A Guide For Parents

Is it about fighting or is there more? Is there a psychological or spiritual part to martial arts that makes it an art? Or if someone teaches self-defence, does that mean they are teaching martial arts?

In the current sense of the word, a martial art teaches self-defence. The word ‘Martial’ comes from the word ‘Mars’ who was the Roman God of war. But it also involves a code of conduct. This code, in the form of rules that stipulate how a person is to act, is what separates a martial art from a fighting system. Herein lies the value.

Karate or MMA?Credit: sean AllenThree tests for a martial art.
Test one - Physical Component
This includes improving strength, endurance, reaction time, flexibility and technical skill. It’s the part we see on the outside.
Test two – Psychological Component.
This is mental strength. It’s the ability to think under pressure and stress. To control your emotions.
Test three - Spiritual Component.
This is the real test of a martial arts academy. It comprises a code of conduct and a series of lessons delivered by an instructor to make sure that a student is a better person.

The test for the consumer is if the instructor passes all three levels.

How it Works

Most schools pass level 1 with flying colours. The instructor trains the students to defend themselves in a real life or competitive field. This is relatively obvious by simply observing a class.

Level 2 is usually automatic as you grow mentally stronger to handle the physical regime. But the caveat is that the training be difficult. If the training is easy, the student doesn’t have to grow. Growth only comes from difficulty, like in life. You experience suffering and work out how to handle it. The instructor must be able to explain the process.

Level 3 is where most martial arts schools fail. If they don’t teach character development they become fight gyms. The reason for this is that an instructor must have learnt a skill to teach it. Control of your character doesn’t come easy. It has nothing to do with physical toughness.

Often, difficulty in mastering a skill is what creates a resilient attitude. That is why natural athletes don’t usually make good coaches. They have never struggled with a skill so can’t empathise with a student who struggles.

How To Choose

Decisions made now affect us for yearsCredit: Sean Allen

Level 1 and 2 is now obvious from watching a class. Strength of character isn’t something that is obvious in the first meeting. Nonetheless, it can be measured by how the instructor looks and acts. As children are very impressionable, they will imitate someone they look up to. They will copy language, image and movement. This will make many instructors nervous to read this. But it shouldn’t. They need to live up to the expectations of their students ... in all areas of life.

You can’t perform well on the training mat and break the law outside.

You can’t be calm on the mat and lose your temper in the traffic.

You can’t talk about principles then do a ‘behind closed doors’ money deal with one student.

Character doesn’t have an off switch or a neutral gear. Either you have it or you don’t.

“How will you make my child a better person?”

This is the final question that a real instructor should be able to answer in detail.  If the response is only about physical skill and winning, he is not teaching a martial art. He is teaching a skill.

Our Kids, Our Future

Kids in our society need a strong character to avoid the problems we have. Thinking our way out of a problem can’t happen if we use old methods. Children need thinking skills that include depth, forethought, common sense and compassion. We need to instil in our youth the ability to work a way out of a problem by intelligence and compassion for the other person.

To combat violence with intelligence and understanding and not a swift physical reaction.

But to think clearly in a volatile situation a child must have refined that quality in a controlled atmosphere.

Hence the need for physical skill in the first place. It all starts there.

Physical skill, psychological control and spiritual depth. All three must be taught in a real martial arts academy for it to be valuable. The result is that one day when a stressful situation occurs and you, as a parent, are not there as protector and advisor, your child will survive and thrive. Maybe even change lives.