“The most difficult part of [martial arts] is not learning the first kick or punch.

It is not struggling to remember the motions of a [technique]. Rather, it is taking the first step across the threshold of the dojo door. This is where roads diverge, where choices are made that will resonate throughout a lifetime.”

—Doug Cook, A Path to Excellence

Would you be surprised to learn a child’s total well being—both physical and psychological—can be strengthened simultaneously through qualified martial arts instruction? While we are well aware of the benefits exercise provides for people of all ages, most parents are unaware of the myriad of other benefits martial arts training provides for children. Whether your youngster is in need of more exercise, confidence, self-respect, listening skills…(the list goes on)…or decreased tension, stress or anxiety then read on.

In preparing for this article, I spoke with many parents of children enrolled in martial arts programs and quickly realized this article could become full of lengthy testimonials about how transformative these programs have been for their children. Parents had a lot to say, and the stories were personal, but when I looked closely–they all had common themes. Here are some of the benefits I heard most frequently (that incidentally are corroborated by experts’ research):

  1. Self protection
  2. Physical fitness & motor skill development
  3. Improved listening skills
  4. Self discipline
  5. Respect (for self and others)
  6. Responsibility
  7. Self esteem & confidence
  8. Leadership skills
  9. Goal setting & achievement
  10. Value of hard work

This week we will examine the first five benefits in more depth—with the purpose being to educate parents about how kids programs teach these skills and to better prepare parents in selecting a quality program.

Self protection: This seems fairly straightforward and is often the reason a parent originally enrolls a child into a program, but why wait until your child is already having a problem? Most parents recognize the need to help safeguard their children from bullies and other potential threats. We know these problems exist. Be proactive.

Physical fitness & motor skill development: Help your child build the foundation of a healthy lifestyle by encouraging exercise. But not all exercise is created equally. While jogging may provide fitness, it comes up short in developing motor skills (which we know are an essential component of development) and coordination in children. Look for martial arts schools that address all 10 domains of fitness (strength, speed, endurance, agility, balance, coordination, stamina, power, flexibility and accuracy). Your child will reap the rewards for the rest of his/her life.

Improve listening skills: Many children in the younger age groups have limited attention spans at this stage in their lives. Martial arts training can build a child’s attention span—teaching them to focus on the task at hand while improving their listening and reaction skills simultaneously. These improved listening skills will be welcomed at home and at school!

Self-discipline: Experienced martial arts instructors are adept at demonstrating self-discipline. A curriculum of interactive games, drills and real world activities can be designed to show it is rewarding. As parents, we use discipline and the setting of limits to control our children’s behavior. But, if we only teach them to rely on our limits rather than their own, they will be ill equipped to make responsible choices. This early exposure to and emphasis on self-discipline is invaluable.

Respect: This is perhaps the number one tenant in any martial arts dojo. Unfortunately, it is often missing in many facets of today’s society. Martial arts training will instill respect for their coaches, their peers and themselves. Respect for self and others drives important life decisions—from the friends they will choose, to the opportunities they will seek (or hide from). It affects the way kids approach school and work, and influences the quality of their relationships. Given how important respect is and how infrequently kids are exposed to it (outside the home, of course) I find it unfortunate all children do not have the opportunity to participate in a martial arts program.

If you have thoughts and/or anecdotal evidence you would like to share with us, please use the form below.

And, stay tuned for the conclusion of this article in next week’s edition.

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