Susan's Super Citizen Showcase

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Kids' karate offers respect, self-defence, exercise

Belinda ChuTo a high-energy six-year-old, few things are as exciting as a “karate chop.” All I have to do is say the word “karate” and my son’s eyes light up with exuberance – followed by a series of punches and kicks and “hiii-yaaaa!” sounds. I’ve always been good-to-go for a rowdy play fight, ready with lots of blocking, well protected by the all-important rule: never hit in the face. It was a lot more fun (and funny) when he was really small – kind of like a cute, little, attacking puppy. But the older he gets, the more painful it becomes and the sooner I end up running away and yelling: “Okay! Okay! Game over! That’s enough!!”

So I decided to sign him up for Belinda Chu’s Shintokukai Karate-Do program at our local community centre, here in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Such an abundance of energy needs an appropriate outlet – and our living room scraps just don’t work for me any more. I felt a mixture of relief and hope when I scanned the program hand-out at the first class last week. It reads:

“Whether one practices one form of Karate or another, all Karate teachings essentially share a common message, that being: respect for one’s self and others, good citizenship and a drive to improve one’s self, to grow and develop on all personal levels… Gentle mindedness and respectful behavior, additionally, are important concepts conveyed within the program. Another well-known Karate adage, this one attributed to the great Itosu Anko Sensei, solemnly states: ‘Karate begins and ends with respect.’ This encompasses another central message of the program, that being respect for one’s parents, teachers, peers, and very importantly one’s self. We believe this helps form the basis of strong self-esteem and a positive self-image – strong enough to say no to drugs, as well as to other negative forms of peer pressure. The skills and qualities conveyed in training have indeed shown to make a positive and meaningful difference in the lives of children and their families.”

Does this mean a gentler day is nigh? Will I soon no longer need to fend off the spritely power of Toby’s hard little heels and fists and elbows and knees?

“They’re young and it’s going to take some time before they come to the realization that their horseplay does hurt and that with their little size they can still generate a fair bit of power,” says Belinda. “It’s going to take a while for these children to develop that awareness and, as adults, we just have to give them that time.”

Fair enough. In the meantime, the Karate class will help – and a big part of the answer is… the Japanese tradition of bowing.

“There’s going to be a lot of bowing going on. They’re going to be bowing into the class, bowing onto the mat, bowing to each other and to their instructors and then at the end of class they bow off the mat and out of the building,” Belinda says. “And when we start to work in groups on pair techniques, again you’re showing respect to each other by bowing before you start the technique and then once the technique is completed, they return to their starting postion and again they bow to say, basically ‘thank you’ and then onto the next thing… We hope that whatever is taught in class will also be carried out into the outside world.”

Belinda, who has earned her black belt after many years of devotion to her art, first studied Karate in her last year of university when she was studying graphic communications in Toronto. However, her desire to study a martial art had been simmering for many years, ever since she was a young girl going to school in East Vancouver – a first-generation Canadian whose parents had immigrated from China.

“As a little child I always wanted to take karate – or just a martial art. Growing up, I was still considered a minority at that time – getting picked on and being stereotyped. Having a Chinese background, they expect you to know Kung Fu or something. I wanted to follow up with that. If they were going to stereotype me, I wanted to live up to their expectations. Some girl came along, and tried kicking me, so as a natural instinct I blocked it. And she said ‘Oh! She knows Kung Fu!’ And from then on it was on the back burner,” says Belinda, who now teaches self defence as a component in her Karate class for women.

Learning to defend oneself is also an important part of the kids’ course.

“The curriculum covers Goshin Waza, situational self defence: ‘What would happen on the street if someone came walking up to you and grabbed your arm?’” Belinda explains. "And then there's Yakusoku Kumite, pre-arranged sparring which is more traditional karate: 'What if someone comes in with a reverse punch?'"

I asked Belinda if these self-defence techniques could help a young child to fend off an attacker.

“With the element of being surprised – yes. A person is usually abducted from behind, so if someone grabs a child and the child just throws his head back and head butts them, that’s an element of surprise the abductor wasn’t expecting. And then if the child follows up that head butt with, maybe a kick to the groin or the knee, or biting the hand or the arm – yes then for sure the child could break free,” she says. “I give them a repertoire of techniques and then when they’re out on the street and something happens, all they have to do is pull something out of there.”

In addition to the respect and self-defence, exercise is another important aspect of Karate training. And of course exercise for kids is a sizzling topic these days – what with the so-called childhood obesity epidemic…

“I do a series of drills that gets them running around and their heart rate going and builds their endurance and strength as well, so it’s like any movement is better than just sitting down and watching television or playing video games,” says Belinda, a mom to two boys, aged two and four.

After the first class, Toby and I were feeling excited and motivated. (It's an added bonus for me that I can fit in a short workout at the adjoining fitness centre.) As we walked out into the winter chill, he playfully spazzed and leapt around demonstrating "moves" from his class – until “whack!!!” he accidentally punched a wooden post, ran to me, and buried his teary face in my wooly coat. I inspected his reddened fist, made sure he could move his fingers, and applied a pain relieving kiss to the hand of my young Karate master.

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At Fri Apr 27, 06:10:00 PM PDT , Blogger Joseph Lopez said...

Please tell you little guy not to worry, those fists will toughen up as he practices! I was a school district security person in various forms for years before I got injured at work.

Some people think that you should just be passive, and hope for the best when outgunned or faced with a larger force. That kind of attitude only lets the perpetrator do what he or she wants with no interference. There was an outrage when a British firm taught Texas school kids to throw their books at and each tackle a different appendage of a "gunman", while the teacher goes for the gun or hits him with a bat she keeps behind her desk.

Its better than dying. At least they have a CHANCE. The cops couldn't get in becasue he had blocked the doors, right? SO who needs to try and save their OWN lives? Who needs to be able to think tactically and RUN or TACKLE or do whatever it takes to SURVIVE.

We have become too dependant upon law enforcement. I think its good that you teach your son to defend himself. Martial Arts also teaches that the power you gain from practice and old knowledge is not to be misused. Fight only when you MUST, but WIN when you fight.


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