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Five reasons why karate training bully-proofs kids

karatekick2Quality martial arts training — be it Okinawan karate, tae kwon do, tai chi, aikido, escrima, or any other style – is powerful.

The process takes new students and transforms them in ways tangible and intangible: weaknesses become strengths, the shy become confident, and the arrogant learn humility.

How does it work?  And for the purposes of my series on bullying (here are parts one and two): Can it work for the bullied as well?

Yes and no. Uncaring parents, violent environments, and other negative influences can prevent training from being effective.

But a quality instructor can work miracles with students. Even a decent instructor can help. The reason is found in the process of training. It traces back thousands of years. A lot of the bugs have been worked out.

Here are five keys to why karate training works, followed by suggestion on where to find them outside the martial arts:

Earning a quality level black belt takes four years of consistently hard work. No shortcuts allowed. In return, a student gains prestige, a sense of accomplishment, and priceless confidence. Challenges awaken the human passion to explore undiscovered territory. A good challenge pulls the best from us.

✦  Challenges like those in the martial arts can’t be found in 10 hours of online game playing or from being a couch potato. Toastmasters, volunteering, being in a play, sports, extended travel, having a motivational mentor, and wilderness trips are just a few places challenges can be found.

Just by hefting the backpack called Challenge up to our shoulders, we automatically overcome the first major obstacle of inertia.

It is the bread to a PBJ. It is the headphones to an iPod. It is the lips to a kiss. Muy importante!  Helicopter parents need to understand it as well. No one gets a jump spinning reverse crescent kick the first time. But when students can to it well,  success is all that much sweeter, because they alone own it. Failure is but a stepping stone to success. Knowing this truth kicks insecurity out of our lives.

✦  Unfortunately, family culture often dictates how we view failure. My family ridiculed it, so attempts at success seemed too risky. Fortunately research gives proof those family cultures are wrong. Kids need to read up on this. A Google search, for example, on “stories of failures and success” yielded this:

“When those with growth mind-sets fail at a task, {Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck} detects them entering a more focused mental state as they try to figure out their mistake. And in subsequent trials, they improve. In effect, they’ve learned, and their brains have “grown.” Those with fixed mind-sets, however, never enter this focused state of learning and show little, if any, advancement.” *

Looking in the Mirror
Karate students must face their own fears, doubts, and limitations. Blaming, whining, pettiness, bossiness, giving less than 100 percent, big egos – none of these are part of true martial arts mastery. The process of training helps students overcome their own worst enemy – themselves.

✦  Lots of self help books claim to help us over our self-limiting thought processes. Some help; some don’t. I found reading about the Enneagram personality system helped. Blogging at SpaceAgeSage.com for a year helped. Dr. Wayne Dyer’s stuff is great reading, including his latest, Excuses Begone. Finding a mentor or hero or historical figure who overcame fear helps. The greatest force for change, however, is dedication to self improvement.

Less is more
Traditional martial arts training is a stair-step process based on over a thousand years of success. Learning too fast karatebeltscreates more ego than quality or genuine confidence. Belt colors are a relatively new invention, but they are handy measuring markers nonetheless. Each learning step also adds much-needed layers of experience that boost confidence with in-class consistency and remove insecurity via repeated successes.

✦ Goals set up with small, manageable steps help keep desired outcomes in mind. An EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) class is a great example of a goal broken down into easily learned parts. Learning some dance moves , taking up a hobby that requires a fun learning curve, or committing to a Scouting program can help develop an ability to succeed, one step at a time.

Support & mentoring
Whether a quality teacher is called “Sensei,” “Sabunim,” “Instructor,” or something else, the person represents “One who has gone before” — in other words, someone who has traveled this road and who is willing to take students on the same journey. No fakes allowed. The person must command respect, not constantly demand it. The power of encouragement and example from such mentors can not be underestimated.

✦ It is surprising how far a little kindness, some attention, consistent encouragement, a motivational challenge, and being a good example goes. Teachers, coaches, community leaders, business people, and someone already in a person’s field of interest can be mentors. The trick is not to come across as too emotionally needy or as a time suck to the mentor.

These five keys work in the martial arts because they combine in a constant, flowing, and interconnected process dedicated to improvement. To bully-proof a child or an adult, more than one key should be layered with another. The results will be confidence, tenacity, and a mindset for success.

Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck

*Readers Digest article by Joe Kita
Photo Credit: fireflythegreat ( road sign)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Davina October 21, 2009, 12:03 am

    Hi Lori. It’s interesting how while reading a post there will be ONE line that stands out… “The greatest force for change, however, is dedication to self improvement.” That was my standout. That says to me that the “stronger” you become in knowing who you are, the stronger and more confident you appear to others.

  • Lori Hoeck October 21, 2009, 9:21 am

    Hi Davina,
    So true Davina! Knowing your strengths, handling your weaknesses intelligently, and having a vision of who you are and where you want to go — those things tend to resonate in our body language, voice, and how we present ourselves to the world.

  • janice October 22, 2009, 11:08 am

    Another great article, Lori. Thank you.

    There’s a distinct grouping at my kids’ karate class; kids who’ve been bullied or are bright, introverted and light framed and their parents fear they might be bullied later, and another group of kids whose parents seem to enjoy someone else teaching ‘discipline’ and “keeping them out of trouble for a couple of hours” as one kid’s granny put it. Those kids try and bully the quieter, more respectful kids in the changing rooms or before the class until they figure out that those ‘quieter’ kids have the self discipline not to react and feed the bad behaviour.

    One kid’s life’s mission seems to be to provoke a reaction from other kids by making nasty comments out of earshot of the sensei, but my daughter simply said she feels sorry for him if thats what he has to do to try and get attention.

    Karate’s been brilliant for my kids’ attitude to ‘failure’ and differening strengths. My son’s got natural rhythm and balance, but temporarily lost his strong stance and got a bit ‘boxery’ when he grew gangly; my daughter’s not got great 360 degree spacial awareness and hates moving in reverse, but she has fantastic stances and a precise, clear approach to finishing each move with power and kimi. They help each other and work as a pair in kumite.

    Sorry for rambling; I feel at home here.

  • Lori Hoeck October 23, 2009, 1:52 pm

    Hi Janice,
    I’m happy to read you feel at home here! I don’t consider it rambling. It’s good insight.

    At both the tang soo do and tae kwon do schools where I trained, we had no changing rooms — just bathrooms — which forced kids to come in uniform. Avoided a lot of hassles that way! Even so, the rules of etiquette and martial arts protocol were rigorously enforced. A “talking to” from a senior instructor for most kids is not something they want to repeat, especially when we throw their attention getting games back in their faces with the wisdom of having taught for many years and having seeing the same behaviors.

    It’s great your kids help each other. Every student has strengths and weaknesses when they put on their white belt. As you know, karate helps balance students out on the way to black belt.

  • mike May 4, 2010, 12:36 pm

    Great article. Karate is not about being the toughest guy (or girl) in the room. It’s about developing an authentic confidence through real achievement. I started classes with my daughter when she was in third grade. She was being hassled by some other girls and felt lonely and afraid. She’s now in middle school, a green belt, and is thriving. No one thing is ever the reason for this kind of change, but Karate certainly helped. We have a great program here in the northwest suburbs of Chicago run through the park districts. The guy running it is a former national champion and he works is keister off to make the program affordable and welcoming. His instructors are all first rate people. My point I guess is that a good program can work wonders if one is willing to work also.