Here’s an article I wrote for Experts123 a few months ago. School’s back in full swing, and I’ve been getting to know my new students. Quite a few are into martial arts, and it reminded me of some of the reasons why I wrote this.
Kids all over the country go to karate classes, gear up for wrestling, and watch MMA on TV with their friends. For many, especially parents, martial arts becomes a series of events: buy a uniform, drive to and from class, spend all weekend at a meet, click “purchase” on the remote control. Over the last forty years or so, martial arts have gone mainstream and Americans have adopted them into our busy lifestyles. We have become comfortable with martial arts and they no longer seem exotic. We have permanently added martial arts to our to-do lists, and they seem to be here to stay. That’s a good thing.
But what America lacks is a martial arts culture. Children are often dropped off at a “Tiny Tigers” class for the afternoon in place of the YMCA or grandma’s house. Tournament trophies are awarded and displayed at home and in training halls. Kids schedule martial arts around soccer, piano lessons, and birthday parties. Parents help to juggle scheduled events, and martial arts have their specific, defined place and time within our busy lives.
This outlook–that one “does” martial arts–is limiting. It robs children of the true benefits. It keeps them from seeing the great role martial arts can play in their lives.
In Japan, traditional karate is taught in schools. Children learn and practice respect and discipline early on while training in self-defense. They understand the appropriate situations to use force and the judgment to avoid needless confrontation. Thanks to such training, children have a better chance to grow up much more mentally and physically fit than by merely doing exercises or playing sports.
In Brazil, jiu-jitsu is a communal activity. We see this with BJJ’s first family, the Gracies. Members explain that growing up Gracie not only means having a lot of family pride, but it means learning to live the martial arts. It permeates all aspects of their lives, and the values derived–virtue, persistence, honor–are lost outside this context.
Growing up with the martial arts differs greatly from the typical American experience. Instead of tasks and achievements, someone who truly grows up with the martial arts sees the big picture and understands the long-term benefits. It’s not a matter of staying busy or winning matches. It’s not a lifestyle you can advertise on a T-shirt.
Now that many of the Americans to begin training as children are all grown up, they need to share the values of their arts with the new generation of students–not just techniques or how to win competitions. Kids can and should understand that they can pursue martial arts through old age without feeling pressured to rush workouts so they can move on to the next thing, or, perhaps worse, to lose sight of the joy of practice beyond mere competition. Martial arts are good in and of themselves, and America needs to learn the many benefits they can play throughout our lives.
Do you have children in martial arts, or did you grow up with them yourself? How do you allow the martial arts to influence your family life? Do you have any tips on how to instill the proper martial values at home?