Martial art’s – a parents guide

The family that trains together...

By Jason Smith

It’s a sunny Thursday afternoon and a mother takes her 6 year old son to a local martial arts school for the first time. The child steps through the door and is over come with a feeling of energy and excitement as they see the apparatus, equipment, other students and of course, the master.

Delighted to see her child swept up in this whirlwind of excitement, she is happy to let the child kick off his shoes and take part in his first class, embarking on the magical journey of the martial arts, and yet something is missing.

In over 2 decades of being involved in martial arts I don’t believe I’ve ever heard any body ask for a form of certification, proof of first aid or what more a police check, or child safety notice. It appears that the wearing of pajamas and a belt seem to be qualification enough to many parents to expose their child to the teachings of a stranger.

When your child is approaching school age, there tends to be an intensive period of looking into schooling. Which school is the right one for my child, which school provides the best facilities, echo’s the values you believe in, and of course is the best value for money. However when it comes to after school activities, there appears to be a significant drop in responsibility.

Principles and values:

In the past few years martial arts schools have received some bad press due to issues of street violence, bullying and of course the zero tolerance policies in schools.

There will always be bad apples, but this does not mean that martial arts have little value, in fact it’s quite the opposite.

The general misunderstanding is that martial arts makes kids violent, or provides them with the tools to become more dangerous in physicality. However, if taught correctly the focus in the teaching of martial arts is around core values and principles, such as perseverance, courtesy and self-control. In addition to this it also addresses areas of cognitive development, fine and gross motor skills, and creative thinking.

It’s these values that define a martial art as well as it’s practitioners, and therefore if the parent does not find out what the values of what their child is learning hour after hour each week the results can be confronting. I know of many martial arts school’s who prohibit parents from watching classes, although I know that  not all the reasons for this are negative, it still doesn’t build confidence.

As a parent I strongly recommend watching your child train, not only does this provide you with the skills and knowledge to assist your child in their development in their new activity, but also give you a greater understanding of what your child gains from the training.

For those parents willing to take the extra step, I strongly recommend training along side your child. This not only provides you with first hand experience of what your child is learning, but gives you high quality structured parenting time, as well as provides them with and exemplary role model that few children seem to have today, a parent that leads by example.

I receive many call’s from parents asking what martial art is best for their child, my general response is “it’s doesn’t matter, if it is taught right”. The same analogy can be said in reverse, as you could find the best martial art for your child’s body type, but have a terrible teacher who has questionable values. Much like at school, a great teacher can produce a great student, but you have to find them, and this often involves looking around and seeking references.

We are fortunate to have some great martial arts school’s on offer in the Northern beaches, many offering family classes, so do your research.

As a parent seeking to have your child take part in a martial arts activity or school my advice is the following:

Speak to instructors regarding the values and principles taught.

Talk to parents who have children training at the martial arts school.

Ask if the school is accredited and or certified.

Syllabus structure.

Check that there is a first aid box and trained first aid staff.

Martial art is in essence a way of building character through physical training. Bullies have always been around and do not need to have trained in martial arts to be effective. But “ Good” martial arts training can save your child from being bullied.

As I say to my students, “Wearing a black belt does not make you a good person, but being a black belt does”.

For further information in regard to martial arts school’s and their benefit for your child email info@spirittaekwondo.com.au

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The grading process: A Warriors Journey

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By Jason Smith

Much like many aspect of Martial training grading is one of the components that is often misunderstood or simply taken for granted, so what’s the big deal?

In today’s world filled with martial arts politics, money making schemes and shiny packaging, it’s easy to see how many have lost sight of the true purpose of the grading process.

For many it’s simply seen as a way of distinguishing between skill and physical ability levels, those who are able to attain a higher level of technical proficiency achieve higher ranks faster, and few will argue that. Being able and possessing the ability to utilise your body in a truly efficient way should be celebrated, especially in society’s fuelled by fast food and junk TV.

So if it’s not just about establishing an order and hierarchy of skill and principle what is it’s function?

The core purpose of a grading is to influence growth from and within the student by immersing them into a high ( higher than normal) pressure process.

This development should be just as much mental as it is physical, even in your youngest student although the criteria is different.

So why is this so important, what more does this mean that teaching martial arts skills without a grading process have less value? The answer to this can’t be a simple Yes or No as it ultimately comes down the the values, principles and responsibilities of the instructor or teacher. Regardless the one constant that remains is that the entire process is a clear representation of the “Rites of passage”.

Rites of Passage:

A rite of passage is a ritual event which sees an individual undergo a change from one status to another, and can be generally broken down into three stages.

In many cultures children undergo trials to attain their rite of passage to adulthood.

These are often conducted through one or a number of high pressure tasks or rituals. For example native Indians and certain tribes from Africa engage their young women at the age of menstruation in ritual like talks where they are taught by an elder the art of womanhood.

Boys undergo trials to affirm their passage. These trials are often conducted in the form of a first hunt or exposure to certain dangers. The exposure to the dangers within the high pressure process prompts potential growth prior to acceptance and reincorporation to the tribe or community.

Stage One:Separation.  This Marks the time when the individual is selected or pulls away from what they know and steps into the unknown world of stage two, Transition.

Stage Two: Transition.

This is the period between the first two stages. A time often filled with fear, doubt,confusion and discomfort. This is when the individual is challenged or faced with adversary of potentially life changing proportions. Once completed the individual, and now victor are rewarded through receiving an empowering boon.

Stage Three: Reincorporation.

At this point that the individual  has over come his/her challenges and returns, with a new identity, status or boon.

We’ve heard these principles before in the form of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero With A Thousand Faces”. It’s the same basic formula that most of stories that we were told as a child and movies we watch today are based upon. For those who don’t already know “Star Wars” is the classic telling of the HERO’s journey.

So let’s apply this algorithm to what we do as martial artists.

Stage one: Wether it’s your first time in a martial arts class, or wearing that new belts just earned we are excited and maybe a little daunted to be walking this new road. And so we begin or continue our training under the guidance and tutor-ledge of a senior or master.

Stage Two: A testing/ grading date is set and the capacity to grow increases as the pressure mounts. With every second of practice, every mistake made, and being well aware of the consequences if you don’t achieve the level of skill and aptitude needed, keeps us honest, keeps our training true, and from this our growth is proportionate to the size of the challenge.

The higher the pressure,the greater the growth potential. This is where the real growth and development happens.

Stage Three: Reincorporation / The Return.

Following the various trials that had to be won, if the individual world hard enough they will receive an empowering new status. With this status come knowledge earned from the various trials faced placing them in a position to help others who are yet to face the before mentioned challenge.

Yet as the dust settles the individual starts the cycle again, all the time learning and acquiring new attributes, awareness and capacity.

So in reflection “Yes” the belt we wear is just a piece of cotton, but the skill’s and more importantly, the experiences, lessons and attributes gained during the training and grading process are truly  priceless.

The “KING” and Queens without a crown

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By Jason Smith

For those whom have read some of my notes, you’ll be well aware that I have spent the past few years going in and out of hospital being treated for intracranial hypertension.
These visits have afforded me an invaluable experience as a martial artist to reflect upon.

Currently sitting in a hospital bed in the ICU (intensive care unit) at St Vincent’s hospital in Sydney Australia, following some investigative surgery.

I’m blessed with a young face, so when Doctors and nurses see how old I am they often ask what do I do for a living – what’s my secret. And as always I respond with “I’m a teacher of martial arts”.
In previous times this was met with wanting to know more like, what style, I have a friend, I used to do, or I do…
But not now, not here. I just receive a smile and a change of subject or a role of the eyes.
Finally I had a good conversation with one of the friendly ICU nursing staff. She then informed me that the young Daniel Christie who was “King Hit” died just 3 beds away from where I lay only weeks ago, and how constant horrors of street violence have been becoming a more and more frequent issue that they are having to deal with. And we aren’t just talking about emergency medical services, it’s all the additional family support and assistance, as well as ongoing police investigation.

Being a martial artist raises eyebrows in the public eye due it’s current media image and success of the UFC. The knock non effect is the increase of ego fuelled MMA wannabes.

Sometime later I’m struck by the bizarre truth that my situation was backwards.

The arts and now industry once known as martial arts has lost its crown. The true purpose of martial practice is to develop the self, the purpose in teaching martial arts is empower others with the skills of self growth. In short – To serve. And yet these values seem to be lost, or at east very distant from the current perception of what it is to be a martial artist. And yet here I am, an agent of service being served by angels.

As I ponder over this concept, I’m being cared for by nurses and supporting staff of the ICU at the hospital.
These beautiful angels not only calmly deal with their patients physical needs, but also there emotional cries. I know they get paid but much like a soldier I’m not sure if we can really put a price on what they do.
I’m released from the ICU onto the wards and meet a new batch of nurses one more lovely than the next, and yet still having to face all manner of horrors presented to them as everyday part of their job description. What more, it’s all dealt with in great humour, care and tenderness.

During my stay on the ward I witnessed nurses getting scratched and bitten, having their uniforms ripped from their bodies and even a broken nose, all in the process of service. In addition to the physical harm the emotional impact cannot be easy to deal with on a daily bases and I watch many nurses take 5 with the aim to recover their composure and centre before resuming their 12 hour shift.

As a martial artist I found the virtues of these people outstanding and it inspired me to help those around me despite my own situation. In an environment where many are dealing with the ups and downs of the harsh reality that life has dealt them, service is an honour, and yet she can be a cruel mistress as in the act of service we too can be victimised by those we are trying to help. However there was one nurse that put this into a beautiful perspective for me.

This angel in White and blue stepped into my room with a broken nose caused by and angry outburst from a patient with alzheimer’s. When I reached out to console her she caringly said ” it’s not him, it’s his illness”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a beautiful statement said under such pressure from an individual not trained for combat, but to care. And at this point the reality of true martial virtue hit me like a “KING HIT”.

The startling reality that the current state of the martial arts industry is portraying and producing a generation of ego driven, power hungry grunts, and yet these demure angels show more martial virtue that 99% of the self proclaimed warriors I know.

Having watch on numerous occasions the mental battle that many mentally and spiritually immature martial artists endure with life’s real battles, these nurses clearly stand out as true warriors. Walking the mental and often physical minefield of service with pure grace and beauty, they have left me with an hearty mission to aspire too, and I thank them – Jung Shin.

A ‘Not so Tall Story’

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By Jason Smith

I get home late on a Thursday evening after teaching, but just in time to read my boys their bed time story ” The boy who cried wolf ”

Upon finishing of the story I ask my boys what did they learn from the story, and quite sharply the boys return comments about not misleading people, not lying and the importance in being honest.

I give them a well deserved kiss and a good night hug.

As I leave their bed room I chuckle to myself as it was not 30 minutes ago that I was telling stories not to different, although I was in my Dojang, although everyone was wearing pyjamas.

The importance of story telling in the teaching of principles, values and concepts is a tool that most of us take for granted. It dawns on me now how great a vehicle this is in the teaching of the principles and values of your school.

Joseph Campbell clearly documented this process in is work ” Hero with a Thousand Faces” in which he diagramed the similarities in our tails and stories. What more he clearly illustrated a patten within all these stories which relate to us all and the way we live our lives.

As a young boy who collected comic books and Star Wars figures, to one day come to the realisation that all these stories carry a common theme, and that the reason they resonated with me was because there is a parallel between us and the stories we read, and the heroines and hero’s we celebrate and aspire to be.

 

From childhood to adulthood we are told and invest into stories and tails.

From nursery rhymes that emphasis a value like Jack and Jill, biblical stories like David and Goliath, to literary greats and movies, the principles in the stories and what resonate in all of us.

In pondering this, I was prompted to ask how much of martial education takes place after class or outside of the Dojang. I know not just from my experience, but also through the experience of others that the time spent discussing lesson taught, principle of training and sharing in the experiences of others, that many do not consider an important part of training but in hindsight it’s probably one if not the most important.

This is a time were no physical training takes place, and yet the individual can be exposed to principles, concepts and values that they may not be usually exposed to. Furthermore this is conducted in a place and time that the individual is ready to hear them. The individual may still not accept the information but they will hear it.

This in it self is an extremely valuable and of often over look component of ones training.

In Russian Systema, following training it is normal for all the student to sit in a circle and discuss their training. This not only builds camaraderie and unity as well as an opportunity to thank one another for the training but more importantly to share in their learning. A truly thought provoking experience.

As a young boy training in a Dojang in east London, I used to hang out for the awesome stories that would come out after class, and disappointed when my Dad would turn up to pick me up after class as I knew stories would be told and I’d miss out.

How valid is the story?

I often wonder how true the stories were and how much of them are fictitious tails stretched by numerous imaginations, perspectives and the ravages of time.

But I guess much like the fairy tail we tell our children at bed time they are no different, and that it’s the principle and values of the tail that are the real lesson, not always a crystal truth.

Is this important?

As a teacher of martial arts we have a responsibility to our students health and safety, as well as to those in our community to not just teach martial techniques, but also the deeper understanding and perspectives that are essential for healthy and holistic living, especially those who may mentally, emotionally or physically abuse themselves or others.

As teachers and instructors we should always be seeking more effective ways of conveying principle and values of body, mind and spirit. Through story telling we get to pass on these values in a form which is easier for our audience to assimilate and make their own.

Jung Shin