Helping Children Become More Respectful Through ATA Martial Arts

A common concern among parents of today’s generation of millennials is a lack of discipline and respect. This has manifested in a variety of settings, including schools, home and social spheres. What does Martial Arts have to do with respect? For many moms and dads out there, martial arts is associated with pop culture such as film, television and gaming. The violent depictions of battle scenes gives Martial Arts a negative connotation. This article provides more insight into martial arts and dispels the popular myth that it breeds a culture of violence. Although there are other benefits of martial arts, including personal fitness and self esteem development, the focus is upon how martial arts can instill values such as respect.

It’s easy enough to complain about a lack of respect among kids, but it is important to define what respect is. In many ways, respect involves looking up to, and following directions from authority figures and following an appropriate system of etiquette. Another element of respect relates to how children interact with each other. This manifests itself in the everyday interactions between siblings at home, or cooperation between students in a school setting. The final dimension we will examine is self-respect, which is often overlooked.

Before moving to the specifics of the link between martial arts and respect, it is important to dispel a few more myths about martial arts, for concerned parents. One of the biggest misconceptions is that martial arts teaches deadly strikes and violent attacks. In martial arts such as karate and judo, the focus is more upon deflecting the energy from an attack and redirecting it with minimal force. Apart from sparring and practicing of self defense techniques, students take part in physical fitness exercises and even visualization and goal setting practice.

A Different Cultural Perspective

As many are aware, the popular martial arts have their roots in Asian countries. Judo and Karate originate from Japan, while Tae Kwon Do originates in Korea. Compared to western cultures, these Asian cultures arguably demand greater discipline and respect for authority in schools and homes. In Japan, for instance, it is not uncommon for students to go to school on Saturday and to attend night Juku/’cram’ classes to prepare for examinations. Compared to western schooling, kids in Asian countries such as Japan face a grueling demand from their schooling and must develop discipline and respect from an early age. Taking up a hobby that originates from such cultures has the benefit of exposing children to a small taste of the discipline that is demanded from children of such cultures. One of the side benefits of hobbies such as martial arts is the respect for other cultures that it instills.

Goal setting, the end of instant gratification and self-entitlement

Martial arts encourages students to work slowly towards a goal. Lack of respect often comes from a sense of self-entitlement. This is natural, as children are raised in a culture of instant gratification that comes from popular hobbies such as gaming. Tae Kwon Do grading ceremonies are an example of martial arts cultivating values that are the exact opposite of instant gratification and entitlement. Students commence studies with a white belt and are taught some very basic patterns. At each grading, students work their way through various levels of colored belts and black belt and even have to earn colored belt tips before earning the full colored belt. Working through these belt gradings is not done quickly; only when the student has proved that they are ready for the next level. Students are graded in an audience and when they proceed to the next level, there is a sense of pride. This comes from truly earning the belt colors and stripes from the hard work that is required. This gradual grading system is a refreshing change from the usual hobbies that produce instant gratification and prepares kids for other facets of life. The value of starting from the bottom and working upwards and having respect for earning a higher position rather than demanding it is applicable to the work force. Within this process, there is a certain level of humility that comes from being graded on performance.

Respect for authority

Martial arts also helps children to develop a respect for authority figures. At the beginning of a lesson, students are all expected to stand still and to bow to the instructor. The instructor may also be given an honorific title such as ‘sah bum nim’ (which, in Korean, is translated as teacher or master). Students who wish to progress to a higher belt also need to perform in front of even higher senior instructors, who will assess the skills and decide on the outcome of the grading. This also assists in the teaching of discipline towards authority figures. Unfortunately, modern western cultures have placed a diminished focus on the level of authority for figures such as teachers, parents and other adult figures. Martial arts is a discipline that would undoubtedly expose children to authority figures that command a higher level of ceremony and respect.

Learning to Listen

Another common complaint from moms and dads (and teachers) is children not listening to them and not following instructions. Teachers and parents are often at odds over the lack of mental attentiveness to school work and household chores and how this could impact their academic careers. In order to master the patterns, defence strategies and important martial arts moves, the student will need to listen carefully to the instructor. They also must pay close attention to the opponent, in a sparring simulation exercise. The enjoyment of reaching to a higher grade and earning a new belt can only be achieved if the child listens very carefully to the instructor. Martial arts is one of those hobbies that really develops those essential listening skills.

Self control and respectful relationships

Self control is another attribute of being a respectful person. Lack of self control in children can result in verbal and physical outbursts. Each of the martial arts disciplines has a specific set of skills. In sparring practice, students are paired up and practice their skills in a very controlled environment. It requires calmness and self discipline as well as other virtues such as mutual respect for the opponent and trust in order to carry out sparring practice. With moves that require sharper punches and kicks, such as Tae Kwon Do, the powerful blows are often practiced on punching bags. Practicing these powerful moves on an inanimate object is a healthy way for children to channel their aggression or frustrations. Martial arts often involves sessions of visualization and goal setting, which in themselves require another dimension of self control. Relaxation and focus provide relief from anger or aggression in adults, so the same could be said for children. Parents may find that their children can have the capacity to be more respectful to others when they have a greater sense of self control.

Respect for peers

When it comes to respect, respect of authority is one dimension that has been discussed thus far. Of equal importance is building respectful relationships between peers and in differing social situations. Martial Arts can help develop social skills and build the importance of respect between peers. In sparring practices, students are required to bow to one another. This teaches kids that in a competitive situation, respect for the sport and the opponents involved in it are of up most importance. Bowing at the beginning of a combat sets the tone for a respectful exchange. Trust is also an element that is built into any practice situations. In order to practice the specific martial arts skills, students must also communicate, thus building an element of team work into this sport. Being graded by a set of strict criteria specific to the martial arts discipline means that sparring between partners must follow a certain set of rules and parameters. This requires self discipline between the opponents, a mutual respect and mutual trust. Anti-social type behaviors can manifest itself in the home and in the schoolyard. In a martial arts studio, students are in the same space with a set of similar goals and this is conducive to building friendships and social interaction. These peer skills can easily be transferred to both home and school settings, where children have been encouraged to not only respect the authority figure in the martial arts studio, but also respect for peers.

Self Respect

The final element of respect is self-respect. As discussed previously, martial arts encourages students to develop a set of goals in the belt grading system. Reaching each of these milestones, based on hard work and merit, instills a greater sense of self-respect.

How martial arts is applied to other aspects of life

So far, the positive attributes associated with respect have been closely linked to the different aspect of martial arts disciplines. The next concern among parents becomes apparent. ‘What if my child learns greater respect for his/her martial arts instructor, but continues to be disrespectful to parents and teachers’? It may be true that children may display different attributes to match the situation. Is there advice for helping children apply martial arts respect skills to everyday life? If children take up martial arts, open the dialogue with them and encourage them to talk about what they learnt about respect. Even though they may be inclined to talk about the latest move they learnt to disarm an opponent, try to emphasize what they learnt about respect. Parents can also ask probing questions such as ‘how will your martial arts make you happier at school’? ‘Do you think you should show your teachers the same respect as your Martial Arts instructor’? Children, left to their own devices, won’t necessarily be reflective about their experiences and what they have learnt. Parents can ask these sort of questions and open up some honest dialogue to provide the scaffolding needed to encourage their children to reflect upon what they have learnt and how they view respect for other authority figures in their lives. Children who take up martial arts also have the potential to make new social interactions. Depending on the age of the child, parents can help encourage these interactions by getting to know the other moms and dads and their children.

Advice for the more adventurous parents

The last piece of advice is for the moms and dads who are more daring than others. Martial arts classes can be attended as a family. Although it might be a step outside of the usual comfort zone for parents, taking part in these classes as a family could be a major bonding opportunity, as family members support each other to reach the next grading level. Treating martial arts classes as a family activity could help younger kids to see their parents showing the same respect towards the instructor that is demanded of all students. This family bonding activity might not apply to all situations. Not all parents will have an inclination to take up self defense and that’s understandable.

The different dimensions of respect have been discussed as well as how the discipline of martial arts can help to cultivate these skills. In order to help children to apply these skills, it is important to talk to them and help them reflect on their learning experiences. In some families, martial arts can be taken up as a family hobby, with many benefits. Children are able to take up martial arts at any age, as young as age 4, where it can help children develop muscle control and coordination.

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