, they will be prepared, for example, for the feeling that comes with taking the SAT or their driver’s license test.
  9. A life-long skill, hobby, job Karate is something that the boys can do for their whole lives. We firmly believe our boys should have some sort of physical activity that they can do into adulthood. Karate is cool because they can both practice, compete, and coach/teach it as adults–dojos aren’t too hard to find. We hope someday they might even make a job out of it, earning money and giving back as a sensei in their dojo.
  10. Community Our dojo has not only provided friends for our boys, but it has also given us a supportive parenting community. We get to know each other as we wait for our kids. It’s been fun to watch my boys and their karate friends grow up together. I have learned a lot about parenting and have found a support network in the other dojo parents. I am grateful for our Bridgewater Martial Arts family!

Now that I’ve just told you what we’ve gotten from our dojo, let me be clear about what our karate dojo is not:

  1. A movie Karate is NOT about learning to have moves like the Karate Kid. The kids don’t do the crane. They’ve never done “wax on, wax off” (but they do learn blocking systems!). 😉 Karate Kid and Cobra Kai glamorize karate. Truth be told, karate is more about really hard work and training, not street fights, ridiculously high-stakes tournaments, and mean senseis. Or at least it’s not about these things at the kid level! 😉
  2. Gymnastics, parkour, or ninja warrior moves Yes, there is some tumbling. Yes, there are some cool looking katas. Yes, the kids may feel like ninjas when they learn bo staff. But overall, karate is about learning controlled kata and combinations, not about doing flips and showing off.
  3. A party Some dojos host birthday parties and other events. Ours is strictly a dojo. Personally, I’m a big fan of the no-gimmicks space. The clear delineation of the dojo as a sacred space (you bow when you enter and exit) teaches the students to honor the place and space–it’s definitely not just another trampoline park, and the students learn to treat it with the reverence and respect it deserves.
  4. A place to goof off A dojo and karate class are NOT places to goof off or relax while hanging out with friends. Students work hard, and they will pay the consequences (extra push ups, belt taken away, etc.) for lack of respect.

We cannot say enough good things about our family’s experience with karate. This is not a sponsored post–we just truly believe in the value of martial arts and in Bridgewater Martial Arts as a good place to practice Chinese Kempo Karate.

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