Martial Arts & Personal Growth: Understanding Violence

One thing I often get asked by parents wanting to sign up their kids in our kids Jiu Jitsu program is whether or not it’s going to teach them some kind of self control.  Often, even if they’ve heard about the benefits, they have some kind of doubt about enrolling their kids in something that will teach them to kick and punch and throw and grapple.   

The fear is that it will promote violent behaviour in their kid.  

It’s always been hard for me to answer that question.  Although martial arts has helped me in many ways, I am not someone that leans towards violence in general and have never been, hence, I have never needed to control that in myself.  It was self evident to me that knowing how to hurt someone doesn’t mean I will do it. 

So my reassurance always came from giving examples of success stories we’ve had at the dojo.  Of kids full of energy who needed to externalize that energy and found that the structure, the discipline and the physical expression of training Jiu Jitsu helped them.  Kids who would be  aggressive and violent at home with their siblings and parents would in a matter of weeks show self-control and improved behaviour all over.  

It doesn’t just apply to kids, though. Adults, too, see these benefits, although they rarely talk about it. But they’ll notice that things don’t bother them as much, they don’t get triggered as easily.  They have more patience to handle things in a peaceful way.  They’ll tend to want to find a way that works for everyone in situations that could call for confrontation.  

It’s quite counter intuitive!

Basically we’re saying that we’re going to teach someone who could have a tendency towards violence to better inflict pain on others and  that will help discourage them from violent behaviour.  

Why? How?

I think the answer is not simple.  There are a lot of components that play a role.  Just the fact that they get to move and sweat is a major one.  The structure of the class also is a key factor. You learn to wait for your turn and be patient.  You learn to follow instructions and set goals.  You learn to focus so you can achieve your goals, whether it be learning a new technique in class, getting promoted to a new belt or being able to land a technique in free sparring.  Now you have a dream and you have an idea of how to get there so you’re not going to be distracted by things that will prevent you from getting there.

I think the most impactful though is that you never practice Jiu Jitsu in isolation.  You’re always doing it WITH someone else.  You’re not just doing it on someone else, it’s also being done on you.  And that has a powerful impact!  

The training can get hard and tiring but you’re going through it with someone else.  That teaches compassion and empathy. 

You’ve just thrown someone on the ground and landed on top and the next minute they’re pinning you down and submitting you.  That teaches humility.

The dojo provides an environment where we can explore violence safely.  When you understand the damage you can do to others and others can do to you because you’ve been through the hardship of training.  When you legitimately know how to defend yourself and are aware of it, then violence becomes a choice.  You can choose not to take part in it.

When violence is something you don’t understand then you are automatically a victim.  Even if you are the one getting out unbruised, you’re a victim of your emotions and your reactions to them.  

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