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    The teaching of karate do and aikido during childhood The teaching of karate do and aikido during childhood Document Transcript

    • Efraín Suárez ArceProf. J. ParenteauINGL 3232 (001)18 May 2007 The Teaching of Karate-Do and Aikido During Childhood and How it Influences Development Abstract We have sought to provide here a subjective report on the allegedbenefits of the teaching of Martial Arts to children and adolescents. We visited variousMartial Arts schools in the San Juan area. We watched at least eight classes andwatched various Martial Arts tournaments. We interviewed two instructors and oneassistant instructor in order to gain a deeper insight into what goes into a Martial Artsclass for kids. We also researched online articles and books written by Martial artsinstructors. Introduction Our challenge as educators is to create independent thinkers in a dependent,apathetic and individualistic society. We live in a social and political democracy centeredon the individual where we must deal with anti social behaviors like assaults, peerpressure or intimidation, discrimination, homophobia and racism. One alternative of themany that have been discussed is the use of extracurricular sports or cultural activities.We can talk about sports and extracurricular activities until we are blue in the face, butthe reality is that it is the minds of our young people that must be rescued and guided.Every day our young people observe and evaluate the opportunities that society offersthem to achieve success through legal means to find a place in a formal and respectablesociety. Creating a sense of security in our children and young people is indispensablewhile they grow and equip themselves with the attitudes and skills necessary to reach aresponsible and productive adulthood. On the other hand, the forces of business and theentertainment world seek to validate and reinforce all their negative beliefs. Theybombard our children and young people with the importance of acquiring goods(consumerism), enjoying the pleasures of life without consequences (sex, drugs, etc.),glorifying the aggressive, antisocial, individualistic and rebellious type and ridiculing the Suárez 1
    • obedient student ("nerd"). They glorify violence plus the fear and the physical andemotional violence used to confront it.1 In their world we see how everything prevails bybrute force. Then corruption and dishonesty wind up as the natural and the successfulthings to do in life. Instead of the physical competition in a morally neutral field, (whichwe see in most sports) we needed something that prepares the mind and the body. Arecent newspaper article states that we are seeing an increase of interest of our youngpeople in new activities that integrate cultural elements and that allow the expression ofskills and the augmentation of their creative capacity. Literature ReviewThe Martial arts have had a long history of discipline and training in the West. The firstNorth American practitioners of the Asian fighting arts were soldiers stationed in Japan,Okinawa and Korea during the 1940s and 1950s, followed by the popular 1960s moviestar from Hong Kong, Bruce Lee; then by civilian adult male admirers of Lee. Today, themajority of martial arts practitioners are young people and children. Many people claimthat the practice of the martial arts encourages good moral and ethical development anddevelops beneficial psychological changes. On the other hand, other people claim thatreceiving praise and benefit for practicing violent activities (like some martial arts)reinforces violence and conditions the practitioners to be more aggressive and hostileoutside of their activity. Most images and themes of the martial arts in television showsand popular movies, plus the popularity of pay-for-view, no-holds-barred, martial artstournaments probably help spread and reinforce this second claim. Perspectives on Martial arts trainingAccording to Binder Endresen & Olweus (2005) conducted a study that participating inpower sports (including kick-boxing, boxing, wrestling, and weightlifting) "leads to anincrease or enhancement of antisocial involvement in the form of elevated levels ofviolent as well as non-violent antisocial behavior outside sports." Since these activitiescontain few if any moral/philosophical teachings regarding conduct, this supports ourtentative conclusion that traditional martial arts (which DO typically offer1 There is a scene in the documentary " Bowling for Columbine" where we find in a fair a game called "SHOOT THE GEEK" where prizes aremanaged to shoot the "GEEK" that is a quiet and obedient student, with big glasses. Suárez 2
    • moral/philosophical teachings) are superior to modern martial arts or combat sporttraining in reducing antisocial behavior in children and adolescents.It is our belief that the real benefits of martial arts practice are mental (some would sayspiritual) rather than physical. Martial art training uses unique philosophical or societalconcepts that other sports/arts don’t incorporate into their practice. Most martial artsincorporate meditation and relaxation training, learning how to focus and release energy,moving in tandem with a partner as well as striving to excel alone, and achieving mind-body unity. The physical exercise and mastery is, in reality, the means to a non-physicalend, whether one calls this state of mind enlightenment, self-knowledge, or achievingbalance.In children with low self-esteem, martial arts training can simultaneously develop areassuch as self-defense skills (to defend against physical bullying), physical fitness, andinstructions on how to handle stressful scenarios in a physical or mental context, andself-confidence, through successful applications of martial technique, such as boardbreaking or kata2. Anxiety and hyperactivity are major problems that inhibit schoolperformance. Meditation or other relaxation techniques can reduce both of theseproblems. A student can be asked simply to sit quietly and engage in actual meditationfor a few minutes to collect his or her thoughts. Meditation practice has the benefits ofteaching children the self-discipline of sitting still, focusing the mind, achieving a quietstate, and being able to achieve self-control through an inner-motivated, self-startingactivity.Young children and adolescents need to learn structure, self-discipline, and how to workin a group. They need to learn a competitive spirit in an environment of fair play andsportsmanship. As they mature, the child has to learn that his/her needs cannot be metthrough throwing tantrums, hitting other people, or screaming and yelling. Kids also haveto learn how to follow instructions, lead others, think on their own, focus theirconcentration, and strive for excellence.2 Kata (literally: "form") is a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs. Kata areused in many traditional Japanese arts such as theater forms like kabuki and schools of tea ceremony, but are most commonly known for thepresence in the martial arts. Suárez 3
    • Other physical benefits that are seen in young Martial Art practitioners include ahealthier body, a more oxygenated brain, and a better processing of processed sugarsand high-fat junk food.Also, a sustained commitment to martial arts practice (or any other sport) may result inthe child and parent paying better overall attention to diet, sleep routines, and dailyschedules, leading to a healthier, happier, and more predictable child.Muromoto and Fung, both Martial Arts instructors and authors advocate the emphasis onthese mental skills when training children instead of focusing on the martial /combativeaspects. They state that a martial arts teacher should have a balanced set of criteria inwhich a young child is judged not just on physical skills, which will be limited by his ageand physical maturity, but also on mental skills acquired in training. Young3 takes it astep further by stating: “…And what are your goals for your child? Self-defense? A competent martial arts instructor will be well aware of the zero tolerance4 policies in force in most public and private schools. He or she will teach "playground safe" tactics that allow the child to disengage and seek help from the adults in authority. Avoid like the plague any school that shows a small child stepping into a "fighting stance" against a mature adult. Thats hype and so far from reality as to be laughable. Pay particular attention to curricula that emphasize awareness and avoidance. A kid will never, pound for pound, be able to fight off an adult. To believe so or allow a child to believe so is ridiculous. Children dont need to be taught how to "fight" (except for points and the joys of tourneys); they need to be taught to be aware of the surroundings, how to avoid or escape and where to go for help. Self-defense5 is vastly different than fighting6, and both are very different than martial arts7.”345 Suárez 4
    • Fung states in his article that: “I’m aware that, especially in the make-your-child-feel-good-at-all-costs environment of the United States, a lot of little kids have been awarded "black belts." Well, although it should be obvious, a child black belt doesnt have near the skill level or experience or understanding of an adult trained by the same teacher at the same school. Teachers are much less strict on their young students than they are on adults, and thats as it should be. To teach a student how to fight, an instructor must be harsh, strict, and demanding. And the student has to learn how to tap into her killer instinct, to overcome any natural inhibitions he might have about intentionally hurting someone. Because in the end, thats what defending yourself comes down to: hurting your attacker more than he can hurt you in as short a time as possible. Call me crazy, but I believe children simply shouldnt be taught how to think that way; theyll have plenty of time to learn how to mean when they grow up, and they shouldnt have to learn how to defend themselves. Thats why they have parents and teachers and police officers. For a kid, karate class should be about exercise and fun, about learning how to focus and how to set a goal and achieve it. Not how to maim and kill…I believe children are innocent and sweet and adorable. But I also believe that they can be shockingly mean and nasty - yes, even your sweet little angel has a nasty mean streak that can come out if provoked. And since children arent known for impulse control, I dont think teaching them efficient, powerful ways to be nasty is such a good idea…” Choosing a martial arts style or schoolOne of the crucial features of the Martial Arts training is the type of martial art chosen, aswell as the lesson plans of the instructor. It is important to remember that most martialarts were developed for survival. So, they tend to contain some dangerous or lethaltechniques. Thus, an important thing to remember when choosing a style for your child ishow effectively an art can be watered down without losing its essence. For instance, it isdifficult to make striking arts such as Muay Thai and Wing Chun "kid-friendly." Theres noway to avoid teaching aggressive techniques in Muay Thai or Wing Chun. Also, a boxing Suárez 5
    • program with a competition-oriented instructor will not provide the same experience as aTai Chi instructor who emphasizes awareness of one’s actions and thoughts. Althoughboth boxing and Tai Chi can be defined as martial arts, their histories, emphases, andother features are very different. Looking more specifically at karate, a Kyokushin Kaikarate class (which emphasizes full-contact sparring with bare knuckles) versus aShotokan karate class (which places more emphasis on personal discipline and controlthan fighting). Binder’s excellent review suggests that certain martial arts might lead todevelopment of beneficial psychological changes more quickly than others. If this is true,perhaps the more complex movements and foreign concepts involved in some martialarts produce changes more slowly. This distinction between a philosophical or societalapproach and a martial/combative approach to the lessons is a very important issue.With the evolution of martial arts into combat systems like Krav Maga and combat sports(Kickboxing, Submission Wrestling), many students may only be taught how to fightwithout lessons in the proper context for applying these techniques, something that isemphasized in more traditional martial art curricula. Studying an art without thesephilosophical/societal teachings is of little therapeutic benefit (and some may argue,detrimental to psychological health). Historical Background of the Martial ArtsThis paper sought to move away from the old stereotypes of Karate, Aikido and othermartial arts in the media and understand what the Martial Arts really are byunderstanding its history; it’s cultural and spiritual background. In essence, what Karateis and what it is not.According to recent surveys made by Fighting Arts magazine, there are at this moment2.64 million adults taking martial art classes in the United States plus 3.02 million peopleyounger than 18 years of age plus these surveys visualize an annual growth of 14% inthe student population. Taking into account that between 70% and 80% of the Karatestudents are youngsters between 4 and 14 years of age, the teaching of martial artssuch as Karate to children is not only a relevant, but also a necessary subject for astudent interested in teaching children. Suárez 6
    • Karate-Do ("way of the empty hand") and Aikido ("the way of harmonious spirit") are self-defense systems geared towards personal development and (in the case of Karate)sport competition whose history goes back many centuries and whose origins are firmlyrooted in the religious and philosophical values of the Far East. In its beginnings on theislands of Okinawa and Japan, between during the XVII and XIX centuries, adults, attheir physical and mental peak, developed these self-defense systems for the battlefieldor for the defense of loved ones. These were ferocious methods created for situationswhere one’s life depended on the outcome of a fight.The conquest of Okinawa in the XVII century by Japan and the later prohibition againstthe carrying of weapons by the local population served only to encourage thedevelopment of indigenous fighting systems that excluded the use of weapons. Also itcan be speculated that the practice of these systems was seen as a vehicle fornationalistic feelings as a symbolic manifestation of resistance to Japanese occupation. Meanwhile, in Japan the heads of powerful families or clans that had soldiers at their service, continuously trained them for combat, thus giving rise to the military elite, or Samurai, masters in the handling of the sword, the bow and arrow, the spear or halberd and hand-to-hand combat. All this together with a very rigorous moral and ethical code whose acceptance entailed an absolute indifference to the warrior’s own life, this being unconditionally placed at the service of his lord. This differs greatly from the western Judeo-Christian perspective where ones life issubservient only to his creator.During the rise and development of the warrior elite, their leaders began to expect anddemand a level of appropriate behavior from them. Thus was developed for the militaryelite an elaborated system of correct actions in all areas of his interaction with societyand other members of his class. In Japanese feudal society, everyone knew how tobehave. For example if I am a Samurai walking on the street, and another Samuraiapproaches me without extending its right hand in peace, I will assume by this actionthat means to attack me. Then, I would unsheathe my sword and attack him, period. Inthose volatile times a man could die if he did not pay attention to these details. Suárez 7
    • In those times one could not always afford the luxury of waiting to being attacked beforefighting. Our concept of "self-defense" is a purely modern interpretation. The purpose ofthe warrior elite was to serve, protect and to promote the interests of their leaders8, andthis often required that combat be initiated preemptively.In addition to a life of hard training and inflexible discipline, the Samurai spent their livesin search of beauty, purity, and perfection. These warriors, who at every moment facedthe possibility of a sudden, violent death, sought to balance the violence inherent in theirprofession with an appreciation of the beauty in the world around them in arts like theJapanese theater, calligraphy, flower arrangement, serving tea and sometimes, simplywatching the flowers of a cherry blossom tree (today this is a popular pastime during thespring both in Japan and in Washington D.C.). No one can better represent the ideals ofthe warrior elite than the legendary fencing master, Miyamoto Musashi, who after a lifemarked by duels against some of the most feared swordsmen of his time, sat down towrite its memoirs in the book "Go Rin No Sho", better known in the West as "The Bookof Five Rings": "You must give yourself to the constant study to obtain the perfection in the soul that becomes evident in the poise of the spirit."Another book that represents the warrior mentality was "Hagakure" written in the 1710based on interviews with Yamamoto Tsunetomo. This book is the protagonist in the film"Ghost Dog": "There is a correct way for the son of samurai to be raised. From childhood one must encourage bravery and avoid scaring or teasing the boy unnecessarily. If a person is affected by cowardice, it becomes a scar for life... The boy must see his parents as teachers, and learn courtesy, serving others, the appropriate ways of speaking... When he does not put his best effort must be scolded and (punished severely)... "8 The Japanese word, “samurai” comes from the verb “subaru”, meaning “to serve”. Suárez 8
    • Also the warrior had the obligation to train his wife in self-defense and the handling ofthe "Naginata", a lethal instrument of poetic beauty (a wood shaft with a curved blade onthe end similar to the European glaive) that became a symbol of the social status ofwomen of the samurai class. A functional Naginata was often a traditional part of asamurai daughters dowry.Although they did not typically fight as normal soldiers, women of the samurai class wereexpected to be capable of defending their homeswhile their husbands were away at war. The Naginatawas considered one of the weapons most suitable forwomen, as it allows a woman to keep a maleopponent at a distance, where his greater height,weight, and upper body strength offers less of anadvantage. The woman carried her Naginata, notonly for self defense, but also so that she could,along with the virtues of harmony, order, temperanceand obedience, to teach martial arts to her children.After the unification of Japan in the XVII century9, the Japanese moved the emphasis ofthe combative arts ("bugei") away from their military use towards a spiritual and moralone, which was then called martial arts ("budo").This is how the sword that kills became the sword that gives and protects life. This canalso be seen as a reaction to the social restructuring seen during the Meiji era (1868-1912). At the end of the XIX century, Japan had opened its doors to the West, abolishedits traditional social system, including the social and military elite, transformed itseconomy and went through the problems that came with these changes. The martial artsof Japan then became instruments for the creation and preservation of an identity and topreserve a bond with a noble past by way of voluntary affiliation.The martial arts are in essence cultural systems that act in a constant intermingling withmodern social factors. These systems are adapted and manipulated according to thesesocial factors. Modern martial arts schools are successful due to their symbolic nature,9 This marks the beginning of the Tokugawa era, which lasted until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Suárez 9
    • which seeks moral development and spiritual enrichment through elaborated andpolished traditions of thought and action. The purpose is the perfection of these actions.Between the years 1915-1925 the first Karate exhibitions take place outside Okinawawith the migration of several Okinawan masters, beginning with Gichin Funakoshi. Forpolitical reasons, when he began to teach Karate to the Japanese, Funakoshi sought toseparate the Chinese origins from his Okinawan art and called it Karate Do.The suffix “Do” was added to incorporate the art into traditional Japanese martial artsand to place emphasis on how Karate also allows the student to approach the old spiritof the Japanese warrior elite: The search of an ethical and philosophical way through thepractice of martial arts ("Bushido") by moving away it of its purely combative application("Jutsu").Also a learning system based on belt colors created by Jigaro Kano for Judo wasincorporated into the teaching of Karate. By 1932, almost all the universities in Japanhad Karate schools.World War II snuffed out the life of many masters of the martial arts both in Okinawa asin Japan. Schools that had been teaching for generations were destroyed along withtheir written records in the bombings.The allies, when occupying Japan, prohibited the practice of all martial arts until 1948.Only Karate was allowed a little later as a university sport of foreign origin. As a result ofthis, it is the American military, stationed in Okinawa and Japan, that spread Karatethrough Europe, North America and eventually, to Puerto Rico.These first instructors invited their instructors to give demonstrations in different placesin America and Europe. Their admirers were dazzled by the effectiveness of theirtechniques. Entranced by this new discipline, which in addition to the physical andmental benefits offered an attractive goal of spiritual enrichment, the first Karate-Ka andAikido Ka threw themselves with enthusiasm into the learning of this new art/sport. Withthe proliferation of teachers and students, it was inevitable that there would arise Suárez 10
    • different interpretations or martial traditions ("ryu") like ShotoKan, Wado-Ryu, Shito-Ryu,Goju-Ryu, Isshin-Ryu, Kyokushinkai, etc.Another factor in Karate is the availability of international competitions. Karate does nothave Olympic status, although it received more than 50% of the votes to become anofficial Olympic sport; 75% of the votes are required. The World Karate Federation(WKF) is the recognized International Sport Federation by the International OlympicCommittee (IOC) for karate.At some moment during this history, somebody came up with the idea of teaching Karateto children and adolescents, which brings us to the subject of this study. Methods 空 手 道My first task was to visit a school ("Dojo"10) of Classic or Traditional Karate to watch achildren’s class. This school has been in Cupey since 1968 under the direction of JaimeAcosta, Sensei11. The class begins with a warm up period of simple heavy motormovements in order to gradually develop flexibility and muscular resistance and toprevent injuries.After the initial warm up, an assistant instructor ("Senpai"12) takes 3 children between theages of 7 to 12 years for the continuation of the class, whereas the adults take classeswith another group. He seems to be working towards the development of abilities of10 Dojo is a Japanese term which literally means "place of the Way". As such it can refer to a formal training place for any of the Japanese do artsbut typically it is considered the formal gathering place for students of a martial arts style to conduct training, examinations and other relatedencounters.11 Sensei (先生) is a Japanese title used to refer to or address teachers, professionals such as doctors and lawyers, politicians, clergymen, andother authority figures.12 Senpai is a Japanese term for a person in a club or other organization, including a school or college, who is a senior (in other words, a memberfor longer or of a higher year) and mutually recognized as such. Suárez 11
    • basic hand movements. The senpai tells the kids to fix their attention on what theredoing and the importance of listening to and following instructions. Although the Sempaidoes not project an authoritarian attitude towards the children, every action in the Dojo,from the greeting given in order to enter the hall ("Onigae Shi Mas", please teach me) tothe greeting given when leaving ("Arigato Gosai Mashta", thanks for teaching me) isguided by a clearly defined structure of correct actions or gestures of courtesy ("reishiki")The children are required by way of transmission and example to adopt a proper attitudeand behavior. This helps the student develop an awareness of reciprocity, cooperationand learning to be aware and control their behavior. The first movements are practicedin-group in front of a big mirror and later the Senpai corrects them individually. He tellsone boy to be aware of the position of his body and to adjust it following his lead. Thebody awareness added to the repetition aids long-term internalization of the technique(muscular memory). After this a five minutes rest is taken.After the rest, the movements are applied against objects like bags of different sizes.Once again the instructions emphasize visualizing and executing the technique slowlyand correctly. When confronted with the difficulty of a boy in appropriately executing thetechnique, the Sempai smiles and it says that the progress is one step at a time. Thishelps the student learn to deal with frustration and to maintain his attention on the task athand. Then the students start to integrate foot movements along with the hands, whichdemand a little more coordination.In spite of the structured atmosphere of the Dojo, a boy is told to speak with firmnessand self-assuredness when directing a question to the Senpai. After another rest period,the Sempai sits in a circle with the children to talk. Each boy has the opportunity to meethis classmates. Later they begin to practice "kata", a series of attack, defense andevasion movements, made against one or several imaginary opponents, which at firstsight looks like a dance. The katas vary in their level of difficulty according to the studentgrade level. The children are taken slowly through the movements that make up the katawhile they are asked questions like "What we are doing?" and "Which way is left?” 15minutes later the school Director orders the groups to halt practice ("Yame!") andgathers all the students together for cooling down exercises. Suárez 12
    • The class ends with a bow to the Director, thanking him for his time.Another Dojo that I had the opportunity was the dojo of Marie Miranda, Sensei of TaifuShoi, a style founded on Puerto Rico in the 1970s using elements of Tae Kwon Do,Kung Fu and ShotoKan Karate to found a distinctly Puerto Rican Karate style. The classis conducted in a community center in Rio Piedras. Today there are 7 children and 2adults dressed in the traditional white uniform. The class begins with a greeting and 2minutes of "mokuso". Mokuso is a short meditation exercise, practiced in the traditionalJapanese martial arts. Mokuso is performed before beginning a training session in orderto relax and to relieve the mind of distractions, very similar to the Zen concept of Mushin.Soon they begin stretching and warming up.Here instead of performing the exercises with the students, the instructors walk by thehall correcting each child individually. Soon they begin practicing Kata13 in a group Theinstructor marks rhythm by counting in Japanese ("Ich(1), Ni(2), San(3), Chi(3),Roku(4)") whereas the first instructor observes from the front of the hall. The secondinstructor walks around the group making corrections. Soon the group performs the katato own step.There is something different here, aside from the nontraditional style. The instructors donot raise the voice at any moment. In spite of this we see an absolute control of thegroup and the children behave and follow instructions right away. There is a relaxedatmosphere where apparently the students are trained in a very detailed way and insmall steps. Although the resulting techniques are not always executed correctly oraccurately, they are definitely performed with determination and conviction.Perhaps this is the "atmosphere of peace and harmony" that the old Japanese teacherslike Morihei Ueshiba and Hironori Otsuka described in their writings as the ideal learningatmosphere.I stopped by another school, this one of Edwin Olmo, Sensei of Shorin Ryu, a Karatestyle from the island of Okinawa and precursor of the Japanese styles. This class is in13 . Kata (literally: "form") is a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs. Kata areused in many traditional Japanese arts such as theater forms like kabuki and schools of tea ceremony (chadō), but are most commonly known forthe presence in the martial arts. Suárez 13
    • the communal center of the Covadonga Housing Project in Trujillo Alto. Here we have 10children, mostly beginners. We know this because the color of the belt (obi) they usecorresponds to the wearers rank in the school. The usual range is from white belt forbeginners through orange, blue, purple, green, brown and finally the coveted black beltfor experienced practitioners.The class begins with a greeting, stretching and warming up with individual corrections.Here the interesting thing is that the name of the student is used consistently. Thismotivates the student to put out a little more effort. The tone here used is pleasant andpatient, which makes for a more relaxed atmosphere. Then come Push-Ups with theknuckles, an exercise that seems a little demanding for children (I cannot do one), but isuseful in strengthening the arms and hardening the knuckles. Nevertheless, the exerciseis done slowly and with supervision.The rest of the class is concentrated on the introduction, explanation and supervision ofbasic techniques of punches, blocks and kicks. At the end of the class I saw somethingthat seemed to me an excellent idea. to get the beginners participating in free sparring.The instructor gives a demonstration first using two advanced students serving while heacts as a referee and explaining the details like proper technique and rules. Of course,the class ends with the greeting. Suárez 14
    • Free SparringWhenever people talk about teaching Karate to children, eventually we enter the subjectof participation in tournament fighting or sparring ("shiai kumite") and forms competition.I have had the opportunity to attend several matches as a spectator and discuss thissubject with various instructors.Before going into my opinion on competition, I am going to recreate a match that I hadthe opportunity to watch during one of these matches between two girls between 6 and 8years of age. The participants enter a competition area made up of smooth, nonskid 8meters rubber squares ("Tatami"). The kids used Protective helmets, mouthpieces,gloves and foot protectors. The children must have their fingernails cut. They are threejudges and three referees, all qualified instructors plus a paramedic nearby. The fightlasts between 2 or 3 minutes and the objective is to be the first in making 3 or 4 points(or to win by decision or disqualification). These points are awarded depending onfactors such as the difficulty of the technique, good form, sporting attitude and vigorousor assertive application The favored techniques are kicks to the head and techniquesmade after throwing or sweeping the leg of the opponent.In spite of this, the rules14 specifically prohibit the more dangerous techniques (likeattacking the genitals) and clearly state that all techniques must be controlled, especiallythose directed to the face, head and neck. I must note that in children sparring, contactto the face is not allowed. Now he referee orders the kids to begin the match (“Hajime”!).After exchanging some blows, the first girl, A throws a front kick against the face of thesecond girl B, hitting her cheek. The referee stops the fight. B cries loudly while theparamedics examine her. A is disqualified in favor of the young B. Upon knowing this, Ahas a crying fit and refuses to leave the ring until she is carried away by an instructor.14 World Karate Federation, credited by the International Olympic Committee Suárez 15
    • Although this match represents an exception and not the rule, during this study weobserved problems common to these children during these matches like nervousness,lack of efficiency and control in the execution of techniques and lack of variety oftechniques. This can be attributed to the little time spent practicing and/or the nerves.Perhaps the nervousness problem comes from a lack of confidence in the learnedtechniques, which takes us again to the lack of training. We also spoke to anOccupational Therapist who suggested the possibility that these children simply do nothave the physical-motor capacity for this activity.15 合 気 道Aikido, translated as "the way of harmonious spirit", is a modern Japanese martial artdeveloped as a synthesis of martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. The goalof Aikido is to help a practitioner achieve the ability to defend him self without injuring hisattacker. Aikido emphasizes joining with an attack and redirecting the attackers energy,as opposed to meeting force with force, and consists primarily of body throws and joint-locking techniques. In addition to physical fitness and techniques, mental training,controlled relaxation, and development of "spirit" (ki) are emphasized in aikido training.The first Aikido school that I visited was San Juan Aikikai, directed by the Javier J.Vásquez, Sensei. The first thing one notices is the physical size, the total cleanliness ofthe premises and the absence of pictures on the walls. This school, aside from beingmuch bigger that the typical Karate school, apparently uses distance to create emphasistowards something in particular and to create a sensation of harmony and peace. It islike creating beauty through simplicity. That object of emphasis would be the"kamizama" or place of honor where the photo of the founder of the style, UeshibaSensei is.The class begins with a group of between 15 and 20 children between the 6 and 15years of age. In Aikido, the advanced students and instructors use a "hakama", very15 She said it was unreasonable and stupid to expect children, whose muscles and bones were not fully developedto perform activities created by adults for adults. Suárez 16
    • wide trousers used as traditional clothing that hide the feet and creates the illusion tofloating when the user is moving. Everyone is seated in "seiza16" in front of the Kamisaand begin by performing “mokuso". Aikido is not practiced as a religion, but as theeducation and refinement of the spirit. The act of bowing before the kamizama and tomeditate must be seen in the cultural context of the country of origin: Japan. Whenperforming these actions, the young student shows a spirit of humility, respect andgratefulness, accepts being part of the group, accepts the rules that allow him to stayand shows solidarity with its ideals.The school or "Dojo is for the Aikido practitioner a place consecrated to physical andmoral improvement, reason why although exercises are performed, they are mainlyperformed in silence. This is very different from the hard faces, shouts and military stylecall and response that hear in Karate. The instructor gives claps, for example andeverything stops. Any instruction is given in a relaxed tone. After a period of stretchingthe exercises begin. They begin to practice the basic positions ("Kamae") and from therepractice different evasive linear and circular movements from the initial position. Theinstructor gives claps again, and everything stops. Then the group quietly follows theteacher as he practices falling to the ground without hurting himself ("ukemi waza"). Thenext 45 minutes are spent practicing technical things that although I understood verylittle, have to do with avoiding, catching and to redirecting attacks. The atmosphere feelsrelaxed and amiable although they are clearly making an effort. The class finishes withanother period of meditation and a greeting. I return to the SJA to see the kid’s class. There are 20 children in this class between sixand 13 years of age with three instructors. The class instructor is Damaris Cintrón. Herheight (55") and hakama gives her the appearance of a small doll, sliding in total silenceand assuredness through the hall while detail escapes her attention, giving instructionsin la soft, relaxed voice. There is nothing in her attitude or bearing that gives away herage. (18 years) The important thing is to see how she alone with their two instructorscontrols and directs a class of 20 children without any apparent effort. I have read andheard about adult teachers with years of experience who crack under the pressure ofhandling 20 children. Seeing this instructor in class makes it look easy. Taking intoaccount the ages from the children, the control, attentiveness and silence of the class is16 Seiza (literally "correct sitting") is the traditional formal way of sitting in Japan. Suárez 17
    • inspiring. I do not hear giggles, they don’t misbehave, and they are relaxed and REALLYALERT to the class.After the warm up, they practice break falling. In essence they practice falling towardsthe front and to the rear. These techniques are called "Ukemi Waza" or "receivingtechniques". This is the art of knowing how to respond correctly to an attack andincorporates skills to allow one to do so safely, such as tumbling and/or falling.Aikido, because of the complexity of their techniques, seems to require moreindividualized instruction than Karate. Here the teaching method is based on cooperativeeducation and non-resistance. The class is divided in 3 groups, each one with aninstructor who explains, demonstrates and guides the Deshi17 through the execution ofeach technique. Its interesting seeing how each student, from first to last re guidedtowards confronting his natural fear to fall. Then one goes to a technique of defenseagainst takes hold to the shirt. We see the demonstration, the explanation and thegroups, by pairs now guided through the execution.I later visited The Centro Aikido de Puerto Rico, where there are also children classes onSaturday mornings. The class is under Samuel Santiago, an advanced student who inthe next months will be examined for black belt. Here we have to 6 children between the9 and 14 years. This Dojo is small and yet somewhat warm, like a “home" kind ofenvironment.After the class I had the opportunity to talk with Samuel on what makes Aikido differentfrom other martial arts. "We understand that the children should be disciplined in their17 “Deshi” means student. See Suárez 18
    • homes, therefore we don’t teach discipline here." Samuel says. "I only teach to thechildren to follow instructions." This makes sense. Perhaps in these times where youcannot even trust a priest, it is better not to place anyone in a position of total authorityon a student. "We emphasize teamwork and cooperation so that they understand whatthey are doing, by this we let them speak among themselves a little, to help themselvesto explain the things". So the emphasis is not in the physical action, rather on thinking. Literature Review SummaryThere is an abundance of empirical evidence over three decades that supportsanecdotal reports about the positive psychosocial benefits of martial arts practice. Onlythree studies of those report no changes promoted by martial arts training. One of thesestudies links this lack of change to training that emphasizes the physical techniques ofthe arts without the ethical, moral, spiritual, or meditative components included. Threereports make a similar conclusion about martial arts students who develop negativetraits According to Binder’s study; a goal for future research will be to designexperiments to determine which specific aspects of the martial arts affect these positivechanges.Despite the unanswered questions about how these changes occur, the martial arts arefinding a niche in the treatment of psychological disorders. This is called Martial ArtsTherapy and it refers to the usage of martial arts as an alternative or complementarytherapy for disorders of the body or of the mind. The therapy may involve applicationssuch as promoting kinesthetic balance in the elderly or impaired, through Tai Chi Chuan,or reducing aggressiveness in specific populations This will likely prove to be a usefulcomplement to verbal therapy, though we have very strong reservations about equatingMartial Arts instructors with medical professionals. Free Sparring: Conclusions Suárez 19
    • Our observations of children participating in tournament sparring have brought us to theconclusion that trying to train children for competition without a solid preparation is awaste of time and money. The key is here to have a formative, noncompetitive vision,not a lucrative one. Competition should be the culmination of a period of practicededicated and constant that varies from one child to another. There is also a mentalpreparation that is needed to obtain the serenity and control necessary to spar. We arenot certain if it is possible for a child or teenager can understand or to reach a clarity andserenity of thought that allows the student to respond to any situation with speed anddecisiveness. Competitive sparring is as much a mental confrontation as a physical one.If the technical skill, control and maturity are not there, then all we get is two kids kickingand smacking each other in order to entertain adults. This is useless and dangerous,since in free sparring, any mistake or weakness in the execution of a technique will beimmediately acted upon by the opponent. If the mental training is not there, the child willsimply resort to his aggressiveness. Even if we teach the child to fight well, if we do notteach him to be aware and to control his emotions, are we creating a responsible karatepractitioner or a fighting rooster?Another factor that influences the decision to push children to compete is the politicaland economic factor. The control of accreditation and the right to represent and to teacha style are not just a question of skill anymore. The student or his parents pay to takeclasses, to take examinations, to register themselves as members of the directiveorganization of the school, and pay to register in tournaments. There is also anenormous industry that orbits around the martial arts with newspapers, books, videos,protective equipment, uniforms, weapons, t-shirts and even CD-ROMs. Methods: ConclusionAfter watching various Karate and Aikido classes we have come to the conclusion thatthe psychosocial benefits of Martial Arts training for children, especially those withlearning difficulties, attention problems or emotional disorders depend solely on theinstructor’s insight, preparation and attitude. The educational background andexperience level of Martial Arts instructors varies greatly from one style to another andfrom one school to another. Individual instructors should be asked specifically about theorigins of their experience and training in teaching children, especially those withAD(H)D. These days, we see a large number of questionable, disreputable, fraudulent, Suárez 20
    • or misguided teachers and schools have arisen over the last 40 years or so in PuertoRico and abroad. Commonly referred to as "McDojo", these schools are frequentlyheaded by martial artists of dubious skill & training, business ethics, or both. Commonmeans of discerning these schools include:High rank at a young ageVery large number of black belt certifications from different styles"Grandmaster" status of the head instructorSelect organizations within the schoolEmphasis on testing and feesRapid promotion of students without discernable improvements in skill"New" and "revolutionary" methods"Secret" teachings from unverifiable sourcesOn the other hand, Aikido, also many styles, but these being mostly formed by MoriheiUeshibas major students after the Second World War and proliferated with the death ofthe founder in 1969. We prefer the non competitive, non aggressive, defense minded,moral philosophical approach of Aikido for kids. Aikido is a non-aggressive martial art.That means that you cant really start a fight with Aikido - you can only finish one. Aikidodoesnt encourage kids to have the so called Power Rangers Syndrome (we cringe atthe thought), in which they go around punching and kicking their friends, siblings, etc.Aikido techniques start when someone else "breaks the rules", i.e. attacks. However, weconcede that the more complex movements of the style take longer to learn and Aikidoclasses are (here in Puerto Rico) held only once a week for an hour. This makesstretches out the time needed to become and winds up costing more. But on the otherhand, kids really enjoy practicing the rolling techniques, among others. Aikido teacheskids to be calm. Of course, kids shouldnt be calm all the time. But Aikido gives them thechoice. If they need to sit still at school, or concentrate on homework, or focus duringsports, Aikido shows them exactly how to do that. The techniques and ki testing doneteach them correct calmness. This is entirely different from keeping their emotionsbottled up. Aikido teaches that in order to create something worthwhile, you must work inharmony with your environment. It teaches that if you make trouble, you will lose. But ifyour mind is correct, calm, and positive, you can make something good out of whateverthe universe hands you. Suárez 21
    • So in the end, as an Education major, parent of an ADHD child and former Karatestudent, we will be taking our child to Aikido classes.ReferencesBinder, Brad (1999, 2007)“Psychosocial Benefits of the Martial Arts: Myth or Reality? A Literature Review”<>Fung, Kent (2004) ”Children and the martial arts”<>MacYoung, Marc “Children in Martial Arts”<>Muromoto, Wayne (2003) Furyu Magazine “Kids and Martial Arts”<>Ripley, Abida (2003) Capella University “An Awesome Alternative to Drugs: Martial ArtsPractice As Treatment For Children With AD/HD”<> Suárez 22