One of the catch phrases in martial arts is "discipline." What exactly does this mean?
According to most dictionaries the words "discipline" in common language is used to describe either the act of punishment to force proper behavior, or it is used synonymously with "self-control." Even acts of punishment are ultimately aimed at giving incentives to act properly and to control ones impulses.
Discipline of children is a touchy subject in our society because different groups have different ideas about how to achieve acceptable behavior and self control in children. Ideas range from keeping the paddle behind the desk to no structure what so ever until a certain age. I'm not going to discuss any of that because I am still trying to figure out the right balances of discipline procedures in my own home. What I am going to discuss is discipline in an educational setting particularly in our martial arts school.
I first started helping to teach kids martial arts classes when I was ten years old, and I never stopped. During that last 27 years, I have calculated that I have spent more than 20,000 hours in direct contact with children in a leadership capacity. As I opened my own school coming out of college, I developed an obsession with the mind, psychology, early childhood education and development, and science based educational methods. I absorbed eveything I could get my hands on.
I have also been wittiness to a number of ways of developing discipline in children used in martial arts schools. I make it a regular point to travel across the state to stop by other martial arts schools and observe how the instructors interact with children. Let me tell you, I have seen the good, the bad and the intensely ugly. Let's make something perfectly clear. Children are not soldiers nor are they even remotely uniform.
One kid might have issues controlling himself because he has a severely autistic older sibling at home who he is mimicking in certain ways. Another kid, might actually be on the spectrum herself. This kid might have a highly intelligent mind and simply can hardly contain herself, while that kid might legitimately be trying to push an instructors buttons. Some kids may be bickering endlessly with siblings and develop a habit of always being at odds with authority figures. The scenarios are endless and exponential.
If I may brag a bit, one of the greatest compliments I receive occasionally is that I am gifted with children. Usually from educators and people who work closely with special needs kids. These people have been there, in the "jungle" so to speak, and know what challenges educators face.
I don't know about gifted, but I certainly will take credit for the years and years of floor work on my knees eye to eye with kids from nearly every walk of life possible, every culture, every disposition, in large groups of up to 150 at a time ( yeah I'll never do that again), to private lessons. Gifted or not, just like the way that I teach martial arts, I lead from experience. I have lost control over classes before. I have disciplined a child to harshly or not enough. I have dropped the ball. I have been there done that, slammed it, lost it, smashed it, raised my hands in ultimate victory and lost sleep over my failures. This is my life. This is what I do.
Children more than anything need to be loved. They are also extremely sensitive. They can sense how you feel about them. Any teacher who wants to be effective must truly and sincerely care about their impact or the child on an inner level will know it. Children with discipline issues are on guard waiting for the next disciplinarian to be thrown their way and are subconsciously preparing their defenses. To get through to them, a good teacher must learn how to break down those defenses and not be a disciplinarian but a leader. The child has to want to follow.
Self control comes from desire and hunger not fear. Fear is only a temporary dirty bandage. Yes I cringe when I hear of a martial arts instructor still making kids do push-ups as punishments or for being late. Push-ups are an awesome exercise. Children should learn that it's a pleasure not a punishment. I also get angry when I hear of a teacher humiliating a child. Humility comes from inner knowledge not shame.
When I'm teaching kids about self control, I am planting seeds and nudging them back on the path. You will rarely see me emotional and continuously harping on someone about their flaws. Some things slide for the moment then I'll move back. Reminders, operating values, sometimes missed stripes or opportunities for fun. Other times more drastic measures like removal of stripes ( always done in private), or some time spent individually talking after class. I do not punish children. Consequences are directly related to what we are doing and never a punishment. I am leading them to learn not teaching them to avoid my wrath.
If you listen carefully next time I'm having a "serious" conversation with a child. You will hear me be very straight forward and logical. Children are not dumb, and if they understand what you are trying to accomplish, you might just win them over to your team. You will also hear me tell them that "I'm not mad or upset." This is important. It sets that stage to learn rather than react. You will also hear me explain to them that I appreciate their personality, and I'm not trying to stop them from being who they are, but it's important to know why we are hear and how they are expected to behave. Once they can fully grasp that I care for them and am not just being another adult telling them what to do, they start to want to be in control of themselves and over come their impulses. This is the crucial step to true discipline. Desire is a hundred fold more effective than fear. Avoidance of punishment is a fear based system.
Now. Before someone with an old fashion attitude accuses me of being to soft. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I don't teach with flowers and pancakes. I have many tools in my chest, and I have one goal and that's getting the job done.
Every single one of my junior black belts are highly disciplined and highly focused individuals. They have completed the kids program and that particular portion of the vision I have for them has been accomplished. Growing strong martial artists and individuals is a process much like gardening, and yes it starts with that squirrelly white belt kid doing head spins on the mat when my back is turned. I teach with mirrors remember, I have literally spent half my life in front of them. I know what's going on in the depths that most are unaware of.
I can prove it. I don't ask people to take my word for it. A simple look at one of our videos of kids testing for Jr. black belt will tell anyone reading this all they need to know about what I expect out of our young martial artists. I do not set the bar low for anyone, and I don't hand pick athletes like a football team. It's not in my nature.
My staff and instructors are as good as they are because they spend years in training. You can watch some of the young leadership team members learning and helping during classes. These are my instructors of the future gaining hands on experience with all types. They literally spend hours in workshops role playing as if they if they are kids and humorously acting out the various scenarios that go on during classes and how to deal with them unemotionally, professionally, and with care. It's a process, and that process is my life's work born of a lifetime of training, teaching, and a love for both children and quality martial arts training.
Now for a little Hamlin style discipline thrown your way.
Please. It is not necessary to call out to your child during our classes if they seem to be headed down hill. It only happens with our new kids and they will learn. I know exactly what is going on wether it is imeadiatly apparent or not. I hope you understand now, there is a vision to the madness. Parents should sit quietly on the bleachers and be seen but not heard. 😝 If you have problems controlling yourself, it might be better to wait in the car or have a salad at Ciro's. If I remind you of this during a class, please understand that I'm not mad or angry with you. It's simply important for you to learn how to behave properly in a martial arts school environment so the kids can learn martial arts with as little interruptions as possible. I know you are a good parent, and honestly, I'm the same way with my kids and have to remind myself to stay in control of myself almost on a daily basis....sometimes hourly. 😂😂😂😂😂😂
Thank you for reading my blog. I write them because I value the trust you place in me as your martial arts instructor. Transparency is a value that I hold very high especially when it comes to children. I like people to know how I think because I believe whole heartedly in what I do. Teaching martial arts is an endeavor that I am emotionally, professionally, and spiritually committed to. Please like and share with others. The referrals and support you give me, my family and my business is the best compliment you can give our school and myself. My gratitude is always present.