Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On Strong Personalities and the Value of Self-Defense

“Chamber that kick Daniel or I’m going to throw you out the window!” A shocking sentence if taken out of context. This (or something similar) is the kind of thing my children frequently hear when they are in karate class. Their instructor has a strong personality, to put it mildly, and he demands the best from them.

My kids are benefitting greatly from that strong personality. Kids need strong adult role models who will tell it to them straight. John, their instructor, does not let them get away with anything. If they are fooling around or not giving 100% effort, he is not afraid to let them know it. He demands they try their hardest in class, that they care, and that they are honest about what they are doing.

The class my children take is difficult. They are expected to do a rigorous program of calisthenics, stretching, sparring and practicing of their forms. There are other things expected of them in class as well. They are expected to bow in to the dojo and bow out. They need to pay close attention when they are being taught a skill – their sensei hates to reteach something that he feels that they would know if they paid close attention when he initially taught them. They need to kneel when their sensei is kneeling, and they must, above all else, show respect for not only their sensei, but any rank that is higher than they are.

I promise that I am not trying to sound like a commercial for the karate studio that my children go to (although if you live in the area and are looking for one let me know. John’s studio IS terrific). What I AM trying to do is to convey how important it is to involve your children in activities that teach them important life lessons. My children are learning about the importance of character, honesty, hard work and commitment. When you work hard at something, you can achieve wonderful things.

Since beginning their karate class I have seen some wonderful things happen for my children. All three of my children are in much better shape physically than they would have been without the class. To varying degrees (depending on their ages and ability to appreciate it) they are more disciplined about their lives and focused when they do things.

Notice that I haven’t said much of anything about trophies or winning tournaments or competitions? That’s not because they haven’t. My children have each won their share of competitions, but they have learned that winning isn’t the most important thing. Learning is. Learning how to handle disappointment when you don’t win, learning how to be graceful whether you win or lose. Paying attention to your opponent and learning from them when you are bested. Learning to be a role model for others. Learning to respect your elders and those who have more skill than you. Learning to put effort and passion into what you do. All of these things are important to learn as you go through life as a person with character and honor.

Let’s face it folks. With all of these wonderful things at the core of what karate is teaching them, my children will be as well-prepared to handle all that life has to offer them as they can be, right? Aside from all the character building that karate has done for them, they are also learning self-defense skills. In a world where we need to create bullying task forces and have anti-bullying campaigns as a staple of our children’s educations, it’s not a bad idea to teach our progeny to defend themselves if necessary. In a world that contains fist fights over what kind of sneakers you wear and date rape, I want my children to be prepared should they be faced with these dangers.

While having the ability to fight if necessary is certainly part of the reason our children are taking karate, the confidence that having these skills instills is equally important. Karate, when taught properly, teaches you to think about the possibilities. When you can do that effectively you often (though not necessarily always) avoid fighting altogether. There is something about carrying yourself with confidence and security that takes you out of a bully’s crosshairs. You can relax and be less defensive. When you are less defensive there are fewer conflicts to worry about.

So if my child’s instructor needs to occasionally yell at them to wake them up and get them participating fully, I’m okay with that.

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