Updated: Aug 13, 2022
What do most parents want at the end of a long work day besides maybe a favorite
beverage or a hot bath? TIRED KIDS!
That's right. Tired kids. Expended energy. Kids that will gladly brush their teeth and go to bed after a long day. At least this is what I imagine the parents of young children long for. I can't quite speak to this elusive wish, as I became a parent of pre-teens and skipped the whole high energy phase. I do, however, have an energetic gaggle of nieces, nephews and cousins who are 6 and under. I love each of them dearly.
While I can't guarantee a good night's sleep, I can say that children reap numerous benefits from learning martial arts. In our gym we focus on confidence, anti-bullying, and discipline. These are the obvious goals. We foster a child's sense of accomplishment with positive feedback, while firmly teaching good technique to prevent injury. It is important to celebrate small victories, for anyone, but especially for children learning something new. These celebrations serve as positive reinforcement, because we all know how defeating it can be to feel like we are bad at something when, in reality, we are just learning.
Confidence is built through these small celebrations of success. When others recognize your accomplishments, it elevates your own sense of accomplishment. To be completely honest, sometimes I don't even rate something I've done as an accomplishment until someone points out to me how well I've done. This recognition is important in it's truest and honest form. I'm not talking participation trophies that foster a false sense of accomplishment. I mean acknowledging that a child (or anyone) is improving on their forward rolls, finally executed a clean armbar that he/she has been working hard at, or completed a successful take down. These are the building blocks of confidence, which is the number one bully deterrent.
It is well known and documented that bullies target "easy prey". Through Jiu Jitsu a sense of pride, confidence and accomplishment is created. This combination does not make for easy prey. BJJ practitioners tend to carry themselves with more confidence, like a cloak of "not easily messed with". Bullies typically sense this and tend to engage confident kids less. This is not the only anti-bully benefit of BJJ. Kids also learn fairness and respect through BJJ. This makes them less likely to bully other kids. Children are taught these fighting techniques, but also WHEN it is appropriate to use them. BJJ is not a striking martial art, rather one of controlled, flowing movement. It is known as the gentle art for a reason.
Discipline is a harsh, but important word. In the wrong context it can sound domineering and cold. A noun or verb that uses punishment as correction. This is not the case when training BJJ, or learning any sport for that matter. In this context discipline does not use punishment as correction. Discipline means to train to obey the rules or a code of behavior. It is the code that is important in a martial arts gym. There is tradition woven through each class. Shoes are taken off as a sign of respect (and to not ruin the mats). Many people will bow before stepping onto the practice mat, though this is not specific to BJJ but many other martial arts disciplines. A practice that is specific to BJJ is the slap-bump. Don't let your imagine run away with you. This is a sign of mutual respect and sportsmanship, much like tapping gloves before a boxing match or bowing before a karate match. I could not figure out where it originated, but it is widely practiced in BJJ today. This hand slap/fist bump combo indicates the start of a roll. It serves as a mutual agreement of fair play and to watch out for each other. It lets your partner know that you respect him/her and will guard their physical safety as you try to submit them :).
I started writing this blog before our kid's class began, but I want to share this with you all. On our first day Professor Mark gave the kids homework. He asked the kids what discipline meant to them. This is what he received...
There are less obvious benefits to kids and teens training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, even things I didn't think about before doing a bit of inspirational research for this post. Some are a bit of a Duh! moment. Are you ready for my list? Let's do this!
As the parent of teenagers, socialization is a huge goal.
With each generation I feel like we are getting further away from each other. If this is a common sight at your dinner table, coffee table, back patio, in the bathroom (lord knows they don't always shut the door *eyeroll)...
then your child or teen would surely benefit from joining Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In this sport, it
will force your child to look their opponent in the eye. There is something about the close contact nature of the sport that makes you more comfortable with other people. It breaks down personal boundaries and in doing so builds community. It is really hard to be persistently awkward with your training partners when you have your legs wrapped around them.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu also fosters team building with training partners, coachability, and personal growth. As a BJJ practitioner, the hardest competition I have is with myself. By working through the physical challenges that are presented to you in class, you learn how to channel your emotions in positive directions. The good thing about a combat sport is it forces you to focus on the weak spots in your game. There is no team to blend into. There are no participation trophies. There is just you and your training partner. Your training partner who isn't going to go easy on you because they are striving to be their best as well. This is where growth comes from. Challenge.
Once you begin to challenge yourself on the mats, you realize that it isn't just the time that you put into the gym that counts. I know I am cleaning up my eating habits and started strength training, which is a journey in of itself. My name is Elysia, and I'm a pasta addict. The first step is admitting it. It didn't take too long to realize though that it was hard to do some of the movements that I was asked to do, because I was a little fluffy. Extra padding is great for cold winter nights, but not for tucking yourself into a ball. I realized that I had to make some lifestyle changes. Moving in new directions on the mats, will lead to moving in new directions in life.
Learning how to use your body is essential. Bear with me and it will make sense. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is rooted in purposeful movement, and feeling the movement of your opponent to counter them. The more you learn, the better your balance and proprioception become. Kids and adults both improve their coordination and awareness of the space they occupy. They learn how to use the ground. They improve their mental and physical strength. This makes BJJ a great sport to cross train for other activities as well! When many people think of martial arts, they picture endless drilling and stagnant movements. This is not true of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. While drilling is important, many of the most important drills are incorporated into games that children enjoy. These games reinforce lessons and build upon new body movements as well.
These are only some of the reasons why I think Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an amazing sport for children. Where else can you gain balance, confidence, socialization, discipline and attain significant personal growth outside of sports. I think BJJ is uniquely positioned to help kids not only master all of these goals, but also to be incredibly humbled. If you speak with any adult who has begun this journey you will be told just how humbling BJJ can be. This is the balance. Confidence gained along with being humbled. Balance improved along with the ability to work on the ground. Discipline gained along with socialization.
While I can't guarantee a good night's sleep, I can say that children reap numerous benefits from learning Jiu Jitsu. In our gym we focus on confidence, anti-bullying, and discipline. These are the obvious goals. We foster a child's sense of accomplishment with positive feedback, while firmly teaching good technique to prevent injury. It is important to celebrate small victories, for anyone, but especially for children learning something new. These celebrations serve as positive reinforcement, because we all know how defeating it can be to feel like we are bad at something when, in reality, we are just learning. I hope this helps to convince you why your child, and maybe even yourself, should come join us on the mats! All are welcome. Keep on rolling.
*A special thanks to our Facebook page and Google Images :)