Family Matters Magazine for Parent in West Kent

Why All Children Should Learn A Martial Art

Alison Longhurst and her partner run their own Taekwon-do club and they teach a lot of kids. "I've been teaching Taekwon-do for over 20 years and I am also a qualified teacher. Despite my experience, every single day I learn something new, and that excites me. The children I teach are always showing me ways that I can improve and in return I give them many tools and strategies that they can use in their everyday lives, that will form a part of who they are. Yes. I really do believe that Martial Arts have the power to do this. To influence children and to make them more equipped to deal with life. All five of our daughters are black belts in Taekwon-do and I can see what an amazingly positive influence it is having on their lives"

Here's why Alison believes that all children should do a Martial Art.


"Discipline becomes something they enjoy."

This is one of my buzz words. When a child understands the importance of discipline, the penny drops for them. You can see it in a 3 year old's eyes. We use many cues to develop the students' self control. Our youngest students know that when they are told to, "sit like a black belt", they must sit cross-legged with their hands on their knees. This quickly stops bum spinning and nose picking – two of a 4 year old's favourite pastimes. At first, they may miss the firm reminders. They ignore, or perhaps don't hear instruction. In short, they don't notice that they now have a barrier to kick against, that's not just a pad to punch. They quickly learn. Repetition of simple phrases makes them familiar and comforting and then discipline becomes something they enjoy. They are pleased to show their good behaviour. Even a well-disciplined child is quick to copy bad behaviour. However, the highly structured nature of a martial arts class allows this to be squashed and a simple: "don't copy bad behaviour, copy good" is easy for even our youngest students to understand. In the dojang I set my expectations of a child's behaviour high. The etiquette of the dojang dictates certain behaviours that the student must adhere to, such as standing with their hands behind their backs in line, with both feet flat on the floor – not doing a shuffle!

"They learn that there are consequences to their actions."

We don't allow the children to touch each other. We find that boys in particular want to be physical with others, either hugging or play fighting. In class, they are only allowed to hit the pads, or each other when they are wearing protective gear. From 5 years old the students are able to spar each other and self-control is essential. They learn that a lack of it causes them to get warnings in the ring and even disqualification. They learn that there are consequences to their actions.

Perseverance & Resilience

"Trying to save our children does nothing to encourage the art of perseverance."

Kids nowadays give up far too easily. In many ways it's not their fault. It's partly the fact that the world they live in is so fast-paced that the next new thing is always around the corner, so when something gets a little tough they can drop it and move on. It's partly the fault of the parents who let them, without giving something a real go. It doesn't help when the parents play coach and shout at their kids how to do something they know little about from the sidelines. Trying to save our children does nothing to encourage the art of perseverance. It just makes the child feel they aren't good enough and may as well throw in the towel.

"developing their determination and grit in line with their ability."

Learning the patterns in Taekwon-do is hard. You don't get that immediate high of a computer game, or even that other elements of Taekwon-do can give you, such as the sparring or breaking boards. Through persevering however, your child learns that in fact it gives you the ultimate high: the one that you had to really work for. The belt system of many martial arts gives the child achievable goals. As they progress through the belts, the goals get harder, thus developing their determination and grit in line with their ability.

"perseverance and resilience go hand in hand"

Many children lack the resilience that they are going to need in order to cope with the knocks life will inevitably give them. This is why I feel that perseverance and resilience go hand in hand and they certainly do in martial arts. You have to learn how to deal with actual knocks in the sparring ring and we teach the children the art of digging deep. When things feel out of their control we teach them how to deal with it and how to find the strength to keep going.

"mistakes are a positive."

I find that children are often scared to take a risk, because they don't want to fail. Perhaps their parents and school set very high expectations for them. I teach that mistakes are a positive. Every correction means that they are learning something. This helps the child develop their positive thinking and resistance to overcome failure. They gradually build-up resilience by failing and realising that the world hasn't actually ended and they can try again.

Teamwork and social skills

"they are considered a part of a team."

Although you usually perform your martial art as an individual, from the moment the child steps into the dojang they are considered a part of a team. Games, drills and partner work are constantly developing this idea. One of the things I love about our Taekwon-do classes is the friendships that are made in the dojang. Simple things, such as the use of high fives, make the children feel that they are part of a bigger picture. Teaching our children how to take turns and share are also important social skills and probably the ones that are the most difficult for ego-centric little ones to grasp. In our Taekwon-do classes, where we do lots of team races, there is ample opportunity for the students to learn how to use and practise these skills. Our zero-tolerance attitude towards unsociable behaviour ensures that the children feel that the training hall is a fun and safe place to be.


"so much more than saying, 'please' and 'thank you'"

Kids aren't born polite – the onus is on us as parents to teach them. This needs to happen way before they hit pre-school, or it's the teachers who are picking up the pieces. Being polite is so much more than saying, 'please' and 'thank you', but that's a start. One of the best ways to teach children how to be polite is by encouraging them to practice it at every opportunity. At the end of our Taekwon-do classes, the younger students receive a sticker, as well as certificates for achieving monthly goals. Whenever they receive something in class, they are reminded to say, "thank you." It's easy to feel like a stuck record – the children are excited to be getting something and simply forget to say it. However, it is important that we persevere and keep sticking the same record on repeat. When the children do something for us in class, such as tidy things away, it is equally important that we thank them, as we must lead by example.

"the importance of saying sorry."

Another element of courtesy is apologising if a child hurts someone, even accidentally. Inevitably, when they are taking part in a physical activity, there will be the odd bump and bash, but these small jostles and knocks provide the perfect opportunity for a child to learn the importance of saying sorry, as well as the other student learning not to overreact for attention.

"Eye contact is key"

Technology gets blamed for a lot of things these days and it is sometimes said that because kids' heads are down with their eyes glued to a screen, they are losing the art of courtesy. One of the ways this certainly manifests itself is with the lack of eye contact it can create. I am a stickler for eye contact and when I am talking to my students, my usual phrase is, "eyes on me!" If a child isn't looking at me, I don't know whether they are listening. Eye contact is key to children developing their social skills. When I am talking one to one with a small human being – one who is a lot smaller than me – I will get myself down to their level and encourage them to look me in the eye as we talk.

"children quickly learn the art of respect."

I find that children find it incredibly hard to listen. Some are diagnosed with autism, ADHD or ADD and learning a martial art can help with their listening skills. For others, it can simply be a lack of courtesy. We live in a child-centric world, where children often no longer wait to be heard, they just expect people to listen. In my dojang it doesn't work like this and the children quickly learn the art of respect. It isn't just the bowing when they enter the dojang. It is even more importantly the realisation that they are not the only person in the class who requires my attention. I have had a child stamp their foot at me when they didn't feel I was giving them unadulterated time. A child needs to learn that other people deserve time too and this is a lesson that I instill in them.


"Kids need confidence in order to boss life."

My stepdaughter was incredibly shy as a young child, but she attributes Taekwon-do to her confidence now. One of the most rewarding things you can see as an instructor is a child's confidence grow. Kids need confidence in order to boss life. Low self-esteem causes problems right through to adulthood. Martial arts combat the notion of being the victim. Yet far from making a child the aggressor, they give them the confidence to be able to walk away from trouble. They give them the ability to sense a threat and to be able to avoid it and if a threat is unavoidable, we are teaching them strategies to deal with it. All children should know what to do in confrontational and potentially dangerous situations. All children and adolescents should be taught how to defend themselves and the importance getting away from the threat. It isn't a natural instinct and it needs to be learnt. Confidence to deal with different situations, such as bullying and stranger danger, needs to be developed.

There are so many reasons why I am passionate about getting children into martial arts. This is why Oaks Martial Arts also teaches its programmes in schools. Martial arts should be on every school's curriculum. Its benefits go far beyond the lure of the black belt and stay with them forever.

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