|My crazy boy after his green belt test. He was maybe just a little excited.
I continued to dive into soccer and gymnastics, and eventually settled on soccer as my sport of choice. I played year round soccer-fall and spring seasons were a must, as well as off season indoor leagues. I LOVED it.
And so here is my terrible confession...Somewhere around middle school I decided karate was for nerds. Not sure why. It just was. And I was a middle school know-it-all who thought she was pretty darn cool (in reality, I was mostly a band nerd in middle school). Soccer was (clearly) the cool kid choice, and most others ranked lower in my book.
My little sister started into martial arts and ended up with her black belt. And even though I had zero skills, I was relentless and tough and always certain I could kick her butt, and so we regularly tried to tap each other out at home. My parents would rarely, if ever, break up these fights...I'm sure they thought by this point that my sister could finally handle herself.
Fast forward about 12 years (say what?!?! I'm getting old)...we ended up enrolling our son, Aaron, into a karate program just around the corner. And for real, within about two weeks, I declared this to be the most amazing sport ever. I honestly cannot believe how wrong my impressions of the sport had been. My Zoe (7) actually just quit gymnastics and started karate recently, too, and she is thriving and enjoying it.
So for any other mommas who have established your opinion of karate based on TV or your middle school judgements or whatnot instead of first hand experience, let me give you my newly developed, first hand, momma to momma feedback on the sport of karate (and if you are a "real" karate person, forgive my lack of proper terminology...I know very little-clearly):
1) Karate is a sport that teaches respect. From the very first lesson, Aaron was taught to bow coming on and off of the mat as a sign of respect. His little 5 year old body gets a little too excited sometimes and he runs right off, but now that he is a few belts in, he is starting to be more consistent.
They also bow to their instructors at various times, and I LOVE that their instructors are often bowing back. We show respect to teach respect, right? Kids are just as worthy of our respect as adults are, and I love that there is mutual respect being taught within the sport, even in the little kids' program. The kids respond to their teachers with "yes sir" or "yes ma'am". Aaron often says "yes sir" to me when I ask him to do things at home now (his main teacher is a male...it's habit).
|My little Levi and his friend watching the big kids at our karate homeschool field trip.
2) Big kids teach little kids. I was shocked the first time I saw a child only a head or two taller than Aaron walk onto the mat and begin to kindly and patiently explain, demonstrate, and teach a Thai Boxing Combo to Aaron. As I watched, I realized that these kids, who seem to be mostly around ages 10-12, are perfectly capable little instructors. Not only that, but as a teacher myself, and an advocate for mixed ages in learning situations, I KNOW that those "big" kids are learning a great deal themselves by teaching someone else. What a fabulous experience for the younger kids to learn from someone more "peer" like, and for those "big" kids to experience and navigate sharing their knowledge to someone younger than themselves.
3) Self defense skills are learned. A month or so ago, a little guy at a friends house choked Aaron. He was so panicked and crying after his sisters got the boy off of him. He talked about it for days, in fact. Fast forward about a month, and something similar happened, with a friend coming up around his back/neck. Except this time he could still talk. He asked and told the kid three times to get off of him, and when he didn't Aaron quickly maneuvered himself out of the situation with a jab to the gut. I was SO proud that even at 5, he remembered to use his words and only when that was ineffective, he was able to quickly get himself out of the situation. When I talked to him afterwards, he said, "I was really scared and I asked him to get off but he wouldn't so I used my self defense." (And if you're wondering why I didn't step in when his friend was on top of him, it's because I wasn't there...the grown ups who saw communicated what happened to us). Now, if I could just figure out what in the world possesses little boys to tackle and choke others, that would be fabulous (not sure if I'll ever understand little boys, though).
|My Zoe is in the white belt, and Aaron is in the green.
5) It's a family affair. I'm not sure whether this is typical for the sport of karate, but it certainly is true of our gym. Children need to earn 6 "tips" on their belt to be eligible for a belt test. The first 5 have to do with skills learned, the final tip is a parent approval tip. I LOVE how a child's ability to move on up is not only dependent upon their class performance, but is also based on how they are at home with their siblings/whether they show respect at home/etc. Because life should be well rounded. Children should not learn that being respectful or hardworking is something that only happens at one place and time, but that those qualities should transcend into all areas of their lives.
Beyond that, this particular gym has LOTS of full-families participating in various classes. We have two of our kiddos in classes, I am taking private self defense classes (and surprise-I've discovered I actually really love it and will be joining a regular class after our Disneyland trip in a few weeks), and my husband has been diving into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (if you've been around a while, you'll remember his severe knee injury a few years back that almost led to his leg being amputated...he's taking it SLOWLY, but is sure giving it a try!). I love to see all the families participating. What a fabulous way for parents to not only help their kids stay healthy and active, but to SHOW them too!
6) Fitness is important. My kids come off sweaty after every class. They work hard, and get a great workout in at each class. It is suggested that all children do 60+ minutes of physical exercise each DAY, and yet only 1 in 3 children are physically active every day. Most of the 60 minutes should be made up of aerobic activity (per CDC recommendations), with bone and muscle strengthening exercises being mixed in too. I love that our karate studio is unlimited enrollment, and since it's right by our house, we can usually make it to 4-5 classes each week. That fits in half of their daily aerobic exercise on those days!
Overall, karate is NOTHING like I imagined it to be when I was younger. It is SO much greater than I could have expected, and I am so grateful to have found such a wonderful gym right by our house. While I always dreamed of having little soccer players, muddy cleats, and stinky shinguards laying around the house, I'm finding more and more joy in watching my kids discover the sports that they love.
So, if you're looking for a new sport to introduce your kiddos to, I would highly suggest martial arts!