A year ago, my wife and I entered my son into karate classes hoping that it would teach him discipline and patience.
Thus far, it’s mostly improved his aim.
If I had a dollar for every playtime that ended with me crumpled on the ground and murmuring “good shot,” I could afford to buy my son nunchucks.
But he likes it. He likes kicking and rolling and swinging his kamas. Of course, children can be capricious, and he may change his mind before the New Year. But — if only for now — he looks forward to karate class like I look forward to carbohydrates.
I can’t remember exactly how we landed upon karate for my son. Some parents compose lists, weigh pros and cons and even consider scholarship prospects when suggesting hobbies to their children. By comparison, my wife and I enrolled our son on a lark.
But in the last year, we’ve come to appreciate several things about raising a karate kid.
Let’s state the obvious first. Active sports can be good for your kid’s health. I’m not here to argue for karate over swimming, football, baseball, volleyball or cross-country. In general, it’s good for our kids to have interests that keep them moving. It doesn’t just keep them healthier, it improves their socialization and can even decrease the likelihood of depression.
Also, dojos are a great place for kids with an overabundance of exuberance. If you think your child is wild, bring them to a karate class. They’ll be surrounded by kids who’ve learned how to harness that feral energy — or, at least, are in the process of learning how to harness it.
Everyone’s Welcome in the Dojo
We’ve had a national conversation in the last few years about what qualifies as “locker room talk” and if it’s ever acceptable. While I’m unqualified to critique the discussion as a whole, I’ll add this: The talk in the locker room is more respectful when there are boys and girls on the team.
Especially if those girls also know how to roundhouse kick you in the jaw.
The Leader Ladder
Your typical dojo is a case study in delegation. You may have a 10th dan karate master running the place, but he or she isn’t the one teaching the little dragons how to tie their belts or throw a punch.
No, more often it’s the bigger kids who guide the younger kids. And pretty soon those younger kids are teaching the next generation of white-belts. It’s a ladder of leaders where each student teaches the pupils on the rungs beneath them.
They Get to Break Things That Aren’t Yours
Tired of your child shattering your stuff? Take him or her to the dojo and have them break some boards instead.
The Whole Discipline and Patience Thing
Sure, sometimes my son resembles a hummingbird on his fourth shot of espresso, but it’s remarkable to see him — or almost any of these young kids — when they hit the karate mat.
Children who were all jumps and jitters a few months ago are listening and waiting and performing all sorts of other tasks that seem impossible for a 5-year-old. Nowadays, there are times when I only need to tell my son to do something one time and he does it.
(I had assumed that sort of compliance would require a taser or military school.)
To be honest, I don’t know where my son’s interest in karate will go. He could quit next year or end up starring in buddy-cop films with Chris Tucker. He could open his own dojo one of these days or swap his kamas for a hockey stick.
For now, though, he likes it. And there are few joys greater than watching your kid like something that’s good for him.
Now, if he could only be a little more careful when we’re roughhousing.
Jason Lea has a son, daughter, and a full-time job at the Mentor Public Library. He also blogs for Northeast Ohio Parent in his nonexistent free time. You can find this East-sider on Twitter at @jasonmarklea or read his blog at northeastohioparent.com/bloggers