Many parents find it hard to relate to the many avenues of possible entertainment going into their kids’ lives. Today, television has to compete with streaming services, mobile games, and various devices that seek children’s undivided attention. This only gets worse as they go into their teenage years and their sources of entertainment broaden. Because of this, it may be more important now than ever to offset this barrage of entertainment with learning ways of enhancing and cultivating discipline and focus.
For centuries, the martial arts have been used as a way of developing individual’s characters, helping students of all levels push through obstacles both within themselves as well as externally. Whereas once students had to travel far and wide to find the right teacher for them, most parents today can find dozens of martial art schools in their vicinity with a quick search.
Learning a martial art is not simply a way of learning how to fight. Some parents may be concerned that by sending their child to train in a fighting art form, they’ll become more violent. This is not the case by a long stretch.
While training in a system like karate, kung fu, jiu-jitsu, or any other martial art does teach self-defense, this is approached as a structure for one’s character to strengthen. Learning to fight entails a much more important lesson than simply defending oneself: learning when not to fight.
Some systems are geared toward a softer, more internal approach (e.g., tai chi and Aikido) that focus on unbalancing an opponent and restraining with locks and holds. On the other hand, some systems gear their training to practicing harder movements like punches and kicks (e.g., most karate schools, Tae Kwon Do, kickboxing). Despite the differences in approach, however, both “internal” and “external” systems can teach students to realize their true potential by refining both their bodies and minds.
Many students walk into their first martial arts class with some anxiety. Though first day jitters are experienced by almost everyone, it’s not uncommon for a new student to have a chronic feeling of low self-confidence, wondering what will be in store for them.
While over time many students will develop confidence in themselves knowing they can defend themselves if need be, the root of this character trait isn’t in the actual ability to fight. Many students learn confidence not because they know they can fight well, but rather because of the constant overcoming of obstacles they’ve experienced over the course of training strengthened their trust in themselves.
Beginning students are often left in wonder at how their teachers or advanced students can perform such difficult and impressive skills. Precise kicks, controlled punches, seemingly innocuous movements that can unbalance someone with ease, beginners often wonder how they could ever do that.
The answer is of course: practice. Students who don’t practice don’t get very far in a martial art, but those who stick to regularly training and refining their movements will see their skills grow in leaps and bounds.
Of course, though “practice” is a simple concept, this does not mean the path from white belt to black belt is an easy one. Diligent students know this, and they confront each and every obstacle they face, no matter how hard, with growing focus and tenacity. While many schools have formalized testing, most teachers will only test students who have shown the necessary determination and inner growth to move to the next level.
It’s because of this that most testing is an indicator of a student’s inner strength and growth and that the outer knowledge of the art form is only an acknowledgment of the internal progress the student’s made in their own lives. The student is, in many ways, testing him or herself constantly, and over time this fashions them into confident individuals ready to take on anything life throws at them.
Training in any fighting art requires a tremendous amount of discipline. Particularly when students are starting out and everything seems novel and difficult, cultivating the appropriate amounts of control and focus in all aspects of life can enable someone to push forward even when the going gets exceedingly tough.
Some people believe they have to be extraordinarily disciplined before they even start out with training, but that’s like believing you have to be in shape to go to the gym. The school is a place of learning and growing, and no one expects you to come through the doors on day one with all the necessary tools already at hand. Training in any system develops the necessary skills to push further.
While learning a method of fighting and character development is often a fun and exciting thing to do, many of the actual classes can be repetitive. Mastery is gained through repetition and drilling, and most teachers expect their students to continue practicing what they learn at home. The only way to get better is by training each day, whether at the school or at home, and this requires a disciplined and focused approach.
Sometimes, however, the simple act of making it to class in the evening can seem incredibly difficult. This is very common after the initial excitement of the first few months starts to wane, and many new students decide to drop out when the regularity of training becomes a chore.
It’s this act of showing up, however, and of training even when you don’t feel like it that builds character. This skill, while cultivated in the dojo, seeps into every aspect of a students’ lives. Even if they quit training someday, the lessons they learned in class will positively affect their futures.
Learning martial arts at any age can be beneficial. The physical and mental benefits of training in something that’s constantly challenging are immense and the pay off is rewarding. However, for children and teens, the lessons learned in one of these classes can create profound and positive changes that will remain for a lifetime.