I remember the feeling of dread the first time I saw my little sister wave a sword around when she was 12. I was convinced that she was going to chop her head own off, or worse, mine. And yes, my fear was mostly brought upon by sibling rivalry – siblings can be both best friends and enemies. But in all fairness, she picked weapon forms rather quickly and performed them well and with control, so there really wasn’t anything to worry about. Not to mention the weapon she was using was purely for performances and couldn’t cut through a piece of paper.
Putting my sister in kung fu may have been one of the best decisions that could have been made. You’d think that such an aggressive martial arts would be a bad idea for a child to learn, but having learned so much from learning kung fu myself, I truly believe that it can help children so much in their personal and character development.
1. It teaches discipline
A huge part of kung fu is based on self-discipline. Anyone who has ever been in kung fu will be reminded of those hours of practicing the same movement over and over again. It can feel like you’ve done the same move hundreds of times before you get the chance to practice something else. But doing this same movement continuously shows the progress that can be made over a period of time. The small improvements in technique, movement and even strength are a mark of discipline through the endless repetition.
I’ve been working on a few kicking forms for the last couple of weeks. And I would continuously alternate between the three forms until my legs become exhausted and just standing becomes almost too much effort. But lately, I’ve noticed a change in the way I kick from when I first began. The power of my roundhouse can now move the punching bag back much farther than it used to and my stamina lasts a lot longer so I can repeatedly kick the bag for a longer stretch of time before I need to give myself a break.
2. It teaches the importance of practising
Let’s be real, who doesn’t want to take a break from physical activities once in a while? There are some days where I would love to call it quits for the day and veg on the couch with a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough. But even when I feel like taking a day off, I know I can’t. My kung fu training has taught me better. There is a way things are done in kung fu that can’t be changed for just one student. Calling it quits isn’t an option. If I miss even a day of practising, that puts me a week behind everyone else. Practising, whatever the hobby, is important for improvement, even when all you want to do is take a nap right there on the cold ground.
Kids are also able to see their progress more clearly when they spend weeks practising the same moves. Remembering how they began that first day and noting how they perform even a few weeks later can give a child encouragement to not give up.
3. It builds self-confidence and independence
I started off as a shy, nervous and awkward kid. And I stayed this way until… okay, I’m still like that. But that doesn’t matter, because I’ve become confident in my awkwardness and have learned to like that side of me. Practising kung fu has given me more control over my movements and reactions. Kung fu teaches students how to be aware of their surroundings and how to react in a number of situations. There is no room for uncertainty in kung fu. Every movement has to be conducted with precision, accuracy and confidence. Even how you stand is improved from training. I definitely stand with a more relaxed posture and am more confident as an individual.
4. It’s a great way for kids to get fit and be active
Kung fu uses fluid movements that are easy on the joints to prevent injury making this a safe activity for kids. It’s a very fast-paced form of martial arts which means that it will give children an aerobic workout. Each session begins with a series of stretches and workouts that encourage flexibility, muscle strength, stamina and endurance.
5. It trains students in self-defence
One of the main reasons for people to join any form of martial arts is to learn basic self-defence. Kung fu teaches students to respond quickly in any situation and how to move properly to defend yourself. Practising a move a thousand times can train your reflexes to act in an instant when needed. Quicker reflexes can also help in giving you more confidence to fight back if the situation calls for it. No matter where you are being aware of your surroundings is paramount to avoiding potential threats. Kung fu trains you to listen and notice changes that happen around you so that you are not taken by surprise. Most importantly, kung fu trains students to stand up for themselves and to not back down.
6. It has techniques in concentration and meditation
Kung fu can’t be learned in a day, and to be able to pull off a number of moves takes a great amount of skill and concentration. Kung fu isn’t all about the fighting and violence, it teaches you to breathe calmly and think rationally. When you learn a form, you go through the motions of every movement slowly to begin with and concentrate on when to inhale and when to exhale. Many of the forms encourage students to clear their mind and go through the motions slowly without cluttered thoughts or tensed muscles. Just getting the movement right when throwing a punch or block requires a heavy amount of concentration.
7. It teaches respect
It takes a great amount of discipline and training to achieve the skills learned in kung fu. And everyone in the class has their own strengths and weaknesses and can understand when one another struggles. Some of the forms I am currently learning are meant to be paired with one or two other opponents who are sometimes not on the same skill-level. It is through our respect for one-another and our skills that we are able to perform so that we look graceful and we don’t accidentally cause injury. Children who learn kung fu can learn to understand and respect one another whether they train together or are opponents.
It is one thing to respect those around you and another thing to respect yourself. Knowing that you accomplished a difficult skill is a great way to boost your self-esteem and your respect of yourself.