Children can be a wonderful addition to the household and they certainly add a touch of colourful chaos to the overall home dynamic, which is well-demonstrated by my son Nathan’s usual behavioural issues. Today is the first of a 3-part post on children as they relate to the three big pieces of my life: martial arts, Buddhism and Diabetes. As a general rule, I’ve never been a fan of trying to force or coerce children into the martial arts, usually preferring to train kids that actually WANT to be there. But when it comes to those first few, formative years when kids don’t really understand the difference, the best one can usually hope for is to show them little pieces, bit by bit, and hope that they’ll have an active interest. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
When Nathan was a toddler and started scooting around under his own steam, he started imitating the karate movements he’d see me practicing, and started to wrestle and smack me when we’d play on the floor. As some time elapsed, we started to broach the subject of self-control and trying to differentiate the difference between play fighting and harming someone. Not an easy task, when it involves a small child. But critically important towards making the child understand that this self- control is important towards ensuring they don’t grow up to be a bully.
One of the more fun aspects has been sparring. Nathan loves to roughhouse and will often try to jump me as soon as I come down to his height, even when we may be doing something completely unrelated to martial arts. It’s a nasty habit I’ve been trying to break in him, but lately he’s been enjoying putting on the gloves and practicing some techniques with me. The photo above shows some playing around that we had started doing a few years ago.
But in recent weeks, I’ve been focusing more on his ability to block and strike, keeping his head up and his eyes open and not allowing himself to simply flop down to the floor when a strike comes towards him. He’s been doing pretty well, and one can’t blame him for squinting his eyes or lowering his head when someone with five times your mass is coming at you with a large, gloved fist. But teaching him balance, footwork and the ability to keep his eyes open so that he can see what his opponent is doing (me) has been going well.
Some people question the idea of having a small kid spar, but control is of the ultimate importance when teaching a young kid something like sparring. Control on the kid’s behalf and control on the teacher’s behalf, as well. It stands to reason that I can’t belt him with solid shots the way I’d do with any of my adult counterparts in the dojo, but he’s still learning a lot of individual skills that will not only apply to karate but any sport or physical hobby he may choose to pursue as he gets older.
Sparring with Nathan is excellent training for me, as well. His random, chaotic movements keep me on my toes and ensure a certain level of development as I work to try and block effectively when I have absolutely no clue where he might swing next. It’s been a great combination of fun, sweat and learning, albeit without him necessarily realizing that he’s being taught something. Maybe he’ll eventually snap out of it and realize, “Hey, this is great! Show me more, dad…” Until then, I ensure that there’s no pressure or coercion towards karate on my part so that he isn’t soured by the idea. ☯