Many people appreciate what the martial arts offers children but many more don’t. Does the martial arts teach people to be more violent? If it doesn’t what does it teach children? How does it compare with other activities such as football or dance?
Sometimes I speak to the mums of a bullied child fearful that we’ll teach their child how to be as violent as their bully. Sometimes I speak to parents who want me to teach their child how to beat up their bully!
Neither way is either the right way or true. The martial arts do focus on what on the face of it is violence and we do teach children how to fight back but how we do it and how it expresses itself is quite different from what you might expect. Here’s what happens…
Consider the biggest thing that separates people; difference, kids who are bullied are different. It could be race, religion, looks, intelligence or ability, but what marks them from their bully is that they are different. Being different can cause us to lack confidence because we are different, rather than to embrace our difference, we fear it and our confidence suffers for it.
So how do the martial arts help to stop a child being bullied without violence?
First, we focus on ability and communication. We teach children how to be courteous and respectful. Sometimes shyness, which is a lack of confidence, expresses itself in poor communication. They break the first rule of socialization which is to not speak or make pleasant eye contact. This immediately sets them apart and it’s easy to upset a sensitive person by showing them what at first glance may look like disrespect. And yes, bullies are often very sensitive and easily offended. They have a different kind of communication issue.
We teach children to show everyone a high level of respect even though they may find this uncomfortable at first. Uncomfortable because they must set aside their discomfort and step into the discomfort zone. By doing this the child becomes less of a target, their body language changes and they become less ‘small’ like they’re trying to hide and assume a more comfortable way of moving because they are more comfortable socially. The way that children move often marks them as different. Confident kids have confident posture, smile more and fear less.
Next, we teach them how to move
Some kids have great natural, physical intelligence and they are usually strong, fast and coordinated. Because they are physical, they tend to be more physical and that gets them stronger and better coordinated. They can run, jump, throw, roll, climb and lift. All these things are basic skills and abilities that we all need, and which develop in us when we are very young. When we are babies the first thing we learn to do is roll from our back to our side to our front. When we eventually learn to roll, we then start to push up with our arms, then crawl, then stand and eventually walk and run.
These are not only physical skills, they also affect our mental development too. They must be learned in the right order too or the child’s development can be retarded. A child that doesn’t learn these skills at a young age and at a good level can find sports and physical activities more challenging. Also, because they don’t get as fit and strong as their physically gifted counterparts, they fail to develop good posture because their muscles are weak. Poor posture and stance will set the child apart, making her more different and this exacerbates the problem.
In martial arts we seek to achieve balance, strength, timing, speed and spatial awareness. We teach children how to move with purpose and confidence (there’s that ‘C’ word again). Good movement is an acquired skill. Therefore, we need to learn it early and well. But it’s more than that too good movement signifies good health, strength and presence.
Gradually, and sometimes, suddenly the child stops being bullied. Subconsciously, to the bullying mind he starts to become less visible. Bullies need kids who are different, obvious targets. They need others to support their abuse of the person who is so obviously different or less. They are like heat seeking missiles, only their seeking is not heat, its confidence, or lack of it. The martial arts taught properly, with a deliberate curriculum, delivered by highly trained professional instructors who know what their outcome is and how to achieve it. Sadly, not all martial arts instructors fit this description, so you may have to shop around till you find one.
Now, in some cases the bully still sees the child and carries on his bullying. In these circumstances the child can fall back on to using physical force using skills acquired through his martial arts training. There’s no guarantee that they will defeat their bully, but it’s amazing what a punch in the nose will do for an aggressor. Bullies want easy targets, not those that fight back.
So, look beyond the combative side of the martial arts through to the development side of skills and balance that the study of it brings; confidence, empowerment, skill, strength, stamina and suppleness. Don’t be afraid to put your child with a trained instructor, take that free lesson, watch that class and see your awkward duckling transform into the confident swan that lies within.
Tony Higo January 2019.
Tony Higo is an 8th degree black belt master of the martial arts and founder of the AEGIS system. He has written several books on the martial arts and works with many of the top martial artists and instructors in the UK. For more details on the AEGIS system go to www.aegismartialarts.co.uk