What are the Social Benefits of Karate for Children and Adolescents?

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Studying and practicing Karate is a strongly social activity.  We work together with your child as part of our dojo community.  This is about more than learning the physical skills of Karate.  In our lessons together, we practice and develop our social abilities through working positively and constructively with our fellow students and instructors.

Our personal growth and development is important – but this takes place in a social context.  We are social beings by nature – we don’t exist in isolation from each other.  Our personal and our interpersonal strengths are closely related.  Like any of our other skills, our social skills require both understanding and practice for us to be able to apply them effectively.  Our ability to pick up on and correctly interpret social cues – the expression on another person’s face, their body posture, their tone of voice – takes time and practice with other real-world live humans to acquire.

Your child explores, develops and practices critical social competencies as we work together on Respectful Interaction, Leadership Strengths and Self-Discipline. These give your child the tools they need to build positive, worthwhile relations with others.

Sometimes interactions with others aren’t so positive.  We’re being treated unfairly, manipulated, or bullied by someone.  Your child learns and practices Assertiveness skills to stick up for themselves, set and enforce personal boundaries, and constructively resolve interpersonal conflicts.  Your child also learns and practices Active Self-Defense skills.  These are for use if and when your child has to enforce their personal boundaries against a physical aggressor.  Your child is able to tell someone “No” when they must – and to make that “No” stick, by physical means if necessary.

1. Dojo Community

As a Karate student, your child is part of our dojo.  “Dojo” is the Japanese word used for our school – it literally means “the place of the way”.  But dojo signifies much more than just the place we go for our Karate lessons – our physical training hall. Our dojo is a community with shared values and aspirations.  As a Karate student, your child is part of a positive, supportive and nurturing community.

One of the core values of our school community is that every student matters.  The beginner taking their very first lesson is as worthy of dignity and respect as the most experienced Black Belt.  The experienced Black Belt student has earned respect through their demonstrated commitment and many years of training.  The beginner has earned respect through act of taking their first Karate lesson. They’ve shown the personal courage to face and explore an unknown path. As a beginner, your child is every bit as much a member of our dojo community as any of our Black Belts.

With competitive team sports, sadly, this isn’t always so.  In theory, everyone is equally a member of the team.  In practice, often it is only a favored few – the bigger, the stronger, the faster – who actually matter.  The rest are second-class citizens.  As George Orwell aptly put it in Animal Farm, “Some are more equal than others.”  In Karate, your child counts as a full student, and participates fully.

Your child is also interacting regularly with live humans as part of our dojo community.  Regularly participating in Karate lessons provides active engagement with a variety of other people – peers, older and more experienced students, adult instructors, and eventually younger and less experienced students.  In the process, your child gets more practiced and more skilled at picking up and interpreting non-verbal social cues from others.

We also improve our personal communications skills.  A part of this is verbal – our ability to communicate using the spoken word.  Your child practices this in Karate by both asking and answering questions about the skills we work with.  We also practice to develop our ability to watch closely and listen carefully – to give heed when someone is speaking to us, or showing us how a skill is performed.  These are essential communications skills as well.  Your child strengthens these skills by practicing with them consistently in a positive, supportive community.

2. Respectful Interaction:

“Karate begins and ends with Courtesy and Respect,” is a fundamental principle of our discipline.  This starts with the simple, formal etiquette we use in our lessons together.  When we bow to each other in our lessons, this courtesy expresses our respect for the other person.  This also reminds us that respect is a reciprocal relationship – we treat others with respect, and in turn we expect proper respect from them.  This isn’t linked to formal belt rank – all students are to be treated with courtesy and respect.  Our instructors set the example for all of our students in this.

Civility is the basic principle we apply in our interactions with each other.  “Civility” is the way in which we should treat each other in order to live and work together as members of a civilized society.  Good manners toward others – being polite and respectful in our dealings with them – is a part of Civility.  This isn’t just about being nice to our friends.  Civility involves being courteous and respectful toward strangers and people we don’t know very well.  It is even more necessary when we’re dealing with someone we don’t like.

George Washington provides a good example of Civility.  During the War for Independence, his primary opponent was the British General Sir William Howe.  After the battle of Germantown, Washington discovered that his soldiers had captured General Howe’s pet dog.  He had the dog returned under flag of truce to the General with a polite note.  It wasn’t because Washington and Howe were friends – as commanders of opposing armies, they were declared enemies.  But Washington had to deal with Howe regularly over the care of soldiers wounded or taken prisoner in the fighting.  Returning Howe’s dog was a gesture of Civility – a reminder that even as enemies, they still needed to sustain a civilized relationship that set some limits to the conflict.

Understanding and developing basic Civility helps us to work co-operatively and constructively together.  In many of our in-class training exercises, we work in direct partnership with other students.  Skills like grip releases and takedowns require mutual co-operation and support.  While we’re not in Washington’s position of having to work with an open and avowed enemy, we’re often working with someone we don’t know very well.  Applying Civility – treating each other with courtesy and respect – helps your child get off on the right foot with someone new, and to set the tone for that relationship as it develops.  Perhaps even to make a new friend.

3. Self-Discipline:

Patience and Restraint, two personal strengths central to the discipline of Karate, spring from our practice of Self-Discipline.  Self-Discipline is our ability to consistently pursue the goals we have set for ourselves, and also to do what we know is right.  One aspect of Self-Discipline is sticking with a personal regimen or a course of action we’ve embarked on.  We stick with it on the days we just don’t feel like it, and would rather do something else.  We stick with it on the days we think it is too hard, and we’ll never get it done.  Another aspect of Self-Discipline is facing and making hard choices – doing what we know to be the right thing, even though it would be easier and more comfortable just to let it slide.

Our practice of the budo, the warrior way of Karate. is a personal discipline.  We are working together to establish the healthy habits of body and mind that create our Self-Discipline.  It is like the traditional forging of the katana – the sword of the samurai.  The swordsmith heats, hammers and folds the steel over and over again.  As the smith slowly shapes the blade with his fire and anvil, he gradually hammers out the flaws and impurities that weaken the steel.   Only after much work are the impurities forged away, and the sword is ready to be tempered and given a keen cutting edge.

One way we strengthen Self-Discipline through Karate is developing the habit of regularly coming to the dojo and participating in our lessons together.  As a parent, your role in this is essential.  You help your child to select and commit to participating in two Karate lessons every week.  You commit to bringing them, setting aside those times for your child every week.  Your child commits to participating.  As you make and then keep those commitments together, your child is observing your example of Self-Discipline, and is also developing their own.

Another part of developing Self-Discipline is in the way we participate in our lessons.  We watch closely, we listen carefully, and we make our best effort with everything we do.  As we practice this in our lessons with your child, we’re practicing basic Self-Discipline.

Developing and strengthening self-discipline through Karate has important lasting benefits for your child:

  • We are patient and persistent. We expect to work hard to accomplish worthwhile goals.  We don’t treat success as a personal entitlement.
  • We behave with self-restraint. We control our impulses and keep ourselves within the bounds of socially accepted behavior.  We don’t say or do something inappropriate or offensive just to be the center of attention.
  • We exercise self-command. When we’re in conflict with someone, we keep our cool and work to resolve it constructively.  We don’t allow ourselves to be provoked into a quarrel or a fight.

4. Leadership Strengths:

In your child’s lessons, our focus is on practicing the discipline of Karate as a means of personal growth and development.  One way we do this is by studying and practicing foundational Leadership StrengthsIntegrity is an example of one of these Leadership Strengths.  Exploring and developing these strengths is an integral part of your child’s instruction in Karate as a member of our dojo community.

We’ll be working on understanding and applying these Leadership Strengths on closely inter-related levels – as both personal and interpersonal strengths.  Personal Leadership:  How we apply a strength to ourselves.  Interpersonal Leadership:  How we apply a strength in our dealings with others.  We’ll go over our basic approach, using Integrity as our example

  • Strength Definition: Integrity means that we speak and behave honestly.  We speak the truth and we keep our commitments to ourselves and to others.
  • Personal Leadership: Personal Integrity means that we are honest with ourselves about both our strengths and our shortcomings.  When we make a mistake or do something wrong, we admit it to ourselves – we don’t make excuses or blame others.  Integrity also means that we keep the commitments – the promises – we make to ourselves.   If we set ourselves the goal of earning Black Belt rank, that is a promise we make to ourselves.  We stick with it and willingly take the time and make the effort to accomplish this goal and keep this promise.
  • Interpersonal Leadership: Interpersonal Integrity extends this to our dealings with others.  We are honest with others in what we tell them – we don’t lie, and we also don’t omit or conceal the truth.  When we make a mistake or wrong another person, we admit it, apologize, and do our best to make amends.  When we make a commitment – a promise – to someone, we do our best to keep it.

We’ll go on to explain how these leadership strengths work.  We’ll use concrete, real-life examples of how people apply these strengths.  For Integrity, one of these will be the story of how George Marshall led his soldiers across Crocodile River – and got knocked down and trampled into the mud when they panicked.  We’ll look at how George applied Integrity to reassert himself as their leader – and re-establish their Integrity as soldiers.

We’ll also explain that, through applying Integrity, we learn to trust and respect ourselves, and we earn the trust and respect of others.

In our lessons together, your child is exploring and strengthening their understanding of foundational Leadership Strengths in a concrete and accessible way.  We’re also working with specifics of how they’re applied as related personal and interpersonal strengths – how they help us to function as individuals, and how they help us to relate constructively to others.

5. Assertiveness Skills:

Assertiveness means that we are self-assured and confident in our dealings with others.  We clearly and respectfully communicate our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and point of view to others.  We set clear personal boundaries, and we consistently and firmly enforce them.  Assertiveness skills are essential interpersonal skills, built around our ability to communicate clearly and forthrightly with others.  They’re especially important when we’re working to constructively resolve a conflict with someone.

These skills are an important part of your child’s self-defense instruction.  One of our fundamental principles of self-defense is that we don’t allow ourselves to be provoked by someone into an unnecessary quarrel or fight.  Frequently we’re dealing with someone who escalates a conflict inadvertently – they don’t have the understanding or the interpersonal skills to resolve it.  On occasion, we’re faced with someone who is deliberately aggressive and confrontational – they feed on the intense, ugly emotional energy of a quarrel.  In either case, your child needs the skills to stick up for themselves and protect themselves.

When we’re dealing with interpersonal conflict, broadly speaking we have 3 possible responses:  Passivity, Aggression, and Assertiveness.  Our focus is on Assertiveness – in most interpersonal conflicts, it is the most constructive, worthwhile response.  That said, Assertiveness is also far and away the most difficult – applying this effectively takes both understanding and practice.  To get a sense of some of the differences involved, let’s consider passivity and aggression first.

Passivity:  We withdraw from conflict and let the other person have their way.  We feel we’re not allowed to say “no” to someone else.  When we’re treated unfairly, we let it pass.  We sacrifice our own interests in the hope that this will make the conflict go away.  One of the many difficulties with passivity is as a response to a bully who is testing our limits to see what they can get away with – how far they can go.  A passive response – withdrawal from conflict – gives a bully the green light to continue to push, and exploit us as much as they want.

Aggression:  We are determined that we must win the conflict – which means the other person must lose.  We have been pushed, so we’re going to push back harder.  The cause of the conflict no longer matters.  The conflict becomes about establishing and enforcing personal dominance over the other person, using intimidation and even force.  Aggression as a response to interpersonal conflict is often seen by others as expressing arrogance, conceit, hostility and selfishness.

Someone may react to a conflict with aggression because they believe the only other option is to passively give in.  They don’t know how to be Assertive – how to constructively engage with the other person to work to resolve the conflict.  In your child’s Karate lessons, we’ll work together to better understand and apply Assertiveness.  In contrast to aggression and passivity, we apply Assertiveness in the following ways:

  • We’re willing to engage in “give and take” with others. We listen to what they are saying as well as speaking up for ourselves.
  • We listen carefully to the views of others, and we engage with them on their merits. We treat their thoughts, feelings and beliefs with respect – we don’t dismiss them casually, even if we don’t agree with them.
  • We express our own thoughts, feelings, beliefs and views clearly and forthrightly. We stand up for these and defend them in a calm and positive way.  We work to persuade others to understand these – we don’t threaten or talk down to them.
  • We set clear personal boundaries for ourselves, and we consistently and firmly enforce them. We’re able to tell someone “no” when we must – and to make that “no” stick.

In our Karate lessons, we’ll learn and practice a set of practical assertiveness skills – special tools like the “Power I”, “Solution Time”, and the “Thought Chop”.  These are all tools that will help your child to deal with conflicts, difficult situations and difficult people positively and constructively.

6. Active Self-Defense Skills:

“No-one gets to touch you without your permission” is our basic rule of Active Self-Defense for all our students.  These are the skills we use to enforce our physical boundaries with others.  No-one gets to grab you, shove you, strike you or kick you just because they think it will be fun for them.  We’re not trying to get into a fight with somebody, but that is a personal boundary that we have to enforce.  The Active Self-Defense skills your child learns in their Karate lessons gives them the necessary tools and knowledge to do this.

We use our Active Self-Defense skills to protect ourselves from another person’s physical aggression.  We talked about interpersonal conflict and aggression in the previous section of your report, discussing Assertiveness Skills.  Interpersonal aggression means that someone is seeking to establish and enforce their personal dominance and control over us without our consent.

Most aggression that we face from others is verbal, psychological, or social in its expression.  These are hurtful and potentially damaging, but they’re not direct physical threats – instead, we apply our Assertiveness skills to counter them.  If a bully taunts me – tells me I was an accident, and my parents never really wanted another child, and that they don’t really love me at all – while this is aggression, intended to psychologically wound and humiliate, it isn’t a physical threat.   I should respond verbally, calling the bully on their unacceptable conduct, and making it clear I expect them to apologize.

Sometimes, however, interpersonal aggression does become overtly physical.  We may be dealing with someone with poor impulse control – someone shoves us out of the way rather than asking us to move aside and let them through.  The physical aggression here is incidental, but still real, and we do have to deal with it. We may also be defending ourselves from Predatory Aggression – a deliberate act committed with the explicit purpose of inflicting harm.  Again, we have to protect ourselves from this.

In our lessons together, your child learns and practices the Active Self-Defense skills to protect them from physical aggression of either type.  We’ll be working with a set of simple, robust and flexible personal protection skills – among them the elbow strike, the wedge guard, the palmheel strike and the knee.  We’ll apply these to defend ourselves against a variety of possible attacks:  shoves, grabs and pulls, holds, strikes and takedowns.

As your child works to learn these physical skills, we’ll also emphasize our fundamental purposes in Active Self-Defense.  We’re enforcing personal boundaries.  Just as importantly, we’re extracting ourselves from a hazardous situation as undamaged as possible.  Active Self-Defense isn’t about winning a fight with someone, standing over them triumphantly as they lie groaning, sprawled in defeat on the ground.  Active Self-Defense is about preventing them from harming us, using whatever skills or force are necessary to that end, then disengaging safely and exiting the situation.

To find out more about getting started as a student at Broadway Family Karate, please follow this link:  3 Lesson Introductory Course.

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© T.R. Booker 2020

 

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