There is an unspoken knowledge amongst martial arts instructors who teach children (yes, there are some who strictly teach adults), that there is a “Fix my Child” mentality when it comes to enrolling your kid in martial arts.
Most kids are in karate for a reason. Some just like it, and that's awesome. But the majority are here, as their parents say, "For a reason."
It’s not a secret. You see this everywhere: hell, in Cobra Kai, Miguel only joins karate because he’s getting picked on: he’s a ‘dork’, and he needs to fix that to stop the bullying.
And it works. Karate will help.
It will help disrespectful kids. It will help kids who can’t focus. It will help bullied kids. It will help a lot of things.
And yet, parents take their kids out of karate because it doesn’t immediately fix their child. They don’t right away start listening, respecting the rules, defending themselves from bullies.
So the question remains: why does it help some kids, and not others? Why does if fix some, but not all?
Here’s the truth:
Karate isn’t magic.
I have your child in the dojo for an hour every week, maybe two. Every week, for one hour, they have rules and discipline and they learn that whining and crying doesn’t help them get what they want.
"But Sensei, I don't like Kata/basics/whatever." My answer? "I didn't ask what you like." Because this is what they need. Not what they like.
For one single hour out of a week (a week is 168 hours long, by the way), they learn rules. Discipline.
For 167 hours out of the week, they learn whatever you teach them.
So are you teaching that rules must be obeyed, and if not, there are consequences? Or are you teaching them that if they cry, beg, whine or yell, that they can get their own way?
Let me elaborate.
Take a baby and carry him all week long. One hour on Sundays, you let him try to walk. The other hours of the day and night, you carry him. His feet never touch the floor.
That baby will never learn to walk. All he knows is being carried. He will never have the chance to develop the muscles he needs to walk.
Listening, confidence, focus, and good behaviour are all muscles that need to be worked out every day of the week. At home, at school, on outings, everywhere.
In karate, if you don’t listen, Sensei will remove circles (attendance). Once four circles are gone, a belt stripe is removed. Once enough stripes are removed, they will be stripped of their belt. (I’ve only had to do this once, and trust me: it worked).
Actions = consequence.
It’s the same as taking away a toy. A book. A video game. God forbid: taking away their tablet or internet connection.
Kids know that in my class, they listen. If not, there are consequences. Every. Single. Time.
So they do. They listen. They don’t talk back. They behave. Just like magic. In class, that is.
And then I watch some of those same children who were listening five minutes ago leave the dojo, throw their shoes onto the pavement, and run screaming across the parking lot because suddenly they are being watched by their parents, which means they can do whatever they like. No consequences.
You can see who has rules and structure at home and who doesn’t. You can tell who’s rules will be enforced at home and who can get away with anything.
Once a rule is set, nothing should break it. Not crying, begging, rolling on the floor. Not tantrums. Not lies, and not excuses.
“Pick up your shoes” should always mean “Pick up your shoes”. It never means “Pick them up, thrown them across the room, and then start to cry”.
If the parent yells back, but then picks up those shoes, who just won? The child did. Yes, you got to shout. But they still didn’t have to carry the shoes.
Rules are rules.
Actions = consequence.
So, in the end, can karate ‘fix’ a child who doesn’t listen, doesn’t focus, doesn’t behave? Yes. But only if the same level of discipline, respect and behaviour is followed at home.