Martial Arts is so much more than just fighting or self-defence. It’s teamwork, discipline, a community, good fun, strategy, grace, balance, control and helps to cope with setbacks and learn good sportsmanship. It’s a fantastic sport for any age or ability, especially for those with physical or learning disabilities. So, what better afterschool activity to share with my daughter than Mixed Martial Arts?
During my early 20s I studied Muay Thai Boxing, a form of Eastern Kickboxing. And while circumstances ensured I couldn’t learn as much or for as long as I wanted, it taught me some incredible life lessons on positivity, strength, fitness, endurance and camaraderie. So, it was only natural I’d want Izzy to gain these same intuitions and skills.
Defending against screen time
As the father of a nine-year-old, never a day goes by when I’m not thinking about her safety. You only have to turn on the news for a short time to see a worrisome headline. But it’s not just the thought of her physical safety that keeps me awake at night, but her emotional strength too, particularly in light of her ever presence and rapidly growing interest in technology. Whether that be online games, video content, TV programmes and of course the spectre of the newest enemy of all unprepared parents, the inevitable pull of social media.
Anyone who has spent any time on any social channel can attest to the potential dangers youngsters and even adults can be exposed to. Whether that be inappropriate content, cyber bullying, or just as a time incinerator. Yet despite all these valid concerns, the siren call of connecting with friends and not missing out is a hard temptation to ignore or deprive.
But as a ‘modern’ parent I’ve always tried to stay balanced and not let fear rule mine or more importantly her life. I suspect my concerns of social media and kids leading a sedentary life are the same fears my parents had with the introduction of video games and their parents before, with the rapid growth of television. So how does one find that right balance between cautious safety and living a carefree childhood?
So far, the best way I found of managing is taking onboard that famous mantra of ‘Hope for the best but plan for the worst’. And so, with this in mind it’s always been my hope that Izzy would become proficient in some form of self-defence, enough at least that would give her the confidence in her own abilities and provide a valuable tool and outlet to grow, as her young mind is shaped by the world around her.
An irresistible force
Two years ago, as Izzy was turning eight, I searched for local Martial Arts studios, looking for a child-friendly dojo whose classes could be easily managed alongside homework and other after school activities. And boy, did I find it. Reading their website, I instantly found the school I was looking for in Tring Martial Arts (TMA). With just a short read of their bio and ethos it was easy to see why so many of their members continued to rate them so highly, year-after-year.
I found a warm, welcoming, family-like team, who’s caring and attentive nature was immediately obvious from the offset. Having been established for nearly 20 years, they came with the kind of pedigree you would expect from an organisation that navigated and emerged, through the lockdowns, even stronger.
Being a typically unassuming, nervous, youngster, I was keen not to push my expectations onto Izzy too hard and too fast. So, we only intended to join our first class, initially as a spectator. But once the class began, watching on from the side lines was never going to cut it. You could feel her excitement and anticipation of joining in grow, so join in she did. Perhaps it was the pull of the shiny new uniform that got her kicking off her shoes, or maybe it was the opportunity of being the only one in the class to perform the splits. But, whatever the enticement, that’s all it took to awaken her focus.
As a class for 6-10 year olds, Izzy was sat squarely in the middle, both in terms of age, experience, height and confidence. And while the nerves persisted throughout the first year, she seemed to relish and in fact flourish when called upon to demonstrate a move or help the younger ones find their own feet. And while I hoped and suspected that martial arts would help Izzy grow, it’s brought out something in her that I never appreciated before. Her compassion and desire to help people. She’s always been sensitive to other’s needs and worn her heart on her sleeve but having an outlet to share the skills she’s learned with others, has been transformative.
Developing in every sensei the word
In the two years we’ve been attending TMA, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. As a sociable and precocious tween (or pre-teen) her interest has, let’s say, taken some encouragement, coercion and at times bribery. The magnetic pull of other after-school activities like gymnastics, netball, YouTube, Roblox (don’t ask) has been constant. But, thanks to TMA’s experience and how the continual reward and affirmation of receiving grades and belts within martial arts works, it’s helped propel Izzy forward and keeps her motivated.
Despite several attempts to entice her friends to join a class, along with my efforts to coax parents to ‘give it a try’ on our parent WhatsApp group, Izzy is currently the only girl in her class to learn martial arts. While on reflection this feels like a shame and missed opportunity to socialise. But in reality, it’s had some unintended benefits. Not only does Izzy relish being the only Black Belt in school, which as parent is fantastic to hear her look towards the future so brightly. But, having no school pals there has encouraged her to reach out and make new friends and widen her circle from other schools across the area. It’s my fond hope, that by making other friends will stand her in good stead as she progresses onto secondary school and beyond.
During our time with Tring Martial Arts, I’ve seen Izzy grow with the kind of confidence that sport seems to foster so well. A shared passion or hobby works brilliantly in bringing people together, but sport, especially team sports or contact sports, seems to deliver that extra incentive to get to know each other. We’ve had playdates with friends from other catchment areas, who we may never have met without martial arts, who intern have shared their extra-curricular activities and broadened our scope and vision. As the father of an only child with limited child-rearing experience, it’s also helped me meet other parents who have shared their insights, helping me to be a better dad.
Keeping a flexible approach
As she approaches 10, Izzy will transition to the beginner, adult class. It’s here that I’m anticipating her confidence taking a knock. She’ll suddenly find herself effectively starting afresh on the adult grades, working with teens and grownups. But, as with all knocks, we’ll face it together and we’ll learn as we go. To help combat this, I’ve promised that I will be joining her in our twice-weekly class. And as anyone who has ever ‘promised’ a 10-year-old something. There’s no backing out, as they will definitely remember. So, despite my forty-something year old knees and the kind of inflexibility you would typically expect to see in a Rhinoceros house, I’m actually quite looking forward to some quality daddy/daughter time.
So, watch this space as I attempt to keep up with Izzy and reawaken my own long-forgotten passion for martial arts to find a community, sense of wellbeing and accomplishment.
What the mind can perceive, the heart can believe, and the body can achieve
If you’d like to find out more about any form of martial arts, I’ve put together my beginners’ guide to finding a class that works for you.
- Find something you enjoy. Some kids may like boxing, some Judo, some Karate. Others may prefer less contact activities like Tai Chi, which is the perfect introduction for those of us less-nimble mortals.
- You don’t have to settle on the first class you try, explore multiple ideas. In fact, you may become more rounded the more styles you try.
- Find a provider that you feel comfortable with. Most good classes will offer a free taster day or trial class and won’t insist on an upfront payment or purchasing a uniform in advance. A good class will sell itself and won’t need to insist on long term commitments.
- Depending on your or your child’s age, you may be able to find a class that accepts kids and adults, so you can both train together and share the journey for some great family time. Finding a class that grows with your kids can be a great way to maintain their enthusiasm.
- Read reviews whether Google, facebook or your school’s own website. Your school may be able to recommend a class or instructor. Some organisations like TMA visit schools for special PE classes. Or simply ask your social networks if they have any recommendations.
- If you have any concerns, perhaps about a nervous child or those with additional needs, visit or speak with an instructor before you go. A great tutor will be only too happy to talk with you about your personal circumstances and how they can accommodate most individual needs.
- For cautious children, a great way to join a new class is to go with a friend or relative. Some schools, such as TMA, will even offer discounts off your tuition for introducing new members. Instructors may also be able to suggest quieter classes for first timers.
- And finally, have fun. Martial arts is a life-skill that gives so much, while demanding so little. It can be incredibly rewarding and a truly great way to look after your mental and physical health and wellbeing.
By Richard H. (parent of a member of Tring Martial Arts Academy 2023)