My daughter does Karate at school and it’s the one extramural activity that has lasted through the fickle nature of an eight year olds whims. Ballet with a dragon lady died for obvious reasons. Her Dads favourite, field hockey, just didn’t do much for her (there is still time so I am hopeful). Team swimming takes the fun out of playing in the water. Choir bored her and tennis fell by the wayside a while back. Karate is the only thing that has stuck.
Perhaps it’s because she is pretty good (for a yellow belt II) and has won a few medals at the little competitions she has attended. Perhaps it’s Sensei Gary and his patience with a gym hall full of distracted young girls more interested in telling him about the birthday party last weekend than step ‘shi’ in ‘Kata Di Ichi’.
Who knows why she does it, but I’m going to keep her shouting ‘kiai’ as long as I can. I used to do karate as a kid and I regret never continuing (long story and maybe I could start again as a 40 year old?). Besides all the obvious physical benefits (and being able to take care of themselves), I believe in the values that the sport teaches. It builds character, an understanding of the positive aspects of loyalty, general etiquette around how to interact with others and behave in less than ideal circumstances, making an effort to learn, controlling fear, anger and frustration through discipline and self-confidence. All the things that a young person is still learning about and all learnt in a predictable and safe environment.
A few weeks ago she went to an individual competition which was attended by two dojos. One, her more traditional karate & judo dojo and the other a ‘new breed’ of multi-discipline dojo that does kickboxing, mixed martial arts and karate. The kids ranged from 5 year olds to teenagers all doing kumite, katas and grappling competitions in their age bands.
What struck me most was the very obvious difference in the way in which the children from each dojo (and their sensei) behaved. Instead of a disciplined kumite where each point is scored as it’s struck, the fights took on a more MMA approach of uncontrolled bashing, pushing and shoving. Helmets, usually required, were now optional and scoring happened without pausing the fights as is normal in traditional karate. The karate dojo kids held their own (and did well) but it was obvious by the number of tearful faces all round (from both dojos) that this was not much of an enjoyable experience for anyone but the winners – even some of them were in tears. Sure a little pain and fear builds character and I am not adverse to kids learning about this early on when they can’t be hurt that badly, but I found the whole MMA approach totally unacceptable for such young children. Karate teaches control at a time when the kids are totally wild and from what I saw, the MMA dojo just promoted abandon and praised anger and aggression. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against MMA (or any fighting sport for that matter), I just wonder at what it’s doing to young kids who are still trying to understand their place in the world and how to behave. The whole point of a fighting sport is to be controlled – every professional fighting sport agrees that losing control is the worst thing that you could do, yet, here kids are being encouraged to go loco?
My son is a bit of a brute and is at that age when his frustrations and anger turn into lashing out, but I am already working to stop this behaviour and teach him to control it. As a spectator at this event, I wonder what he thought of the kids (a little bigger than himself) wildly bashing at each other.
I have a feeling that multi-discipline dojos are not all like the one I experienced and I am sure that the majority wouldn’t remind me of Cobra Kai from Karate Kid. The worrying thing is how many are like this?
How much does the commercial aspect of running a dojo play into this? I know nothing about running a karate business but I don’t suppose that any traditional dojo is really established to make the sensei rich. Are multi-discipline dojos created to encourage attendance from hormone overloaded creatine gulping pimpled teenage boys? Maybe that’s a bit harsh but I don’t believe that karate should be a commercially motivated sport. Sure any business needs to make money, but not at the expense of more important things they are there for.
The purpose of any sport is not always the most obvious and sometimes this seems to be forgotten. Yes, I am one of those that believes winning is not everything.
I see nothing wrong with teaching kids how to fight – what concerns me is that they are not being taught that fighting is always the last resort and that everything else is far far more important (in my opinion). Shouldn’t kids be taught values, skills, discipline and control at an early age rather than be left to bash their way into their future?
ps. If, when they are adults, they want to go fight some tattooed monster in a wire cage – by all means, go for it – each to their own, live and let live. I just hope by then, I will have promoted the right values in my kids for them not to want to do this.