On the surface, martial arts looks like a fun activity for people of all ages to get in shape and improve their overall health. In fact, most people believe that martial arts training is “just about kicking and punching…” But studies show the physical fitness benefits are just one component of the life-changing transformations that martial arts students experience. What makes martial arts different from other sports and fitness activities is the way it strengthens the mind as well as the body. The life skills taught by an exceptional martial arts instructor will contribute to a student’s success off the mat for years to come. The November 2010 Parents Magazine featured an article on the benefits of martial arts for children, entitled The Martial Arts Edge. It said, “Martial arts like karate, judo, and tae kwon do teach kids confidence, discipline and strength. At the right studio–where safety is paramount and parents welcome to observe–kids learn to stand up for themselves and to protect others when they need to. They’re also taught respect for adults and peers, and the importance of hard work and peaceful resolution…Instructors emphasize respect and the importance of being a good person.” Psychologists have studied the benefits of martial arts for years. In fact, the May 1985 issue of Psychology Today had this to say about what makes martial arts students so special:
“People who continue to practice the martial arts for prolonged periods are different from the general populace in these ways: they have a lower level of anxiety; an increased sense of responsibility; they are less likely to be radical; they have an increased level of self-esteem; and they are more socially intelligent.” (Source – Psychology Today, May 1985.)
Many parents enroll their children in Tae Kwon Do because the structured classes help kids develop greater concentration skills and focus. Studies show that a complex physical activity, like martial arts, strengthens neural pathways and networks in the brain, and enables kids with ADD/ADHD to practice self-control. Movement helps them develop coordination while building strength resulting in increased focusing ability. This enables them to block out distractions and listen better at home and at school and ultimately do better with homework.
"Doing Tae Kwon Do helps Nat regain control when she’s becoming unhinged, and she’s working on using that as a coping skill.” -Kay Marner, ADHD Parenting Blog
Dr. Diana Dunlap, a Certified School Psychologist and Tae Kwon Do instructor, frequently recommends martial arts for children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) – and she’s not the only one. There have been so many martial arts success stories involving students with ADD and ADHD, that doctors across the nation have taken notice and recommend the activity to their patients. In fact, The University of Michigan is conducting a research study to empirically prove that Tae Kwon Do is an effective non-pharmaceutical therapy for ADHD.
“At its highest and best, Tae Kwon Do not only improves the physical skills of the practitioner but, also, elevates both the mind and the spirit. Drills provided can be a powerful tool in helping ADD students learn to focus their minds on a task and increase their attention span.” -Dr. Diana Dunlap
A child who is insecure or shy is susceptible to negative peer pressure and a more likely target for bullying. If your child is shy, it might be hard to imagine him or her putting on a uniform, stepping onto the mat and learning martial arts. Martial arts instructors understand this fear and can turn such experiences into powerful lessons of empowerment. Martial arts instructors undergo extensive training. A great instructor will also know how to build an excellent rapport by offering plenty of praise and encouragement. It is their job to bring out the best in every child.
Martial arts provide positive experiences for children and offers tangible goals and rewards that help them stay focused. The Black Belt curriculum provides a built-in tangible goal system that provides both short and long term goals represented by the different colored belts and the “tip” system for belt advancement. Kids learn they can achieve more than they thought possible when they put their best effort into something and persevere. By seeing their skills improve and goals become reality, children gain a sense of accomplishment; they feel more in control of their situation, and feelings of helplessness disappear.
The first 3-6 months of any new student’s training is critical to developing confidence. It’s the process of overcoming self-limiting doubts by sticking with the program that creates the belief that they CAN do it. They CAN become a Black Belt. Believing that you can accomplish something you thought was too difficult, then actually achieving that goal — that’s the journey that truly creates a long-lasting confidence that can be seen in the way a person carries themselves in life.