Good martial arts schools are known for the profound effect they can have on an individuals discipline, especially children. For the adult who needs to re-prioritize life for less stress or change eating habits discipline can impact health, quality of life and the likelihood of disease. For children it can make the difference in choosing a better path in life, academic excellence, getting into the best universities and earning scholarships.
One primary reason parents enroll children in martial arts other than just as a healthy activity is the discipline and life skills they learn. The positive changes from martial arts can begin almost immediately, much to the amazement of parents and teachers.
Sometimes parents ask why their children can be so disciplined in the martial arts school and yet so undisciplined at home. The answer depends on the individual circumstances but in my experience it often comes down to consistency. What specific rules and expectations does the child recognize. Take a moment to ask the child, not the parent, what the expectations are at home. In children who tend not to listen, this is a muddied response without clarity. In children who tend to behave and listen the first time, it is very clear.
Second, the consequences and rewards of each is clear. The next logical step must also be clear to the student. That way they know they have the power to affect the outcome. What happens if you do not listen the first time? What happens if you do listen the first time?
A bit of pro-active communication or pre-framing, discussing consequences and rewards before you encounter the problem goes a long way. Here are some examples:
A. Enter a store and behave properly
B. Brush teeth and go to bed
C. Turn off video games/TV and go to martial arts
D. Come home from school and do homework
E. Make bed and get ready for school
The next and final step is consistency. If the promise of fulfillment is true and consistent, children respond. Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee shares this bit of wisdom in a story of his grandson. He was enjoying family time with his six year old Grandson when he gave him a quick knuckle tap on the head - a sign of his affection. He Grandson replied, "Ow Grandpa, that hurt." As he rubbed his head. Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee being the wise Master that he is thought for a moment then reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He said, "I did that because I love you and want you to be tough. I will give you this $20 bill so you can go buy a toy if you let me do that one more time." His Grandson quickly leaned forward with an enthusiastic grin presenting his head, "Go ahead Grandpa!"
What this teaches us is that even a six year old boy is willing to put up with a little pain and discomfort to get what he wants. This is a metaphor for martial arts and delayed gratification. Even a six year old boy is willing to put up with a bit of temporary pain if the promise of fulfillment is true. The consistency of the outcome is the key. The discipline is not punishment, instead, it is preparation for life.
Also, in martial arts, a certain amount of discomfort is important to develop appreciation as well as the critical lesson of empathy. Students get punched and kicked (with control) so that they can appreciate the power that they wield. We also practice verbal judo as part of our emotional and mental self defense. These are equally as important. Often we do not know the natural consequences of our actions without having experienced what it is like when it is done to us. Of course this can be abused if done improperly, so it is important to be done in a controlled environment with proper safety precautions, support and encouragement. Steps must be taken to build a student up mentally, emotionally and physically to be prepared for such instruction. Setting the proper perspective and making the right associations to the actions is key.
In my experience these natural consequences, experienced on a small scale, have numerous lessons for children to apply in daily life. The fruit of these lessons is compassion, kindness, empathy and gentleness. Children without them seem to have the greatest propensity for cruelty. Those children grow to become adults with the same issues only more ingrained and rationalized.
It is the little lessons in life that ad up to be the bigger values we internalize. They either contribute to our success or suffering. Those lessons tend to be repeated until we learn to apply them. With children, the martial arts school is a microcosm of life. It is a place where they can safely learn life lessons, internalize solid values and citizenship skills that can be applied throughout life. However, they have little long-term effect if not reinforced at home and school. This is why it is so critical that the martial arts school instructors work together with parents, teachers, and coaches. Together, we can have a profound impact on the direction, choices and opportunities in an individuals life.