Martial Parenting


Martial Parenting

The energy from the children’s class is powerful.  Twenty happy, flushed smiling faces, all wanting to talk at once and tell sensei what they’ve been up to since the last lesson creates a level of chaos that frightens lesser instructors and leaves them depleted after their struggle to contain and direct the chaos for 45 minutes.

But sensei has a different method, it’s almost like he is one the kids, but maybe the leader of the gang, he immerses himself gleefully into the sea of energy, floating easily within, and almost imperceptibly guiding the flow….  Often it seems that the children are deciding what to do – and yet if you look carefully, you can just see the work of sensei’s guiding hand…

“What shall we do now?”  The hands shot up


“I lost my tooth last night… look!”  Janine opened wide to reveal the yawning gap.

“I hope you left it under your pillow for the tooth fairy.”

“Yeah…  I got 50p and an IOU for the other 50p on Friday!”

“The tooth fairy must of run out of change!  Sensei smiled benevolently as he realised that she came from one of the poorer families.   Come on now, what shall we do next?”  The hands shot up again.


“Paul keeps poking me in the back..”

“Paul…   we don’t want the ‘time out’ corner again do we…  Paul shook his head.  And remember that grades are only kept with good behaviour….”

“C’mon guys…”  The hands shot up again.

“Monkey walking!”

“Jumping kicks to pads!”

“Okay… hands up all those that want to do kata…  Sensei lifted one childs hand and put it in the air..  Yeah!  Well done Adam…. Kata it is!  All the children laughed and leapt to their feet….  What 3 things are we working on in kata at the moment?”

“Stances… oh..  oh..  and posture..  and oh… errr…  timing!”

“Well done that man! C’mon..  let’s go!”  They all leapt to their feet and into a session fired with self discipline and humour carefully guided by sensei…

Teaching children is one thing, generally, they’re just happy to be doing karate, wearing the jim jams and waving their arms and legs about with all the other kids directed by sensei.  The paradox being that this is the way that they improve best, it’s a process of enjoyable ‘osmosis’ they absorb the information and process it in a way that just gradually ‘soaks in’ without them realising that they’re learning.

This evident as you watch sensei ‘working his magic’ I couldn’t think of a more important study for children to give them good manners, self respect, respect for others, the ability to deal properly and politely with bullies and the ability to extricate themselves from a life threatening situation, one day their study could very well save their life.

Some parents however, live vicariously through their children and because they see themselves as failures, push their children to be better than all the others and obsess about their grading.  It’s the insidious competition and nastiness of the adults that sensei has to work so hard to stop from interfering with the children’s training.

The shame is that most children stop training not because they want to, but because their parents can’t be bothered to bring them, usually blaming the child for losing interest, or convincing them that they want to give up.  It’s ironic that children have the persistence and integrity to succeed, but are limited by their parents weakness of character.

At the end of the session, there was the inevitable queue of parents…

“Why’s my boy not grading with the others?”

“Because he told me that he’s too stupid.”

“Why does he think that?”

“He told me it’s because you keep telling him he is.”  Sensei looked deeply into the fathers eyes, we’d all seen him persistently clipping his child round the head and calling him stupid.  ……One red faced father slides away.

“Why’s my son not grading with the others.”

“He’s doing well but he’s not ready yet.  He needs to work more on his stances, focus and intention.”

“Well I’ve been watching him and I think he’s easily as good as the others.”

“And how long have you been teaching and grading karate?”

“I don’t need to; I can still see that he’s as good as the others.”

“If I grade him he’ll be way out of his depth at the next grade, you wouldn’t want that would you?”

“I don’t think he would be.”

“Then maybe you should ruin his martial arts progress and take him to a club that encourages more ‘parent participation’. Also, I would appreciate it if you could refrain from bullying your child from the sidelines as it’s distracting for him to have you constantly telling him off and what to do from the side.”  Another ‘parent lesson’ that I fear fell on deaf ears,  the child is perfectly happy as he is, the father will probably try to change clubs because he thinks that he knows better than sensei.

“Sensei, Lenny hasn’t been to karate this week because we’re punishing him for being naughty.”

“What did he do.”

“He was rude to his mother and didn’t tidy his room.”

“So you punished him by depriving him of the one method of schooling outside the home that reinforces politeness, respect and good behaviour, where’s the sense in that?”

“Because he loves his karate and therefore it’s a punishment to prevent him from coming.”

“The next stage is that he will tell you he doesn’t want to come because he’ll be using that as a method of punishing you – can’t you see that?”

“I never thought of that….”

Sensei walked away shaking his head.

Most Parents do what they can for their children, but it’s amazing at how many unintentionally restrict and spoil their childs progress by their own inadequacies, sensei has to teach the parents as much, if not more than the children to allow them to progress unhindered.  Maybe we should call it a “children and parents class”…

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