“Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome in the end…because in the end, it shows you a whole new world”
- Manoj Arora
If you were to prioritise what parents wish for their children; ‘To be safe’ would rank pretty highly if not right at the top of the pile. Following on from that might be such wishes as being loved, being happy and confident, being good at school, well behaved, and having respect for themselves and others.
If we look at that first priority, of course parents will ensure their child’s safety and wellbeing when they are with them, and will put their trust in schools, community groups, friends and relatives to do the same when they can’t do so personally. Surely an activity like martial arts is the perfect solution to enable children to keep themselves safe, through awareness of danger and confidence in self, to help ease those concerns about maintaining the wellbeing of a child? However, there’s still a burning question: “Will my child be safe training in martial arts?”
With the dawn of the digital age childhood has changed massively. Gone are the days where you would let a 10-year-old play in the street or send them alone to the local shops. Children socialise more on the internet via mobile phones, tablets and social media, than they do face to face. Instead of playing ‘out’ - building dens, forts or holding tea parties - children are more likely to socialise with their peers on a games console or app with digitised avatars of themselves from the safety of their own home. But what we have gained in safety for our children has come at the expense of real-life experiences and learning awareness from exposure to potential danger.
How does this relate to martial arts? Well, I want you to think back to your own childhood. Perhaps you climbed that tree that looked huge – and fell out of it. Perhaps you rode your bike at exhilarating speed – and fell off. Perhaps there was that hot pan on the stove that you were told not to touch – and sure enough, you just had to touch it. Yes, we got hurt. Bumps, bruises, scalds, maybe even a broken bone or two, but we learned a valuable lesson. Awareness, Danger Signs, Consequences. We were subsequently less likely to do the same thing in a similar situation.
It’s the same with martial arts. Is there a risk of getting hurt? Of course; it’s not chess club and accidents happen - but no more so than in any contact sport. Is there a risk of serious injury? There shouldn’t be. A good instructor should always have the welfare of their students at heart regardless of age, and those students should only be exposed to what is just slightly outside of their comfort zone. In that way they can learn and develop from the mistakes they make. Whether that is perfecting the technique they have been working on, practicing forms, or sparring. Step by step it becomes a little more difficult but because of this gradual increase, the things that children and adults worried about maybe weeks or months ago, now seem an absolute breeze. In short, safety is not staying within your comfort zone but rather expanding it by taking on challenges, achieving goals and making something that once appeared scary now comfortable and handled with ease and confidence.
And the safety aspects aren’t just restricted to the classes. As parents you want your children to be as safe as possible all the time. Martial arts should teach children to have an awareness of danger and - probably most importantly - how to avoid or evade it, first and foremost.
Children’s Martial Arts 101 – “What’s the best way to avoid danger? Answer - Don’t be there”
This is just as important for adults as it is for children but it really does ring true and prevention is better than cure. If you know there’s a badly lit alleyway near you that may provide a shortcut home then encourage children to take the longer, safer route. If there is a group of kids that hang out on the same street corner causing problems in the area then avoidance is often best. Even the most seasoned martial artist would struggle to deal with 5 or 6 people physically so why put yourself in that situation? This does not mean running away at the mere sight of them but putting practical distance between you/your child and the problem perhaps by walking on the other side of the street, staying in well lit areas and staying alert rather than burying your head (and attention) in a mobile phone.
Martial Arts should be used for self-protection as an alternative to every other method. The reality is that physical confrontation can result in injury regardless of how much experience someone has in martial arts. However, it also teaches us the confidence to walk tall, to have an awareness of our surroundings and their potential dangers, and to diminish the idea of a “victim mentality”. School bullies and gangs of kids will often pick on the seemingly weaker, easier targets in order to make themselves look stronger. They’re less likely to risk losing face and position amongst their peers by targeting someone who might actually knock them off their perch. In turn children who train in martial arts become more confident, stronger and more capable people as they can concentrate on the important things in their life without feeling the need to watch over their shoulder every 5 minutes.
In summary martial arts can make a huge difference to children’s quality of life. Whilst there are many styles available claiming that they can teach children self defence the reality is that no-one can be 100% assured of personal safety all of the time regardless of the style they train in; but they can be 100% aware and prepared.