Martial arts

Jason Seaforth is really not a physical kid, says his mom, Katherine -- he's more into science and other learning activities

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So finding a sport her son enjoyed was a challenge. Seaforth thought it was important that he had some sort of physical activity in his life. “We tried soccer, but Jason really isn’t into team sports. He mostly wanted to stand on the field and chat, and he doesn’t like running. So that didn’t work out.”

On the advice of friends, Seaforth enrolled Jason in a karate class at a studio where the emphasis is on having fun, and the instructors are really experienced working with kids. “At first he wasn’t sure, but after a few months, he started to enjoy it,” says Seaforth. “I noticed a huge improvement in his ability to concentrate and listen well. I think that’s because the classes are structured and the kids really have to focus on what the sensei (instructor) is saying. I noticed too that he was very respectful toward the sensei. The kids have to bow, and say thank you. It’s part of the discipline in a karate class. I like the fact that there’s respect for the leader built in to it.”

Robert Lynds owns Dojang Studio in Vancouver and holds a black belt in several martial arts, including tae kwon do and dojang. He says quite a few of the kids in his classes are like Jason in that they’ve had difficulty landing on a sport they enjoy.

Why are martial arts quite often a good option for these kids? Disciplines like karate or judo are an individualized sport. “The emphasis isn’t on scoring goals, but on a personal sense of accomplishment. At the same time, there’s a sense of co-operation and team spirit that comes from being part of a class, and working out with the same group of kids,” says Lynds.

“The whole philosophy is different from team sports,” he explains. Connecting the mind and the body is at the forefront of martial arts training. Physically, students develop excellent balance and coordination, muscle strength and flexibility, as well as body awareness. “It’s great to see kids realize they actually have stomach muscles, to learn where they are and how to use them,” says Lynds.

There’s also an emphasis on focus and concentration in a good martial arts class, says Lynds. “We begin with a few minutes of silence where kids learn to clear their minds, and they’re invited to decide what they’d like to focus on — executing their kicks really well that day, for example.

If parents are considering martial arts training for their children, Lynds recommends finding out about the different disciplines. An instructor can be helpful in determining if the philosophy and the physical style is likely to be a good fit with a child’s temperament. For example, someone who enjoys wrestling might like jujitsu or judo. Kids who like kicking and punching might enjoy karate or tae kwon do.

Lynds recommends choosing an instructor who is a black belt and has experience working with kids. “In this age group, the emphasis should always be on having fun and staying safe, which means the class should be small enough to afford some individual attention.” It’s worth chatting with the instructor about how he motivates the kids to keep stick with a discipline. In some clubs for example, a tape strip is added to the belt each time a child passes a skill.

At a recent testing session, Seaforth says she could hear comments from other parents about how great Jason’s form was. “He is a bit of a perfectionist, and he takes great pride in doing his moves well. You know, it’s true — his form is amazing,” says Seaforth, enough to win him his orange belt. Jason says he thinks he’ll stick with karate for now — at least until he gets his black belt.

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