Martial Arts Training For Children
As a philosopher of progressive education I have been a staunch advocate of discipline as a key construct of the success of education for well over three and a half decades. As a martial arts master, I have created a philosophy of self-discipline called Nungkyyii. I have also spent thirty-seven years of my life making a significant difference and dynamic impact in the lives of my students through the teachings of discipline. Somewhere in the journey of education discipline collided with punishment and child abuse became a stigma aimed at disciplinary teachers. Between restricted teachers and busy parents the child has become a by-product of a misconception of freedom, while discipline has been replaced with authoritative control. The freedom of an individual to do as he or she pleases while neglecting the responsibility of his or her actions is a serious negation of the character of being a moral and intelligent human being.
The art of discipline is now rising above the once dominant interest of self-defense as martial arts marches into the new millennium with a holistic revolution in the development of health and wellness – body, mind, emotions and spirit. Teaching discipline to the contemporary mindset of today's children is demanding thorough knowledge and proficient experience in the field of child psychology. The overall cultivation of the child's body, mind, emotions and spirit must also show concrete evidence of progressive development in self-consciousness, self-confidence, self-discipline, self-worth, self-respect and self-esteem. These dynamic spiritual values and personal rewards must surpass the values of the physical rewards of trophies and belt ranking. There is no greater disappointment to me as a devoted martial arts teacher than to see a student wearing a black belt who only has the levels of self-confidence and self-esteem of a white belt.
This new revolution in martial arts and the knowledge thereof, is forcing a clear distinction between a karate instructor and a martial arts teacher. The knowledge of meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Zen and Kendo are but a few of the subjects that make up a complete martial arts education. A martial arts teacher has no option but to engage in a higher educational learning of the vast knowledge of martial arts if he or she expects to participate successfully in the new martial arts revolution. The teacher is the producer; his or her operation of teachings is the production, and the student is the product. The evolution of martial arts is demanding greater quality of teachers, production and products. This new development in the way martial arts is being conducted is redefining the relationship between the teacher and the student and greatly enhancing the yoke of responsibility of the teacher as a role model in the life of the student. Since the cultivation of the child physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually is of far greater importance to the child's overall development and state of well being than his or her academic development, the status of a knowledgeable and experienced martial arts teacher is steadily being exalted beyond the importance of an academic teacher.
The teachings of martial arts have reached juxtaposition with that of the teachings of gymnastics, thus requiring a Dojo to become a unique facility of specificity, which entails a large building of vast square footage that accommodates all of the necessary space and equipment to meet the tailored needs of proficient martial arts training, techniques and therapy, with rooms for meetings, seminars and spiritual activities.
I have always envied the dedication, commitment and obsession that parents demonstrate toward their children's participation in gymnastics. Proud parents will mortgage their homes, take on a bank loan or sell their precious possessions just to finance their children's gymnastic career. When my karate dojo was located in Arvada, Colorado a gymnastics school was operating in the same shopping plaza. I know of parents who would drive 45 minutes each way just to get their child to the gym, six days a week. I realize that gymnastics has much more prestige and widespread acceptance than martial arts in our culture, and that the child's success in gymnastics can result in lots of money, fame and Olympic stardom for the child, along with great pride and prestige for the parents. I also know of the psychological and emotional side effects when a child does not reach fame, or becomes burned out from such strenuous training. Personally I feel that martial arts has much more to offer the overall development of the child than gymnastics, because the rewards of martial arts training are personal, progressive and enduring. Instead of retiring from burnout, muscle fatigue or stress of competition by the age of 20, as what most likely takes place in majority of the lives of gymnasts; martial artists are just getting hooked on the self-development and self-esteem by the age of 20, and are eager to become black belts; open their own karate schools and dedicate their time and energy toward the development of their students. Becoming a karate teacher gives the martial artist the experience and joy of making a significant difference in the lives of students. I am determined to earn the respect of parents towards the dynamic and rewarding attributes of martial arts, and get them to back the development of their children's training in martial arts to the level of that of parental support in gymnastics.
Martial arts training is centered upon technique. The techniques of the Nungkyyii system of martial arts was purposely created and specially designed by me to be strategic and superior to our competitors' techniques. Superiority is more so determined by level of muscle strength and flexibility, rather than by creative design of the technique. Therefore the Nungkyyii system is centered upon techniques that demand consistent and persistent progression of the development of flexibility and strengthening of the muscles of the body. Children possess such wonderful advantage in the greater development of technique because their muscles are still growing and assuming form. Therefore their muscles are capable of gaining much more strength and flexibility during training than that of adults. The flexibility to perform a full split and the strength to execute a roundhouse at 180 degrees, with the leg pointed to the ceiling for 45 or more seconds represents the epitome of muscle development. Children are able to accomplish such an astounding feat within two or four years of martial arts training, whereas the greater majority of adults will only dream of such marvelous physical capability. The greatest of martial arts technicians that I have ever seen or trained has been between the ages of 12 and 16 years old, with 5 to 10 years of martial arts training. To have access to molding young physiques of such gifted and skillful talent as students in my dojo is the pride and joy of teaching karate everyday.
The psychology and methodology of teaching martial arts to children is demanding a drastic alteration in the normal class format and the way in which classes are taught. Self-defense has practically been uprooted as the major focus of the class. Street violence has given a whole new meaning to the definition of self-defense. The handgun and the amount of armed citizens in our society have made hand-to-hand combat in the streets an obsolete ideal. Every format must be progressive in its objective, program structure, and overall results. This criterion of progression makes the development of muscle strength and flexibility; the precision of technique; the speed, grace and balance of movement, and the execution of high performance levels of forms (katas), a mandatory progressive and repetitive practice of the format.
I will give a brief elaboration of the contents of dynamic formatting for successful martial arts training.
It would be quite taboo by conventional standards to consider a Dojo a house of worship according to the customs of our culture. Not so in the Orient where martial arts gives roots to its heritage. The word sacred means spiritual; reverence; to hold in high regard, or to enshrine with divinity. When you enter the gateway of a Dojo in the Orient the atmosphere of sacredness grips you with profound sensation. The rituals of ceremonial expression and the silent language of symbols cultivate the sacredness of the Dojo. Every Dojo should have a gateway symbolizing the entrance into a sacred domain. That entrance is acknowledged with a bow. The governing teacher should adorn a sacred garment such as a hakama, or any other clothing that symbolizes his or her position as leader of the Dojo. The whole concept of sacredness makes the gi (karate uniform) and the belt sacred attire worn in the Dojo. There is a sacred ritual of folding the gi and tying the belt. A gong or instrument of sound should be used to officially announce the beginning and ending of all class sessions, meetings or events. After the adorning of uniforms and the proper tying of belts every class should commence with meditation. Meditation is a silent means of calming the mind in preparation of the focus and concentration of practice and performance of training. Class should end with gis dressed neatly with belts properly tied. Rituals of sacredness will give more meaning to the reverence of the Dojo and further establish its domain as a sacred place of spiritual cultivation.
Q. What is the one thing that the human being cannot go without pass ten minutes?
Oh how we take breathing for granted. The function of the lungs is very important in getting the proper amount of oxygen into the blood to sustain the amount of energy needed for body movement, and especially stamina. The development of lung muscles gives greater assurance to the process of breathing. Breathing exercises should be the first exercise of every class.
There are twelve breathing exercises in the Nungkyyii System, each ranging in levels of difficulty so as to guarantee progressive development of the lung muscles and breathing capability.
Martial arts is founded upon the dynamics of movement. Muscles are the mechanisms of movement. Abuse them and they are capable of shutting down all bodily movement. Stretching muscles is a primary preparation for training and performance. Ten to fifteen minutes should be applied to stretching before strenuous training begins. A good stretching routine must involve muscles from head to toes.
There is a major difference in stretching for training and stretching for flexibility. Stretching for flexibility is a very painful session of concentrating on the development of elasticity of the muscles and tendons. The breakdown of tissues and cells during the process of lengthy periods of stretching should be followed up with muscle therapy such as massage or whirlpool with proper time of muscle recuperation. Flexibility stretching is a very sensitive phase of martial arts training. Over stretching can cause muscle injury to happen so easily. Therefore flexibility stretching should never be used as a warm up for training or performance. The most important knowledge about flexibility stretching is that the development of flexibility must keep a ratio of equilibrium with the development of muscle strength. Too much flexibility will force a sacrifice of strength. And too much strengthening of the muscles will definitely destroy flexibility.
I prefer to define isometrics as dynamic tension of the muscles. A period of contraction of the muscles that have been stretched is very good conditioning of the muscles for adequate performance during training. Muscle tension created by contraction of the muscles develops muscles near the bone and tendons. Weight lifting develops external muscles near the surface of the body. Muscle development near the skeleton and tendons generates swiftness of movement. To conduct an isometric exercise you must tense the particular muscles of the technique for certain amount of seconds and then release the tension. I have created isometric forms that exercise upper and lower muscles of the body within a five-minute period of executing the form, in order to be more efficient in time spent within a class period.
Technique is the methodology in which progress thrives. To become a better martial artist you must reach greater perfection of techniques. There is no better way of achievement of the perfection of technique than through practice. Practice necessitates repetition of drills. The framework of technique is form. No technique should be performed with disregard of form in the eyes of a good martial arts teacher. Bad form should be corrected immediately before the student's bad form becomes a habit. All katas and techniques should have a high standard of expectation toward perfect form established by the teacher. This declaration of perfect form gives notice to students who think that time spent coming to class warrants belt promotion even if their form does not meet standard expectation. When perfection of form is attributed to exercise drills, the boredom of marching up and down the floor executing the same moves over and over takes on a new dimension of meaning. Meaning must never be allowed to escape the drills of exercise. Exercise drills actually require an assistant and a teacher. The teacher should always initiate the beginning of the exercise drills by demonstrating the drills and leading the march of executions up and down the floor. This initial demonstration by the teacher is very important because the student must see a display of the high standard of perfect form in which the teacher demands. The assistant should observe the students' quality of execution of the technique and bring to the attention of the teacher those students who need extra assistance in understanding the proper execution of the drills. After the drills have moved passed the beginning stage, the teacher and the assistant exchange places. It is the teacher who must be conscious of each student's problem of performing the drill with adequate form and be responsible for his or her improvements. The teacher must keep a mental record of each student's level of performance and be responsible for the student's progress in form.
When I first created my own martial arts style of Nungkyyii I created my own katas. My philosophy was that katas should be the molding mechanism of the form of the techniques you want your students to perfect. So my katas were made up of my own techniques. Since tournament judges were bias to me performing non-traditional katas I learned traditional katas and added them to my rank requirement for the sake of avoiding my students facing prejudice circumstances at tournaments. The lack of genuine purpose in kata training has generated a conflict of interest between kumite and kata. Most students would rather spar than perform kata. It is important that the student perfect the form of the techniques that the teacher is teaching. Kata training is a means of achieving perfect form.
Balance is such a crucial factor in the execution of precision, control and power of the technique. In order to develop balance to qualitative levels within the movements and executions of techniques of my students I have been teaching all of my kicking techniques from a balance beam. This methodology has proven to prioritize concentration, form and the coordination of muscle movement toward the perfection of the technique. I think that Dojos of the future will surely have balance beams if the teacher is fully conscious of the high level necessity of balance for quality martial arts performance. In the art of kicking leg control is very important both in the execution of the technique and in the ability to avoid vulnerability and establish immediate defense. Allowing the leg of a kick to flop to the floor after execution of technique is an uncontrollable expression that jeopardizes fighting skills. The execution of technique on a balance beam brings the student in touch with the consciousness of the demand of muscle strength and flexibility and the coordination of precision movement and geometrical form during the execution of the technique.
The stomach muscles are the most important muscles in the practice of martial arts. The locomotion of movement is mostly concerned with the muscles below the waist. The legs have the largest and strongest muscles of the body, requiring more strength and energy for movement. The abdominal muscles are directly involved with all leg movements. Weak stomach muscles affect the level of kicking ability. Abdominal exercises are mandatory both in every class and in additional personal training routines. Training immediately after eating is abuse of the abdomen.
Abdominal exercises are divided into two categories – back lifts and leg lifts. Stomach muscles used in back lifts (sit-ups) are exercised in four forms – short range (crunches), medium range (regular sit-ups), long range (sit-ups that activate the convex back muscles) and contortion (twisting the abdominal muscles during sit-ups). After a few months of training beginning students should be able to perform at least 25 sit-ups; intermediate students should be able to perform 50 sit-ups, and advance students should be able to perform between 75 and 100 sit-ups.
The objective of kicking a bag is the development of muscle strength, precision of form, control of balance and the proper execution of the technique itself, all under the circumstance of contact. In contact kicking, the object being kicked should never carry more pounds of stability in weight than the student can generate in pounds of thrusting impact. In other words a student of 50 lbs. has no business being allowed to kick a bag weighing 100 lbs. If a bag is too heavy to be moved by the thrust of the child's kick, then development of the technique is obstructed. For this particular reason of safety I always have at least 10 different weight levels of roundhouse bags and 10 different weight levels of sidekick bags. There are as many as 20 to 30 kicking bags hanging in my karate dojo during bag workout in order to accommodate the proper time needed to be spent practicing bag work within the time frame of the class. The number one principle of bag kicking is that the kick of the student must move the bag significantly without obstructing any of the developmental qualities of the technique. In contact kicking, the student must learn to control the amount of thrusting impact applied to the target, especially when kicking an opponent in sparring matches.
Aerial kicking techniques are the trademark of the Nungkyyii System. They have added a thrust of challenge to the art of kicking, making the skill and talent of jumping a form of exercise itself. Aerial kicks are the most difficult techniques to perfect and the most demanding of muscle strength and flexibility development. I designed specially made jumping apparatus with measurements starting at 12 inches and progressing by an inch up to 60 inches. There are two methods of jumping. We make single jumps for the development of height. And we make repetition jumps for the development of leg strength and stamina. We recognize the progression of a child's jumping ability by keeping a record of the height of his or her jumping ability on a visible poster on our wall. Children are so thrilled when the height of their jumping ability reaches higher dimensions.
Striking surfaces of significant stability with punches and kicks must be trained and conditioned to avoid the injuries sustained from normal contact. The geometry of the proper foot and hand positions needed in order to escape the dreaded condition of injury must be developed to the level of habit. The positions of particular concern are the instep, the heel, the ball of the foot, and the two knuckles of the fist. The proper equipment for such development is called a makarawa board or striking board. This equipment is best made from old phone books wrapped with masking tape. The dynamics of this creative idea is that layers of sheets of foam can be applied between pages of the phone book to moderate the ideal levels of stability of each striking board.
In striking with the fist the fingers must be rolled tightly into a fist so that the front two knuckles are the only knuckles touching the surface of the target. When contact is made an alignment of the knuckles, wrist, elbow and shoulder must collectively support the impact of the punch. To properly prepare for this kind of contact I use knuckle balances as the primary exercise. Knuckle balances are executed by getting in the position of a push-up with your knuckles on the floor instead of your hands. Starting level of this exercise is 25 seconds. By the time students have developed an impressive level of mind over matter and can withstand the level of pain of 100 seconds on their knuckles they are considered to be at a level of safety in punching. The ultimate test is their board breaking skill.
In striking with the foot I only teach three positions – the instep area (top of the foot), the heel and the ball of the foot. I eliminated the blade of the foot as an area of hard contact. The bone in that area of the foot is too sensitive and prone to injury. Kicking with the instep requires pointing the toes and flexing the muscles of the top of the foot. This foot position is only executed against soft targets. Kicking with the heel requires flexing the toes toward the ankle and extending the heel toward the target. And kicking with the ball of the foot requires pointing the foot downward and raising the toes without raising the foot. This foot position is a challenge of coordination for most children. The development of these foot positions will certainly eliminate a greater portion of foot and toe injuries.
Leg techniques are undoubtedly the most dominant techniques in martial arts, not only because the legs are much more powerful than the hands, but also because they demand more practice, skill, form, grace and control. Because of the crucial condition of the knees and their supportive muscles and tendons, I have created a special workout drill for all kicking techniques, with intentions of giving the knees the greatest possible development and safeguard from injury. All kicking techniques are trained through four methods of practice. The first method is called Isometrics. The geometry of a technique is performed in very slow motion as the student concentrates on the perfection of the form of the technique. When the leg comes to the end of the geometrical position of the technique the leg is suspended in midair as the muscles are held in contraction from 10 to 30 seconds, with the greatest of muscle tension focused upon the knee. This method specifically emphasizes strengthening of the muscles. The second method is called Toning. The geometry of the technique is now performed at a slightly increased pace in order to develop the perfection of form of the technique. At the end of the toning technique the contraction of the muscles and tension of the knee is held for only 3 seconds. The third method is called Thrust. The technique is executed at a rate of speed designed to test the student's precision of balance, form and control of the technique. One of the principles of my teaching technique is that speed and power must never exceed form, balance and control. Control of a technique of thrust means that a kick can be executed with speed and power and brought to an instant stop in midair with the muscles contracted and the knee held tensed for 3 seconds. The fourth method is called Contact. (Thrust and contact kicking places a wear and tear strain on the muscles, tendons and cartilages of the knees; therefore, thrust and contact techniques must never exceed the development of isometrics and toning techniques).
Students must be able to apply contact of their technique to the surface of their targets, such as wooden boards and kicking bags without injury to the foot or leg. Foot position is very important in avoiding injuries of the toes, ankles and feet.
Teaching kata has always been a challenge because it is dwarfed by the interest in sparring, and especially the difficult demands of memory and coordination. A Kata is a series of choreographed movements and techniques that are performed with drama and executed as though one is involved in a situation of self-defense. Most katas require extensive repetition of rigorous practice that demands the memorization of approximately 30 to 100 movements and techniques. In my philosophy and methodology of teaching kata, I consider kata to be one of the most dynamic training exercises in all of martial arts. The expressions of speed, power, strength, flexibility, balance, grace, form, precision and control of techniques, along with stamina are the developmental attributes of kata training. Kata performance is an excellent measuring mechanism of keeping track of my students' rate of progress, and analyzing the problems and difficulties of their training. I certainly do not teach my students katas strictly for tournament competition, with the expectations of winning trophies. Kata competition is an option of liberty for all of my students to participate in tournament if they choose to do so. However, if they choose to participate, the event becomes a test of their kata ranking in the dojo. All students are ranked in my dojo according to the standards of my high expectation of their performance. Their rankings are prestigiously listed on a special plaque located on the wall of the dojo. My strategy in dojo ranking is to purposefully regulate the meaning of winning and to eliminate the anxiety of losing in tournament competition. If my student should win a first place trophy at the tournament, but the kata executed was judged as a poor performance by dojo standards, that trophy does not qualify for the dojo trophy case. On the contrary, if my student should lose according to the scores of the judges, but his or her performance was rated exceptionally high by dojo standards, the dojo will recognize and award that student's performance.
This is just another aspect of my zealous attitude and efforts to protect the levels of development of self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem that I work so diligently to cultivate in the character and being of my precious students.
Sparring, fighting or kumite, as it is referred to in the Japanese language of martial arts, is definitely the most interesting, challenging and exciting area of martial arts training. It is also the most fragile area for the causes of injuries and disruption of the developments of self-confidence and self-esteem of students. After beginning students develop enough stamina to get through the rigorous training, and enough muscle strength and flexibility to surpass the pain of muscle stiffness and soreness, injuries related to sparring incidents ranks highest of reasons why students quit karate classes.
Self-confidence is more of a value in sparring than any other area of training. I call sparring, the laboratory of self-confidence building. I have had students enter my karate class as old as 10 years of age who have never experienced an encounter of physical violence pass a mere shoving, yelling and verbal expressions of anger. Some children are petrified of hostile action. It is imperative that I am intuitively aware of such sensitive states of minds and emotions of my students. Discovering a child's fear/confidence ratio at the threshold of their training is crucial. It gives me an advantage in successfully cultivating the child's self-confidence to a level in which the student has self-assurance that he or she can manage the pressures of competition or the circumstances of hostile confrontations.
My philosophy and concept on sparring is that defensive skill is much more important, and contributes far greater levels of development of self-confidence and self-esteem than offensive skill. It is of this fact that I always spar with my beginning students before I allow them to spar with each other. I must make sure that I have cultivated my students' self-confidence, raised their defensive consciousness, and developed their defensive skills to a proficient level of defending themselves. I never let my students spar each other until they have met their defensive skill level requirements, and can demonstrate superb control of both their offensive techniques and degree of impact of contact of their techniques. When students finally qualify to spar each other a significant mark is sewn on their gi (karate uniform) and a particular stripe is embroidered on their belt.
All karate teachers and instructors face the same dilemma of sparring when it comes to beginning students, particularly those of very young ages. The excitement of putting on the fighting gear of gloves, pads, boots and helmet, and feeling the rush of adrenaline from all the karate action, conjures a passionate desire inside the beginning student to participate in all the excitement. When beginning students realize that they are not qualified to spar, they feel left out, and they experience emotional disappointment. Beginning students lack the training, skill, technique and defensive consciousness necessary for safe and constructive sparring matches. In other words, they are simply injuries waiting to happen. At this point a significant number of beginning students start to lose their interest. The rigorous training and strenuous techniques seems to be all pain and no gain to them. Most of the time parents wind up forcing the child to participate. At this stage the child's will, desire, mind and spirit has been unconsciously ignored as crucial aspects of the child's overall development. Further participation of the child under forceful circumstances opposes the objective of the synthesis of body, mind and spirit. My solution to the sparring dilemma is to spar my beginning students and entertain them until they develop the proper fighting skills.
Injury is the number one enemy of martial arts training and my most important concern. After 45 years of martial arts training I have become frantically paranoid of bodily injury, not because of the pain involved, but because of the disruption of training and the loss of progression of muscle strength and flexibility during the periods of healing. Years of progressive development of muscle strength and flexibility can be brought to naught by a single serious injury. Most injuries occur from workout more so than by competition or otherwise. The most threatening injuries to martial arts training is back, leg, foot, elbow and especially knee injury. The major cause of such injuries is the lack of proper preparation and development of the muscles that support these bodily functions. The stronger muscles of the body are located from the waist down. Therefore the legs perform the most powerful martial arts techniques. This fact makes the knees one of the most important areas of safeguard from injury. Once the knees are damaged beyond repair there goes a student's training career as a martial artist.
Teaching children five and under martial arts takes either a strong background in child psychology or a magic wand. You have to almost master the manipulation of their attention span and tickle their funny bone with entertainment. If you can succeed in teaching them properly at this age, by the time they turn 10 or 12 years old they become aesthetic jewels of the dynamism of martial arts. I have been fortunate enough to witness this wonder human transformation in children for three and a half decades.
Parents if you can only afford to put your child in but one program, I highly recommend that your choice be martial arts!