At SSJ Judo in Charlottesville, Dr. Gene Shin holds classes for kids in two age groups: Sprouts, 4 to 6, and Juniors, 7 to 12. Older kids have the option to train with the Senior class. Sensei Shin started learning judo himself as a very young child in his father’s dojo, and has been practicing his whole life. At 44, he has been teaching for twenty years, and is now thankful that he can pass on his family’s discipline to his own and other children. “Judo has provided so much in my life,” says Shin, “from helping me deal with racism as a child, to informing the structure of my doctoral research, that I could hardly ask for anything more. Having the opportunity now to share it with kids is really a great gift. I’m constantly amazed at what they are able to do, what they are able to discover about themselves when they are given the chance to push, and strive, and grow. Just the other day, a parent who had come in to observe several classes before choosing to enroll his son and daughter emailed me and said ‘I also have to say I appreciate your philosophy (e.g., getting the one little girl to learn how to get out of a tough spot). I have seen it 8-9 times where you teach them that ability to take control of things and learn in ways that I think is invaluable.’”
“I teach a very traditional approach to judo, that emphasizes the careful acquisition of technique over time.” Sensei Shin says. “Judo is a long path, and I want all my kids to learn in a way that not only allows them competitive success while they’re young, but lets them enjoy practicing and learning long enough so that they can then have fun teaching their own kids, decades from now.”
”Another really great thing about judo, is how physical it is. It’s a great, total body workout that uses every muscle. This not only develops overall strength and coordination, but provides great cross-training support for other sports. All body types can play and benefit from judo.”
Finally, Dr. Shin says, the development of the mind is a key facet of training. “At any given moment in practice, I will stop and say ‘Five second focus!’ and no matter what they are doing, the kids will all stop, and just take a few deep breaths and find their center. It’s a small start, but this is really important, I tell the kids, because no matter how crazy things get, you have to be able to collect yourself and keep your focus, or you can be swept away in a moment.”
Here are some of the reasons why parents in the Charlottesville area are enrolling their children in martial arts classes:
Fitness is one of the most common reasons for enrolling a child in a martial arts class. Childhood obesity rates are climbing, with more and more children spending time in front of the TV or playing video games. Even among more active children, martial arts are attractive since they are seen as a good source of exercise, improving cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, balance, strength and overall energy levels.
Another popular reason for enrolling children in the martial arts is to develop “life skills.” These skills include discipline, self-control, patience, confidence and courage, Annandale instructor Ruth said. The idea is to reinforce what is already being taught at home. Martial arts classes can be a valuable tool for helping to reinforce the points parents make at home.
Parents may also enroll their children in a martial arts class to learn self-defense. The focus of a good class, while teaching self-defense movements, should be on conflict resolution, personal responsibility and avoidance, instructors noted. Attending a martial arts class can benefit both a bully, by teaching respect for others, and the bullied, by teaching how to calm a situation or defend, Ruth noted.
Some parents turn to the martial arts to teach their children life skills when they are acting out in school or at home. Classes can help a child’s attention span, respect, demeanor and self-control, Sanger said. The structure of many martial arts classes can greatly aid in these areas; however results will vary depending on the relationship between you, the child, and the instructor, and it is important to be clear with the instructor about your goals. Behavior modification requires careful, collaborative partnership. If the instructor has a good method of communicating with the child, is firm but friendly and, most importantly, is very consistent, then the child can really benefit from martial arts training.
Good, Clean Fun
Many parents seek a safe, wholesome activity for their children to occupy some of their free time. These parents want their children to get involved in something that makes them set and follow through on goals. Martial arts training can help in that respect, area instructors say. The relationships built among classmates and with an instructor can last a lifetime and have a positive impact on a child’s life.