Today, I’d like to take a look at what makes karate and taekwondo for kids different from other sports.
I played outdoor and indoor soccer for 5 years. The last 3 of those years, I also did martial arts. Ultimately, I quit soccer in favor of martial arts. I’ve now been doing martial arts for 13 years and have no intention of quitting. Looking back, there were a lot of reasons I quit soccer.
Aside from being fed up with team drama, my biggest reason for following the martial path was that in martial arts, my achievement was a direct result of how much effort and practice I put in. I was the only one who was responsible for the outcome. Effort and practice were choices that I had to make, and my most important opponent was myself.
Certainly, martial arts, as a fitness activity, utilize a very wide range of physical skills: a variety of muscle groups, balance, coordination, flexibility, speed, strength/power, precision, endurance and burst energy training. And you can’t put a price on self-defense skills and the confidence that comes with knowing you can protect yourself and others.
What really makes martial arts unique is our attention to character-building. Focus, respect, courtesy, being humble, indomitable spirit, self-motivation, the ability to handle criticism, confidence, self-esteem, the ability to self-critique/self-correct, perseverance, helping others, pushing oneself past pain and mistakes, expecting perfection out of oneself, integrity, honesty, honor, conflict resolution, sportsmanship, learning to set and achieve goals: they’re all inherent and explicit in martial arts training.
By inherent, I mean that through training, these principles become habits. An example would be that our students are expected to bow to the dojo when they enter and leave. They also bow to the black belts. This creates a habit of respect for both people and property, and reminds them to be aware of who is in the room.
By explicit, I mean that good martial arts instructors will sit students down, individually or as a group, to discuss the tenets of martial arts. They will talk about how they apply to training and real life. At NWSMA, we work with parents to hold students accountable for their conduct outside of class. Good behavior is rewarded and held up as an example, and consequences for bad behavior range from verbal or written apologies to behavior plans to the (very rare) revocation of stripes or belts that must be earned back.
For adults, martial arts offer a structured and family-friendly environment for exercising where they can continue to learn new things and exercise their memory faculties (an all-important aspect of aging). Exercise helps reduce stress and boost energy levels, and learning self-defense can be a self-confidence boost, too.
I don’t want to sound like I’m advocating against team sports. If you enjoy them and get something out of them, that’s great. When they’re done properly, they certainly have value. However, in my experience, discussion of character was usually limited to reminders about “good sportsmanship” and “team spirit.” Both were ignored by parents and coaches who sometimes modeled shockingly bad behavior on the sidelines, but also when they over-focused on winning or the player they thought might get a sports scholarship.
We martial artists see ourselves as different because of our codes of behavior and honor. We believe that each student is the star of their own life. Each student has the unique ability to make it to black belt, in their own way, at their own pace, and on the way, they will learn vital life lessons. Even if they quit, their training will have left a mark on them. This is the true value of martial arts.