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Arts and Enrichment

Kicking Up Confidence

Martial Arts Teaches More than Self-Esteem

September 01, 2010
The phenomenon of martial arts for children is sweeping across the nation. Parents recognize the benefits of martial arts as the art is designed to build self-confidence while developing core strength and motor skills. Parents need to gather information and observe classes for each of the different styles available. When doing this, understand the rewards of each martial art discipline before enrolling your children to a martial art studio or "dojo."

Why Martial Arts

According to a study by the University of West Florida, "The Effects of Martial Arts Instruction on Preadolescents' and Early Adolescents' Self-Esteem," researchers discovered that self-esteem was higher after the first instructional cycle of Taekwondo training. Teacher instructions, expectations and assessments were clear. Students, therefore, gained confidence to master defined goals—that is, students intrinsically valued the instructional process of Taekwondo, and thus, applied the necessary effort to achieve. Learning environments that promote students' taking control of their own learning through structured and ritualistic activities create for students an intrinsic purpose for learning. In the Taekwondo learning environment, students increased their feelings about themselves and reduced fear of failing after applying effort.

"Martial arts is an individual sport that teaches focus, attention, discipline, coordination and respect amongst many other life skills whereas other sports may be team oriented but may not teach anything except the importance of competing and winning," said Sensei George Nae, owner/master instructor at House of Martial Arts.

Martial arts are rich in history, culture and allow parents an opportunity to also appreciate the art for more than the physical attributes, but also the character building and spiritual benefits.

"Our traditional exercise forms called kata are a fantastic way to teach children the value of doing things just right. These exercises earned the martial arts a top level reputation of teaching self discipline and focus," said Sensei John Adamson, head instructor of Adamson's Karate Carmel, owner of Adamson's Karate Noblesville and assistant coach of the USA AAU Karate team.

Work the body and build confidence

Sensei George agrees that most of the martial arts techniques are physical and build strong, flexible and Healthy bodies and minds so, therefore, other sports can benefit from this.

"Some children don't initially perform well in a team sport environment. Mastering these non-competitive kata exercises give my students a great boost in their self-confidence, while strengthening their legs and core muscles," said Adamson. "Once they improve their self-esteem and their body gets stronger and more flexible they are able to perform at a much higher level in their other sports interests."

Attaining the black belt

Rank and belts are not equivalent between arts, styles or even within some organizations. In some arts, a black belt is quite easy to obtain, usually expected in three years, while in others ten years may be common. Testing for a black belt is commonly more rigorous and more centralized than for lower grades. It is a common belief that belts are handed out more loosely in the West than in Asia, where the custom of using the color of the belt to indicate a practitioner's rank originated. In Japan, however, rank often comes more or less automatically with time done and the black belt has little to do with the "master" level which westerners often think of when they hear the term "black belt."

"At four to six years of age, they will learn basic coordination, focus, attention and discipline along with a few self defense techniques, but there is no person-to-person contact. This is what we call the pre-karate program. The seven to nine year old group, since they are older and understand control, focus and the other benefits of the previous program, it gets a bit more intense physically and there is minimal person-to-person contact. Our last Kids' program is the 10 to13 year olds and this is intense, controlled contact in boxing/kickboxing and also there is grappling or fighting on the ground techniques. This is one step down from the adults program. In our style, we do not award kids full black belts until they are 15 or 16 years old," said Nae.

Different types of Martial Art

There are different approaches in learning the wide variety of martial arts. These styles are based on techniques developed in Japan, China and Korea.

From Japan, karatedo is a popular style for kids as it uses both defensive and offensive moves while also focusing on balance. It centers on the kata, which revolves around the inner strength of an individual in being able to defend against an enemy. It involves punches, kicks, blocking, techniques, sparring and chopping. This style is well-recommended as it will develop the child's inner strength.

Ju jitsu is another Japanese style that has its influence from Chinese martial arts. Originally designed for women, ju jitsu uses several defensive and offensive techniques in self-defense using a fair amount of sparring.

Aikido is a style with its roots based on a spiritual teaching of the ki, a central force which moderates the flow of energy in the human body. This martial art harnesses energy and finds a way to redirect it as a defensive martial art.

Kung-fu is perhaps the most popular martial art style, originating from China. Kung-fu involves various attack movements and defensive styles which can be similar to a dance. Practitioners usually engage in sparring competitions. Some style used in kung-fu is derived from animal movement and defense such as the 'tiger claw,' 'crane' and 'snake.'

Korean martial arts, such as taekwondo, involve using ones legs in elaborate footwork and kick combinations. This style had been widely accepted in competitions and children have been receptive to its complex approach.

Judo utilizes movement, which can be closely associated to wrestling, is also considered a very safe style. It focuses on mental development and the use of physical foundation in order to get an advantage over the opponent. This discipline teaches that size is not a deciding factor in a match, but technique and skill acquired at the dojo.

Determining which martial art is best for your child depends on the quality of instruction of the style, the values of your family and the goals you want to attain, whether it's self-defense or gross motor skills, to compliment other activities or overall health. Regardless of your motivation to begin martial arts for your child, he or she will learn an appreciation for the art and gain respect for themselves and the world around them.

Nikki Keever is a freelance writer, wife and mother of three living in Noblesville, Indiana.

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Tags: Education, Enrichment, Health, Kids

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