Of course, I teach your kids to kick and punch. I’ll not sugarcoat or redirect you to the work we do to improve behavior. Otherwise, I would need to change the name and concept of my business: AKF Lexington Martial Arts. I teach my students to kick and punch… and block, move, anticipate, avoid, defend, be assertive, courageous, respectful, show leadership, have self-control, stay focused and so much more.
It seems I too, have immediately ventured down the path of behavioral skills. The truth is a good martial arts instructor ties the physical martial arts with the behavior skills training. My students will tell you that within their first three months they can identify and understand the role of “self-control” and “respect” in their training. Before we can work with partners, before we can practice martial arts, what do I expect you to demonstrate to me? “Self-Control and Respect, Sir!” This is the answer bellowed out by students growing in confidence and pride in knowing the answer.
Becoming a martial artist requires change. It takes courage to change, even if you don’t recognize it at the time. Kids (and adults) are challenged when they face frustration, goal setting, boredom, failure, success, and learning patience. The easy way out of a tough situation is quitting or giving up, developing excuses, or blame. Martial arts students who persevere through challenges develop a responsible outlook over time, as they grow into courageous, persistent, and confident leaders.
How do other parents or family members react when you tell them your child has joined a martial arts program? Do they remark on what kicking and punching warriors they will be? Probably not. Most likely their first thought is related to improved behavior or developing discipline. I like to tell the story of a school I considered early in my martial arts career. I was not greeted when I arrived. The instructor stood on the mat with two other adults, enjoying coffee and cookies, while their kids played a game – tying their shoelaces together – in the middle of the mat. I waited, while I swallowed my opinion of the improper disrespect to the mat and to me. I left after 30 minutes of waiting with no acknowledgement. Not every martial arts school builds their students’ discipline for everyday life use. Clearly, discipline was not a core value of this school, so I found another one to join. The school I end up attending helped develop my discipline and self-control and made me regularly check my ego. I was no easy student. I am still a difficult student, but I have developed a deep respect for the instructors who are tough while empathetic to each person’s needs. Martial arts instruction should hold the students accountable to their actions. Accountability creates a valuable connection between discipline and self-control. As you can imagine, this connection can be powerful and life changing. I take pride in seeing this happen for our students.
“If I had wanted an answer to my statement, I would have formed it as a question.”
Ever experience “talk-back” in your house? In someone else’s? At a store or anywhere in public? Once in a while, I need to remind a student that all I am looking for is, “Yes, Sir” instead of further information. I was once that child pushing the limits and I needed to be corrected, publicly. One of the most impactful people in my younger life was a very strict science teacher who held a parent teacher conference with my family. As we were leaving, I talked back to my mother. He immediately told me his uncensored opinion of my interjection into my mother’s conversation. I was shocked. I was offended and embarrassed and, well…later developed a huge respect for that defining moment in my life. Forty years later I still remember the look on his face. I remember the way I felt when I had the realization of how I had treated my hero, my mother. I love my mother very much and was mortified when I realized he was right. I had been mean to her. This incident started a lifetime journey of self-improvement. I am still working on it and wouldn’t have it any other way. I appreciate that moment and hope to provide such moments to my students. Too many people live their lives entitled or averse to respect and self-worth. I teach my students to respect those that have gone before us. I remind our students that their parents were once their age. I love to blow their minds when I tell them that I too have behaved inappropriately in my youth. I teach them that mistakes are normal, effort is expected, and respect for oneself and others is essential. As we enforce rules, expectations, and build our students self-worth and self-confidence, respect is right there…. bright and glorious, in a world that truly needs it.
One of the greatest things about the martial arts training I provide, is the family approach. Anyone can do it. We are not training warriors or world champions. We are training confident, well disciplined, highly focused leaders. The reason students can learn to be more attentive through martial arts, more than any other sport, is martial arts training requires focus to reap the rewards. Think about it, in baseball, if a player does not focus and is slow to develop- they sit. They sit and sit and sit. I know how that would make me feel and I am sure I am not alone. In martial arts, you can continue to train, but without focus, you will not reach the goals of your dreams. If you wish to see improvement in your ability to do cool things, you must try hard and practice often. You may fail many times, but you’ll be corrected, not cancelled. You are encouraged, not ejected. You are celebrated when you improve. You may never fly, but you will absolutely learn how to try. You will be better than you were yesterday. Martial arts is a building sport. You will build self-esteem, coordination, and comprehension. In time you will be challenged to a new level, but today you just need to try. I mean really try, harder and longer than you want. When you want to quit, push harder. Try again when you get it wrong. Stay focused and don’t let your attention wander to the easier, instant gratification. It is empty and it will hinder you. I love effort and I praise focus. Praise shows the student they are successful. Parents and teachers comment on Improved focus often. That is a comment that makes me smile.
I believe I started today by saying I do teach your children to kick and punch. Yes, yes, I do. But more importantly, I teach them a whole lot more so they can make better decisions and be ready to protect themselves while never misusing the tools I put in their toolbag. I hope you can see why I love what I do and live to build stronger people, one kick and punch at a time.