Should you allow children to do martial arts?

We’re protective of our children, there’s no doubt about that, but would learning karate, judo or jiu-jitsu harm your child or assist in their development?

sport_04Okay, we know what you’re thinking: children and fighting can’t be a good mix. But hold that thought for a moment because martial arts isn’t all about throwing people around.

If your child has shown interest in taking up taekwondo, jiu-jitsu or another martial art, don’t panic: martial arts disciplines aren’t all about violence. In fact, the aim of martial arts isn’t to harm your opponent, but instead to defend yourself.

The practices are based around self-defence, self-discipline and respect – attributes that could benefit any individual, especially a child.

So, might we be looking at martial arts in the wrong way and they could actually be a useful sport for your child to learn?

Child’s play

20180421MHC3006160“It’s natural for people to fear something unknown and I can understand this, but I think you should give the opportunity to children to try these noble sports as young people seem to really enjoy it,” explains Danilo Lucic, strength coach and karate coach at Advantage Sports.

Having practised the sport for over two decades, achieving the title of karate master and winning gold medals at the World and European Championships, Danilo knows what it’s like to dedicate yourself to a martial art.

Yet, despite widespread popularity of these sports, a stigma still exists and many parents are reluctant to let their child learn these disciplines.

“It’s just a fear of the unknown,” Danilo says. “Usually people immediately connect martial arts with violence. I ask parents who have a pre-determined prejudice about martial arts, ‘Do you think that there is no chance that your child will get injured in the field playing football, basketball or tennis?’.

“With all competitive sport there is a risk, but the aim of martial arts is not to inflict harm on your opponent.”

It’s easy to picture a bloodied and beaten fighter when we think of martial arts given the recent soaring popularity of fighters like Conor McGregor and UFC, but this is an extreme example and children are not being thrown into the octagon to battle it out in front of a baying mob of hardcore fans.

Overcoming and eliminating this established perception of mindless violence is the first barrier to these sports and it’s something that Shan Ismail, director and chief instructor at Emirates Karate Center, is keen to dispel.

“Some people think that martial arts is just punching and kicking, but it is so much more than that,” explains Shan. “It is a way of life, a journey and an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your ability and what you can achieve.

“Karate and other martial arts heal, teach discipline and also raise the standard of efficiency in a person. Plus, learning a martial art is fun and social as kids practise in a group and they share a bond with each other.”

While it’s true that, during a session, children will come into physical contact with one another and will be combative, setting out to harm an opponent is never the goal.

There will be a few bruises along the way but everything is learned in a controlled environment and children also learn that violence is not a solution to a problem.

“At classes, before any sparring, children bow in respect to each other; hence there
is no scope for violence at all,” adds Shan.

“They are supervised in class and are not allowed to show off or use it on family and friends who aren’t trained in the same practice.

“Participants develop their mind as much as their body. We teach our students that there is no first strike in karate. This means that the focus is on self-defence and that fighting should be avoided where possible and only used to defend one’s self.

“All children need to be safe, aware of their surroundings and confident to defend themselves if they need to.”

What are the benefits?

sport_03So now we know that martial arts training isn’t all about teaching young people how to fight – but what exactly will they learn and what impact can participating in these lessons have on a child’s development?

“Children are always full of energy and they need something in life so that they can channel their energy in the right direction,” advises Danilo. “Video games and TV is certainly something I would not recommend as platforms to expend valuable energy.

“If you look at studies on which athletes have the best coordination, those training or that have trained in martial arts are at the forefront. Martial arts can significantly help to develop basic motor skills, for example, but that’s just one positive attribute.”

The physical benefits of participating in sport is undeniable, reducing the risk of obesity, strengthening bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons as well as increasing cardiovascular fitness.

What’s more, according to the Livestrong Foundation, children who regularly partake in sport tend to perform better academically too, with higher levels of focus and self-esteem.  

“There are many benefits that children can get by practising some martial arts,” explains Danilo. “First of all is discipline, which is very important in the development of a child. Also, children will develop positive self-esteem, learn to respect people and things around them and improve decision making.”

Echoing this sentiment, Shan adds: “Children learn a way of life at a young and tender age that assists them to grow into responsible, respectful, resourceful, disciplined and persistent adults.

“These attributes can only be a good thing for a developing person, providing them with the skills to succeed in their life.”

With an emphasis on helping individuals to develop and preparing them to face challenges in life and overcome them with confidence, martial arts training can be invaluable to a child.

Reflecting on the impact learning a martial art had on his development as a person throughout his life, Danilo confides: “Karate taught me discipline, respect and self-control, but above all it taught me the essence of life.

“You have to learn to be disciplined, full of respect for everything, and to be devoted to and set and achieve your goals.

“Simply, you learn to become a better version of yourself and that’s the most important thing that you could ever learn.”

WORDS Colin Armstrong

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