The Importance of Martial Arts as a Life Skill
So what do you do the day your child tells you that they want to quit their training at the dojo? Do you allow them to quit? Do you force them to continue? What do you base your decision on? Their feelings? The values you want to instill in your child? Your finances? What should a parent do in these situations?
Before going any further, I should make it clear that I am not of the belief that you should force your child do something “no matter what.” Far from it. However, I am also not of the belief that you allow your child to simply quit pursuing martial arts (or any other endeavor that requires long-term commitment) at the first sign of laziness, declining interest, or short-term lack of motivation.
I began my personal martial arts training at age 15. I’ve been teaching martial arts since 1995. As a life-long martial artist and as a teacher I’ve been confronted many times, personally and professionally, with the situation where a student has made it known to their parent that they don’t want to continue training. Sometimes parents simply allow them to stop and we never see them again (unfortunate). In many cases parents approach me and we can often establish a strategy to find out exactly what the issue is and address it to ensure a continued path of success as a long-term martial artist. With a shared vision, set of values, and game plan most situations can be resolved, many times quite easily.
The first and most important factor for parents (and students) to understand is this:
There is a difference between motivation and discipline. The key to success in martial arts or anything else is understanding the difference.
In anything that we do long-term there will always be high points and low points in motivation. As human beings we are emotional creatures with fluctuating moods. This happens to us in our daily activities and it will most certainly happen with anything that requires a long term commitment. Whether we are talking about an ongoing commitment to fitness, a weight loss program, a marriage, a religious faith, a career, learning how to play an instrument, or learning martial arts – there will be highs and lows (like the stock market). You might feel completely motivated to start your diet on Monday but by Saturday night that double cheeseburger is looking REALLY good. You might not be motivated to maintain your diet…you might be really motivated to eat that cheeseburger. What do you do? Do you quit your diet? The one you just started on Monday?
If you base your decisions on emotion and on what you are “motivated” to do from moment to moment then you eat the cheeseburger. If your decisions are guided by discipline as opposed to momentary motivation – you stick to your guns despite your motivation at the moment, and you stay away from the diet-killing double cheeseburger.
How many adults won’t go the the gym today (despite their New Year’s resolution, fully paid membership, etc.) because they “don’t feel like it?” Those who base their daily decisions on motivation won’t go. Those who base their decisions on their long-term goals will go despite their lack of motivation (discipline).
The number one question I ask parents when they tell me that their child wants to quit is the following:
Generally, what is your child’s mood IMMEDIATELY after they leave the lesson?
This is a critically important question! When the student leaves the dojo are they happy? Are they really bummed about the experience? Are they sad? Are they excited? Are they happy that they attended Taekwondo that night?
Remember, we aren’t talking about any one particular class. Anyone can have a really bad night or a really awesome night at the dojo. The question is pertaining to the “average.” More often than not what is their mood as soon as they get out of class?
The honest answer to this question is one of the most important factors that parents need to consider when they are deciding whether they should allow their child to quit or not.
A child (or an adult for that matter) might hesitate to go to class. They might say, “I don’t want to go to Taekwondo tonight.” Sometimes it has nothing to do with not wanting to go to class but rather with not wanting to stop doing what they are doing right at that moment (video games, etc.). Sometimes they lack in motivation for one reason or another and will search for an excuse. This isn’t all that different from an adult who finds some excuse to not exercise (‘I’m tired from work…I don’t feel like going today, I’ll go tomorrow…I have so many things to do at the house…I’ll start again next week…I had a hard day at work and I really want this ice cream). The point is that if we want an excuse we’ll find one. All of us can find a “reason” to not do something we aren’t motivated to do at the moment. There is a part of all of us that looks for the easy way out. Our motivations do that to us. Motivation comes and goes but our discipline is what gets us through these ups and downs in motivation. After all, don’t many parents sign their kids up for martial arts to learn discipline in the first place?
But all of this is before we go to class (or the gym, etc.). If the child goes to the dojo, despite their initial protest, and comes out happy, smiling, and proud that they went to class this would be one strong indication that they are actually benefiting and enjoying the training experience! Again, this is like an adult who lacks motivation today but fights the temptation to stay home and instead finds the discipline needed to go to the gym. If they actually get their butt to the gym and work hard, when they leave, 99% of the time, they are not only happy that they went but they are proud of themselves because they know they fought past the “mental BS” that almost kept them at home eating doritos and watching TV on the sofa. Never mind the actual physical gains they made from the exercise itself. Discipline is what keeps us steady. Discipline establishes the habits we need when our motivation tips to the low side.
If a child is truly miserable every time they leave leave class that doesn’t necessarily mean that the child should quit immediately. However, it is an indicator that a conversation with their instructor is warranted to see if there are any adjustments that could be made in the child’s training (perhaps some goal setting). With a little bit of time we can then assess whether those changes have had partial or full success. If after some changes are made and plenty of time has passed there is no change then at that point we might need to come to the conclusion that being a long-term martial artist isn’t for them. Ideally, the parent will approach the instructor about their child’s mood and growing lack of interest before the student actually verbalizes wanting to discontinue. The longer the negative mood the harder it is to reverse course – no different then a personal relationship. If issues aren’t communicated early and openly – they linger and grow like a cancer. Awareness and prevention are key. Good communication between parents and instructors is key in maintaining a positive and growing martial arts life.
Finally, one of the items that parents struggle with is, “I don’t want to force my child to do anything they don’t want to do.” As a teacher I can definitely understand this feelings. Again, I’m not of the school of thought that says you should force the child to do something against their will no matter what. However, I’m also not a fan of building the type of character in a child that allows them to quit pursuing goals “just cause” or because “I don’t feel like it.”
I ask parents who tell me they don’t want to “force” the child to do anything they don’t want to do the following questions: What if your child told you that they didn’t want to go to school anymore? What if your child told you they wanted to stop doing homework because they didn’t like it anymore?
Would you let them quit school? Would you allow them to never have to do their homework again? Probably not. The question then becomes, why not? For most parents, they won’t allow their children to quit things they find value in (school, exercise, a balanced diets, etc.). They will become resourceful (get a tutor, meet with their teacher etc.) in trying to fix the issue and not just allow their children to quit.
If you, as the parent, find value in in their education you are going to ensure they go to school and do their homework. that extends to all the other activities that you see the value in. The bottom line is that a parent will ensure that the child follows through because they, as the parent, see the BIGGER picture.
Remember parents — studying a martial art like Taekwondo that focuses on and teaches such a perse range of valuable life skills is not just another hobby or activity. In the words of Dave Camarillo, “Self-Defence is a life skill, not a sport.” If your daughter quit her horse riding lessons – you might not like it but she doesn’t necessarily need to do that as a life skill. As a teacher, I believe that the martial arts are vital life skills and one of the most amazing gifts we can share. How much more confident will your daughter be as they first arrive at college knowing that she has studied self-defence consistently since she was a child? How will that confidence translate into other areas of her life? How much value do you as a parent believe there is in giving your son an environment to learn how to control his aggressiveness (or overcome his shyness) in a positive way, to learn how to protect himself from danger appropriately, and to built his personal character in the model of the traditional martial values of discipline, respect and courage? The skill of self-defence is a life skill and not “just” another activity. It isn’t another item to add to the list of things your child has gone through and moved on from.
Parenting is tough. Do you decide day-to-day whether you are a parent or not? I’m sure that your motivation comes and goes. Sometimes you feel like the best parent in the world and other times you aren’t so motivated. But either way, you have the commitment and the discipline to be a parent. You don’t get to make that decision on a day-to-day basis. It is a long-term commitment with highs and lows in motivation. Being a martial artist is the same way. You either are a martial artist or you’re not. You don’t make the decision on a whim from day to day. You aren’t a martial artist only when you put on your uniform.
Your child needs you to help forge their character. They don’t have the big picture, the long view, in their mind. They don’t have that life experience. Help them learn the difference between motivation and discipline. More often than not that means get them to the dojo. We’re here to help. We are on the same team.