Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Life Lessons - Martial Arts: For Life

In my secret life, I am a martial arts student and instructor.  This was written by me for our karate school's newsletter this month.  The lessons apply both inside our dojo and in the rest of our lives.

What if I told you half of who your child will be in their life is already in place by the time they turn 5? And that over 90% of that belief system is further set by the time they can vote, at the age of 18? Sure, we expect that the ideas of gravity (“spoon goes down when I drop it and mom always picks it back up!”) or language to be well-understood by the age of two or three. But don't we all think, "that's ok, we have time to correct those other things as they grow up"?

Turns out, getting it right early on is quite important!

Martial arts provides an incredible framework for creating a can-do, polite, and selfless attitude your kids will carry through their entire lives. As a student who started at the age of 13, I can attest to the beneficial effects training has had on me both personally and professionally.

But how is it any different from organized sports, gymnastics, or even school itself? In the simplest terms...because it is so different.

When we enter and exit the dojo, we bow. Every time. Every one of us, from senior black belts to a white belt attending their first class. It serves an obvious purpose: A sign of respect for the place and equality with other students. But its other raison d'etre is more difficult to grasp: It pairs a physical action to a psychological development. "This is a special place where I respect others, and each time I bow, I'm reinforcing that behavior." The bow instills respect.

At every rank, pairs techniques are performed with a fellow student. One attacks while the other defends. In this fashion, pairs teaches patience, responsibility, and tolerance of others. This is my space, that is yours. We enter each other's space when we both agree on the terms. Pairs techniques instill boundaries.

You may have noticed a class of battling students. They are performing a unique style of combat known as sparring. In this, control and focus are essential. Unlike a brawl or street fight, sparring allows students to practice their techniques (and build their confidence) within a safe environment. Due to the incredible level of control exhibited by our students, injuries are rare. In fact, they're much more likely to hurt themselves from carrying their backpack! Sparring instills control.

Finally, everyone wants to present themselves at their best. Martial arts encourages that fully. Kata, or forms, allows students to look and feel like masters. It's my favorite activity in class, where detail, flow of motion, and individuality come together. We may all be doing the same moves in the same sequence, but how it's done is an expression of ourselves. Especially important in today's society where you're constantly told that you aren't, "tall enough, skinny enough, strong enough" or any other "enough", kata instills confidence in appearance.

Where else can a child (or adult) go and get a great workout, learn to protect themselves, build their self-confidence, gain control of their body and mind, all while showing respect for others and their boundaries?

I know where I'm going tonight.

Joseph Winn is a student and instructor at University Karate Center in Plantation, FL.  Visit their website at www.mudokai.com to learn more.