Martial Arts: The Door to "I Can"

Note: As a hopelessly addicted fan of the martial arts, I recently rejoined my old karate school...again. I've come out of retirement more times than Michael Jordan, Roger Clemens, and Rocky Balboa combined. This time around I was able to pull it off because two of my kids now attend the same school and I convinced my wife that "really, this is quality time and and a great opportunity to be a positive role model." Well, yeah. Of course that's a big part of it. But who am I kidding? I'll still be doing this stuff when I'm 80. With that in mind, I thought it would be great to post the following re-edited article which originally appeared in Anything But Silent back in 2004.

At first glance, we might seem a bit strange. After all, when you see a group of people cavorting in pajama-like clothes you might think “mental hospital.” Especially when we do weird things such as bowing, meditating, and twisting ourselves into human pretzels. Not to mention punching, kicking, tripping, grappling, and immobilizing each other with joint locks. Yes, we’re martial artists. I love it.

Over the years, I’ve participated in a number of martial arts styles whenever time permitted. In between school, job changes, relocating to new neighborhoods and raising three kids, I’ve been fortunate to be able to participate in Shotokan, Tae Kwon Do, Tai Chi, and Kempo.

You’d think that with three kids in the house it would be time to hang up the uniform and call it a career. After all, it’s not easy to practice the martial arts at home when your three-year-old frequently interrupts your workout with a football thrown at your crotch. But I’ve got kung fu fever and just can’t stop.

Speaking of kids, that brings us to the main point of this article: Why aren’t there more deaf kids signing up for martial arts classes? They have everything in the world to gain from it and I highly recommend checking it out.

You’ve probably seen the karate ads in the phone book and rolled your eyes at all the gung-ho buzzwords: Confidence! Self-control! Concentration! Self-esteem! Respect! Discipline! Better grades! Lose Weight! Fix the kitchen sink!

Sounds a bit over-the-top, sure, but they throw out those words for a reason: It’s true. Want an example? Fine, let’s start with confidence. Many deaf kids are over-exposed to the worst four-letter word of them all: “can’t.” There are lots of people out there who feel that deaf kids are unable to succeed in the mainstream and/or need to be protectively shielded from it. And “but you can’t do that, you’re deaf” is the worst message you can give a deaf child.

Unfortunately, children often internalize this “but you can’t” mentality. They sense it from others, grow accustomed to it, and sooner or later start to believe it. They consequently go through life selling themselves short. They live down to the low expectations placed on them.

An excellent antidote for “but you can’t”, in my opinion, is the martial arts. A good karate school provides children with real-life experiences that clearly prove they can accomplish their goals.

When you participate in karate class as a beginner, you can’t help but notice the advanced students performing all sorts of amazing physical feats. It’s not unusual if you look at them and think “no way could I ever do that.” But after a certain period of time you WILL master those techniques. It comes with the program. Regular participation and an honest effort always bring results.

Inevitably, you reach a point where you’re doing stuff you once thought was impossible. And that’s when you reach the biggest mental breakthrough: “Hey, two years ago I said ‘no way’ -- and now I’m doing it!” Once that realization sets in, you’ve established a foundation of confidence that allows you to go further and seek new challenges. You know firsthand that all it takes is perseverance and faith in yourself.

Another aspect you develop is concentration, an ability that can easily be transferred to school or the workplace. For me, this is the area where the martial arts help most. Look, I have a wife, three kids, a full time job, and a part-time home business. With all of that, who has time to think? People ask me about something I was supposed to do two days ago and I tell them I can’t even remember what I did this morning. So what could I possibly do to maintain my sanity?

Yes, karate to the rescue again. Nothing works better at clearing the clutter out of a frazzled brain. For example, there are plenty of moves you have to memorize and practice constantly before they become automatic. There are plenty of techniques where your feet are doing one thing while your hands are doing another. Without proper focus and concentration, these moves won’t fly. The martial arts aren't just physical exercise, it’s also brain exercise.

Not long ago, I had fun with this in a middle school math class. The kids had to kick a small target pad which they could only hit if they properly focused on the task at hand. Then they switched gears and did two minute math drills, once under normal circumstances and again in a setting where we tried to throw them off task with numerous distractions. Both times, they nailed it. They learned to focus.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other mental, physical, and spiritual benefits that come with the martial arts but there isn’t enough time or space to cover them in just one article. To learn about them, you have to experience them. And I’ll just close by reiterating the most important point: If you're looking for ways to empower yourself or your children, the answer may be no further than the karate school right down the street.

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