Family Ties In The Dojo

We love our families and want nothing but the best for them. Sometimes, the best is not what we think it is and can only be sought out by the family members themselves. But health and fitness doesn’t discriminate, and it’s important that everyone in the family get off the couch and do something physical at least a few times a week. This isn’t always an easy thing to encourage, and some family members will often be less than enthusiastic about being put through the ringer; especially if you happen to be the instructor…

If you happen to be an instructor of a sports club or a martial arts dojo, getting your family involved can be a good or a bad thing. I’ve seen it all… Family members who have basically been forced or coerced to join and family members who feel it necessary to “tag along” even if their efforts are far below what would usually be required of the environment. It can be a difficult and awkward situation, especially since you need to go home and live in relative peace with these people once class is done.

Trying to teach Nathan the basics back in 2019. Kid can’t take a hit…

One of the best examples I can think of are Sensei and his son. As his only male child, Sensei expected his son to train diligently and consistently. And to excel. A bit of an archaic way of thinking by today’s standards but remember that I’m referring to 40 years ago. The son was made to attend every class, train every day and even to start teaching at a young age, despite the fact that by the time he reached his pre-teens, he expressed no interest in karate. As a practitioner myself, I can certainly relate to how heartbreaking that would be. But it’s important to remember that even if karate is your thing, it may not be your child’s.

The result of that forced learning is that decades later, Sensei’s son is no longer an active practitioner. Oh sure, he has skills that will always be with him. And appropriately, he was Sensei’s first student to pass black belt. Those are all important milestones for both of them. But when you compare it to someone like me, who has been eating, breathing and sleeping karate for over 30 years but who joined and trained of his own volition, the difference is I still make it a part of my daily life and have ambitions to teach.

Training with a spouse or loved one has its own set of complications. Imagine having your spouse in your karate class, yelling at her, making her do knuckle push-ups and basically flooring her physically. Then getting home that evening and expecting to share a shower or snuggling up as though you DIDN’T just make her life a living hell. Much to the same tune as working a job with a spouse, training with them can be rough waters to navigate. And if it’s to be attempted, clearly defined parameters and guidelines for what’s expected and what will be done need to be established. By the same token, making sure that nothing is done that could be considered favouritism needs to be kept in mind as well.

It’s important to remember that the familial title should be the priority. If you’re a husband, then that’s your role and it would be very difficult to be a slave-driving instructor to your spouse. They can hate an instructor all they want, so long as they get the results they seek. But it’s a little hard to release and use that hatred against your husband. The same can be said of your children, as forcing them into something they don’t want to do could potentially sour them from being interested in any similar activities in the future. And it’s just as important that ALL family members be active, albeit occasionally for different reasons.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t be active with your family. You can participate in a variety of sports and activities that can get the heart pumping without necessarily taking on an instructional role. Taking walks, snowball fights or sledding are great family activities. Even a good old fashion pillow fight, so long as you have the space and a safe environment to do so. Nathan and I often just roll on the floor mats downstairs, wrestling and grappling. He has a blast playing around while I’m slowly teaching him some grappling techniques. And he’s started showing interest in picking up the 3-pound dumbbells and imitating what I do during at-home workouts.

My wife does not train in karate, but we still work out together whenever we have the chance. Couples who get fit together, stay together. But it would be a different story if I had to act in a capacity where I had to constantly push her and force her to do more. Such student/teacher relationships can lead to resentment and hard feelings. That’s why it’s very difficult, bordering on the impossible for anyone to fill that role while still maintaining the relationship.

There’s no problem with encouraging family members to exercise together and get fit together. In fact, in can even be an inexpensive way of keeping the family involved together during trying times while getting some much needed exercise. But the day your spouse or child decides to walk into your dojo may require some wariness and caution on your part. The difference between “Yes, Sensei!” and “Yes, Dear!” or “Yes, Daddy!” can mean the difference between a happy household or a few slammed doors. ☯

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I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

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