When most parents think about enrolling their child in martial-arts classes, they think about the fun their child will have, and perhaps the benefits of their child learning self-defense. So it may surprise you to know that at most martial arts studios, self-defense and fighting are not the main focus. Instead, they are seen as tools used to master self-discipline and build confidence. Children who participate in martial-arts long-term often improve their grades and behavior at school, become better planners and learn to set goals and create a roadmap for meeting those goals in a timely manner. They become more confident, not just in their ability to defend themselves from bullies, but in their ability to achieve any goal they set for themselves.
So, how does martial-arts develop discipline?
-Rather than competing solely against other kids or teams, kids are encouraged to compete against their own past performance. This allows them to progress without feeling pressure to win from their peers (or parents!) and to set their own goals and timelines, rather than having outside team goals imposed on them. The freedom and responsibility that comes with having those unique and individual goals, requires students to develop self-discipline in order to achieve them.
-Discipline during class is strictly enforced, and when students act up they are typically given pushups or a certain number of laps around the room. In addition, traditional courtesies are usually observed in the classroom, as well as at tournaments. Students are expected to perform traditional bows and show respect for their teacher, as well as other students. In order to meet these high expectations, students must learn to pay attention to what’s going on around them, to observe rules carefully, and to accept consequences and learn from their mistakes, so that they are not repeated.
-Though it is not the main tool, the physical aspect of the training also teaches discipline. Students are taught to exercise the utmost control while performing techniques, to the extent that an experienced martial artist can throw a punch or kick at full speed and force, and yet stop the movement within an inch of their target. Forms, often known as katas, are a series of high-precision movements, which often require weeks or even months of rigorous daily practice to master. Students who develop the self-discipline to advance in their chosen art will have to learn how to schedule their own practice most days of the week, and how to critique themselves when they perform a move incorrectly.
-Kids with ADD or ADHD may benefit even more than other kids, as martial arts training uses energy and can help ADD/ADHD kids focus more at home and in school. There is substantial anecdotal evidence that many kids with ADD or ADHD have seen markedly improved grades and behavior reports from teachers, and many ADD/ADHD groups advocate for enrolling ADD and ADHD children in martial arts classes.
-Martial Arts a lifetime activity, meant for all ages to practice. Many parents find it beneficial to join their children in the class and learn together as a family. This allows for more bonding time between a parent and child, as well as providing shared interests and goals. Many studies have shown that parents who spend more time with their children while engaged in activities together have a stronger bond, and better ability to instill discipline at home (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4128411/).
How does martial-arts develop confidence?
-There is almost nothing as effective for building confidence as breaking a board with your bare hands. Breaking a board is something that often seems nearly impossible at first. But after only a few weeks of study, most students have learned enough technique to break a 1-inch thick board with a single kick, and most reputable studios require a board break at every belt test. One of the things that students are taught is that every technique they learn should be able to break at least one board, and more advanced students often break two or more boards at a time. Knowing that they are capable of such controlled destruction of an item that seemed indestructible at first, gives students a feeling of immense self-confidence, and of mastery over their own body.
-Students are given clear milestones to work towards, and the harder they work, the faster they will progress towards those milestones. Accomplishments such as promotions and awards are given to those who achieve a milestone, and they are awarded in front of the class and parents. This shows the student that they and their hard work are recognized and valued, without giving “participation trophies” for minimal work or achievements. Only true work and progress is rewarded, but they are rewarded richly. The knowledge that they have accomplished something that is valued by their peers and mentors is sure to give a child a sense of self-confidence and high self-esteem.
In summary, children who participate in martial-arts are likely to see many benefits, beyond just physical fitness and self-defense, and it may even be great for parents to participate as well!