For many parents, the idea of their children taking part in a martial art or combat sport seems wrong. Who in their right mind would willingly let their children learn to fight? A good example of anti-combat sport sentiment was the recent outcry over the video of two kids in a grappling match at the Reps Retribution event in England.
As it turns out, martial arts training doesn’t generally lead to aggressive and violent behaviour, in fact it tends to do the opposite. Children who practice martial arts like judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, kung fu, or karate generally have strong social skills, fight less often, and perform well in school. And this effect is particularly pronounced in at-risk children or those with special needs.
“Bullyproof” Your Kids with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Martial arts training is one of the most potent antidotes to bullying, on both sides of the issue. The most obvious angle is that a kid who is trained in martial arts makes a very bad target for a bully. The grappling arts like judo, wrestling, or Brazilian jiu-jitsu are particularly good because the focus is on control and they enable a child to defend themselves without throwing any punches, kicks, or strikes. The effectiveness of BJJ was recently highlighted in several news stories about the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Bullyproof program.
Martial Arts Training Can Stop Kids from Becoming Bullies
Coming from the other side, a child who trains in martial arts is also less likely to become a bully themselves. When taking part in an activity that involves being thrown, pinned, submitted and otherwise knocked around on a regular basis – often by smaller people – learning to be humble is the only real option.
In an article from The Vancouver Courier, Adam Ryan, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and head coach at Dynamic Mixed Martial Arts in Vancouver, Canada, explained why egocentric street brawlers tend not to stick around his gym for long: “Toughguys don’t do well. Why? Because you have to lay it on the line to do well. You can’t really open up your heart and soul to your training partner, your coaches and yourself if you’re trying to prove something all the time–if you’re a bully.”
In his essay “Street Fighter” from Jim Lomasson’s book Shadow Boxers, author and boxing aficionado Lucius Shepard describes the transformation of a typical violence-prone street kid who starts training at a boxing gym: “Slowly, the rituals of the gym accumulate around you, fabricating something solid in an unstable world. You’ve never been accepting of discipline, but this discipline is self-imposed. It’s at the service of your rage, controlling it, focusing it, refining it into something that – though you may not realize it – might someday abolish the rule of anger.”
Many “regular folk” who aren’t familiar with the martial arts are surprised to find that the people who spend their days training in combat techniques and sparring – fighting under controlled conditions – are often very reserved and humble in everyday life. The secret is that focussing aggression and energy in a constructive way enables the martial artist to leave their stress on the mats and approach life with a clear, well-balanced head.
Benefits of Martial Arts for Autistic Children
Martial arts also have proven benefits for children with special needs such as autism, Asperger syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Parents’ groups and websites covering children with special needs are full of stories and personal anecdotes about the power of structured activities in helping autistic children develop social skills.
The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse spent 11 weeks observing six autistic-spectrum students from the Nicklaus Martial Arts America Studio and noticed marked improvements in cooperative behaviour, balance, eye contact, attention span, and play skills. The children in the study also displayed a decreased level of negative social behaviour like acting out or fighting.
Allison Hendrie’s article, “Karate Kids” from Parenting Magazine’s Guide to ADHD highlights the strong positive effects that martial arts training has on helping children develop respect, confidence, team work, and self-discipline. These skills, developed in karate, judo, tae kwon do, aikido, kung fu, jiu-jitsu, and t’ai chi classes, transfer into all aspects of everyday life with improvements seen in school performance and social skills.
Further reading and listening:
- “Game Theory: How I Learned to Teach BJJ to Kids”, by John Connors and Jon Grayzel.
- “Kindergarten Sensei”. A one-hour show featuring Ramon Hernandez on The Judo Podcast by Gene Shin and Mike Darter.
- Crawley, Trevor. “Vancouver sports bars benefit from MMA popularity”. The Vancouver Courier, June 4, 2010.
- Hendrie, Allison. “Karate Kids: The Benefits of Martial Arts”. Parenting: The ADHD Guide. http://www.parenting.com/article/karate-kids-the-benefits-of-martial-arts
- Henson, Steve. “Bullying Victims Fight Back with Help From Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Royalty”. ThePostGame.com, August 24, 2011. http://www.thepostgame.com/features/201108/real-it-gets-victims-schoolyard-bullying-can-fight-back-help-ufc-royalty
- Rindfleisch, Terry. “UW-L Study: Martial Arts Benefit Autistic Kids”. La Crosse Tribune, December 15, 2010.
- Shepard, Lucius. “Street Fighter”. From Shadow Boxers by Jim Lomasson. 2005. Stone Creek Publications, Inc.