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Martial Arts Can Save Lives

Using Martial Arts To Build Your Child's Self-Esteem And Confidence

Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Stephen Segal all do it. The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" did it, too. And don't forget that you can see it every weekday on the "Power Ranger" episodes as well. Demonstrations of martial arts in movies and on television add an element of excitement and action. This action is often imitated by young children on playgrounds, schoolyards or at home with siblings. If a child shows an interest in "the moves," should a parent consider enrolling them in a martial arts program? What benefits would martial arts training provide? Is it worth it?

The Art of Nonviolence

"Martial arts, especially those styles that originated in Japan and Okinawa, are based on the premise of respect and 'do no harm,'" says Joyce Roberson, a martial arts expert and author of the "Karate for Kids" column. "Contrary to the visual perception of karate being a violent sport, the premiere dictate of this sport is nonviolence above all else."

Martial arts in the movies may not offer a true indication of what the "sport" teaches children and adults as well. Allowing your child to receive martial arts training is not opening up a door to violence, it is opening a door to building a solid foundation of self-esteem and confidence. "Students learn that respect for others, as a priority, naturally leads to a respect for self," says Roberson. "This wonderful philosophy is often at odds to what our young people learn here in the United States. We have become obsessed with the 'me first' mentality which often leads to emotionally unhealthy young people."

Various Forms to Choose From

There are various forms, types and styles of martial arts instruction available. In choosing a program for children, a parent may need to research the varying styles and decide which is best suited for their child's interests, level of development and motivation. "My expertise is in Shotokan karate," says Roberson. "I currently help train the 4- to 6-year-old beginning students and have discovered that this particular style of karate is very well suited to the very young. Developmentally these kids have not learned the fine-motor skills that come with age. Shotokan, with its wide sweeping blocks and kicks, provides nicely for these age-appropriate deficits. The very young can quickly and easily master the basic moves of this sport, which in turn increases their motivation to continue."

"Our son is 8 years old. He started karate at age 7 and now has his green belt," says Anne Trudelle, an occupational nurse from Port Perry, Ontario, Canada. "The reason we put our son in karate was threefold: to increase his self-confidence and thereby his focus on scholastic skills, increase his social awareness in that if ever confronted, he was in receipt of the knowledge of how to protect himself and others from danger. He also showed interest in traditional karate. Notice there is no mention of competitions; there are none in Shotokan. This appealed to me."

Choosing the Right Practice for Your Child

Parents can visit various martial arts facilities where they can view the techniques, class sizes and levels of participation to aid in determining which style and program best suits their child. Instructors are often open to answering any questions and addressing concerns that may be brought by parents. "Parents need to locate a studio in their area and go, sit and just watch," says Roberson. "I would recommend going at least twice and watching. There are a few important tips that I encourage all parents to watch for. Check to ensure that a black belt instructor, or at least a very high ranking brown belt, is teaching the very young. Ensure that the instructor is not promoting fighting for ages 4 to 6. This is not an appropriate skill for this age group to be learning. The concept of "sparring" or fighting is reserved only for older students who understand the philosophy of sparring. Parents need to trust their intuition. For very young students, the instructor should be incorporating lots of games and activities into their workouts. If it feels that the instructor is not having fun and enjoying his young students, then this is not an appropriate environment for kids and parents need to keep looking."

Benefits of Practicing Martial Arts

In addition to building confidence and self-esteem, classes in martial arts offers other benefits as well. According to Roberson, children with learning difficulty, such as ADHD, hyperactivity or behavior problems, can benefit from the structure learning program that martial arts training offers. Parents of ADHD children tend to agree. "Our son, David, participated in tae kwon do from ages 9 to 11," says Karen Jenista, a housewife from Colorado Springs, Colo. "His psychologist recommended a form of martial arts to instill self-discipline and self-esteem in David, issues that were present due to his ADHD. David progressed to the green-belt level. Participating in tae kwon do did give David confidence -- in himself and his abilities. I think it really helped him to have visible proof of his ability -- the different colored belts and the awards of his achievements."

There is a shared concern from some parents about the dangers and negative effects of martial arts training for young children. The fear of injury, using the techniques during play or the possibility of their child causing injury to others has prevented some parents from enrolling their child in a martial arts program. "My son has shown an interest for some time but I haven't given in," says Karyn Lickey, a nurse's assistant from Richmond, Va. "I have a fear of him beginning to believe he is invincible and kicking or hitting another child. He pretends with karate moves now, what will happen if he taught how to do the real moves?" According to Roberson, if a child is given proper instruction followed by reinforcement by parents, the risk of being injured or causing injury to another person does not outweigh the benefits. A parent can learn what their child learns by watching the classes or perhaps, taking a class themselves.

"If any parent is looking for very cheap entertainment for themselves, then karate is it!" says Roberson. "To see 15 to 20 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds lined up in their white uniforms, going through movements in unison and putting their heart into these efforts, can make a remarkable memory for any parent."

Sports participation, regardless of the sport, is one way children can learn valuable lessons with life-long benefits. Karate, as a sport, teaches self-discipline, builds self-esteem and a level of commitment, which may otherwise not be there. Maybe those turtles are on to something. "Karate, more than any other sport, is a life-long process," says Roberson. "When kids click with this sport, it will follow them into adulthood. It can become a way of life, as these kids continually challenge themselves."

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