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Jason Ruiter

Life skills and character development

We can all agree that the youths of today imitate their environment. In today's world of Instagram celebrities, Facebook/Youtube hate comments and sports personalities trash talking one another, there has never been a more important time for young people to have good role models and constant montioring of their behavior from parents. More so than any other activity, Martial Arts goes above and beyond to teach character development and meaningful life skills. Team sports such as hockey and baseball have their merits but no other activity directly addresses character development as it's main core competency (other than learning a self defence system.) As a matter of fact, it is more important for the student to be a good person before becoming a good puncher/kicker.

How do we do this? I have been asked this question by strangers as a low level student I honestly had no idea but I had been practicing "good character" all along.

Respect: Every day in class we "bow" to our senior instructors and address them formally as Sir/Maam. Students recognize social hirarchy with their peers based on their belt level. We encourage working with all types of people and partners and all of the activities begin and end with bowing. Trash talking  does not "exist" in the do jang.

Courtesy: Similar to "respect" students are taught to greet each other with a bow and address each other formally. There are specific ways a student needs to adjust his/her uniform in public, they need to raise their hands if they want to speak and reminded not interrupt and use proper manners.

Focus: Students are told this repeatedly but they don't know what it means! When a student begins class they line up orderly based on rank and before they begin they are taught to stand "still" at attention and demonstrate their focus (or their ability to not be distracted). This happens every time they bow to a partner or bow in to class towards the flags. Most school will either start class by bowing to the founder of the martial art or in some Taekwondo school we will bow to the flags (our country and usually the Korean flag). With this, we teach them to be proud of their heritage and show patriotism.

Self control: This one is the single most important. Most people adults and children do not understand their own strength and limits. By working with bags and targets they learn what their maximum power is and with partners they learn how to control that power and how to deliver 25% - 75% of that force. This is why good martial artists make excellent police officers. Mental self control is developed from our focus exercises (such as standing still at attention and meditation).

Self discipline: Students learn self-discipline by showing up to class over the years both when they want to and especially when they don't want to. I've not wanted to train millions of times but my father always said to me "one more class" eventually that one more class or month turned into a year and then turned into my blackbelt. If you go further and compete, there are countless examples of how it takes self-discilpline to achieve your goals.

Perserverance: Students are taught to develop goals, both long term (blackbelt) or short term (the next stripe on their belt). They are huge tasks but broken down, each one is a small acheiveable goal that everyone can make good on with a bit of dedication and focus. On the road to blackbelt, the desire to quit and not train will come up many times down the road and this is part of the training. Students need to be encouraged by both instructors, parents and friends to stay focused on their greater good.

Indomitable Spirit: Being fearless and having courage is learned directly by competing or sparring but also by standing up for ones' self in social situations. This can be as simple as using your voice to communicate your ideas in public or standing up physically/verbally to tyranny. This of course comes with the confidence of knowing that you can handle yourself physically should the situation arise that you ever need to go down that path.

So how do we encourage this type of growth? For one, start a reputable martial arts program one that enphasizes good manners and life skills first, and combat training second. Lastly, parents (if your child is in martial arts) need to have an open line of communication with their martial arts school instructors so that you can work together and be on the same page when it comes to the message that your child is receiving.
September 26, 2017