Health and Fitness

Why Should I Sign My Kid Up For Martial Arts?

August 2, 2023

"My kid is not athletic and prefers art/chess/theater."

a young boy dipping a paintbrush in a cup of water
A young artist exploring

You  know your kids best. You have observed one child's attention constantly being caught by music, another absorbed for hours fascinated by worms and grasshoppers, and yet another who hasn't met furniture that isn't a climbing wall.

The desire to nurture our children's natural interest can make us forgo activities they reject. After all, there are so many options, why insist on forcing them to do what they dislike?

The thing is, being active is for every kid.

It is not reserved for only those who are "athletic".

Following our children's curiosity is great, but so is making sure they are active. When these two don't coincide, it is our job as parents to step in even if it means getting resistance from them.

Yes, I do know how hard this is. I have thrown in the towel a number of times. The good news: towels thrown can be picked up again.

Why do kids consider themselves non-athletic anyway?

a boy fallen down on a field
Everyone stumbles. It doesn't make someone non-athletic

Kids sort themselves and their peers into hierarchies. It is inevitable. Well-meaning adults make it worse when they label kids as smart, clumsy, funny, musical. Labels, especially at the young age, play a huge role in how kids view themselves.

  • "I am clumsy, so what's the point of trying out for track and field?"
  • "I am the funny guy, not the smart guy, so of course I don't get this stuff. I don't need to. I can just make people laugh."

This phenomenon is especially troublesome in athletics because it carries so much more weight. Kids seek athleticism more than say, being kind or being a patient problem-solver.

Why? Just take a look at the relative wages of professional football players, social workers, therapists, and engineers.

(This is a massive over-simplification, of course. Engineers don't have the monopoly on problem-solving skills; football players need them too. Social worker and therapists aren't the only career paths for caring souls. The point is that our society places a disproportionately high value on athleticism. )

Why is that so bad?

Because nobody likes to do what they are not good at.

Children who believe they aren’t athletic avoid athletic pursuits. Instead, they gravitate towards what what they excel in. Let's see: enjoyment and success on the one side versus frustration, embarrassment, and shame on the other. No brainer.

old photo, color faded, of about 30 boys and girls of Chinese descent in front of a lake

I know that's how I chose.

Beginning in elementary school, I came in last in most races. I was constantly teased for being chubby and slow. Being the only four-eyed in the class didn't help.

This is a picture of my 6th grade classmates. I am that one with the glasses trying to look smaller by slumping. It did nothing good to how I felt or carried myself.

Fortunately, athleticism did not reign supreme where I grew up. Other things gave me confidence. Naturally, I spent more time and effort on those and in doing so, became better and better.

It took me a long time to realize that

  • I “wasn’t good in sports” and “was good at academics” because of the time and effort I’d put into each, not only because of my talent or lack thereof;
  • being slow and klutzy did not prevent me from becoming an athlete;
  • becoming good in any field, athletic or otherwise, takes more than just innate traits. It takes skills.
And skills can be trained.

Michael Phelps may have extraordinary wingspan and Usain Bolt may have a much higher percentage of fast twitch muscles in his legs. But they didn’t get to where they did without professional guidance, intense work, and mental training.

Away from the world of super athletes, the principle is the same:

We become good at what we do often. We do those things we are good at more often.

Rinse. Repeat. There is no more virtuous cycle than this.

A child who prefers something else could and should still be active.

  • Being physically active is not the same as excelling in sports. Every kid needs to be active, not just the supposedly talented ones.  
  • Children' don't have to specialize: they can be both artistic and active.
  • There are many, many options. Kids who worry about letting their team down can choose individual sports. Kids who don’t like to memorize dance routines can run cross-country

Why Martial Arts?

collage of 3 kids, one kicking, another in a strong stance, a third, holding a bo staff

Martial arts is a vast field.

In some sports, specific traits matter more than others. But in martial arts, no single trait dominates.

Let's consider what physical skills we train in Tae Kwon Do:

  • balance
  • coordination
  • proprioception
  • stamina
  • strength
  • mobility
  • efficiency in using energy

Those who are strong can improve their agility. Those who are fast could work on precision. Those who are flexible may work on strength. We can all inmprove our balance and mobility.

Everybody, regardless of what traits they have or not can find meaningful progress and excellence in martial art

From nerdy klutz to world champion

It took me decades before I discovered all that martial arts could do for me. I no longer slump and hide behind others. Instead, I make full use of every inch of my 5'1" frame because of the confidence I gained from martial arts. It is a confidence that has come into the rest of my life, a confidence that results from daring to attempt difficult things, a confidence that is not be fazed by repeated failures. A confidence that finally saw me through the demanding process to finally succeeding.

Offer this experience to your non-athletic child and watch them bloom.

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