It might seem counter-intuitive that allowing students to hit and kick each other would actually teach them self-control and self-discipline. Because we are doing sparring in the intermediate and advanced classes, I wanted to talk about some of the not-so-obvious benefits associated with sparring.
Benefit #1 – Sparring Teaches Physical & Mental Toughness
Ok…so this one is sort of obvious, but still worth mentioning. Students need to learn to take a hit. They also need to learn how to hit. Why? It teaches them to overcome their fears — the fear of hitting and of being hit. Learning to overcome physical fear is a way of developing courage in our kids — especially when it is a controlled environment, with helpful and supportive coaching. Learning to take a physical hit develops their confidence and translates over to mental toughness. When kids learn to deal with physical confrontation, they also begin to learn the mental toughness necessary to deal with verbal and emotional abuse, as well as dealing with disappointment and failure. Life can pack a punch and hit hard sometimes. The mental toughness to get back up and keep going is an important life skill.
Benefit #2 – Sparring Teaches How To Deal With Stress
There is something scary and overwhelming about someone standing in front of you trying to kick you, punch you or knock you down…even when you have protective gear on and referees standing by. Kids need to learn how to handle and deal with stress and to not collapse when under pressure. They learn to deal with that stress during sparring. They learn to breathe and stay relaxed, remain calm and composed when challenged under pressure. This translates to dealing with stress from parents, academics and even social pressures from their peers.
Benefit #3 – Sparring Teaches Self-Control & Anger Management
Aggression is a natural part of life. You immediately realize that anger is inherent in all of us when you watch your 2-year-old have a temper tantrum. Unchecked aggression can be destructive. Sparring teaches kids how to turn on their aggressiveness and assertiveness and then reign themselves back in and turn it off. They learn how to flip the switch between being emotionally charged to being calm and controlled. Learning the self-awareness to stop at the appropriate time can keep kids out of trouble. This is especially helpful as they get older and bad choices can have life-changing consequences.
Benefit #4 – Sparring Teaches Good Sportsmanship
Unfortunately, our kids are learning that “everybody is a winner.” The truth is life doesn’t play by those rules. In life, there are winners and losers. Sparring teaches our kids that there are winners and losers, but also allows us to teach our students to win with grace and humbleness. It teaches our students that losing means there are still lessons to be learned; and, that we must work to make ourselves better. A winner cannot win if he doesn’t have an opponent against whom they can demonstrate their skill. The loser has an opportunity to learn and to do better the next time. If you lose, don’t make excuses. The other person was just better on that day or in that match. Deal with it! These are skills kids need for life. If they can learn to approach competition and their wins and losses with both honor and humility, they can do the same in everyday life.
Benefit #5 – Sparring Teaches Improvisation
In the sparring ring, things rarely go “as planned”. Sparring is dynamic and unpredictable. Your opponent rarely complies and does what you want them to do. It requires kids to take the things they have learned and improvise to make them work. They learn the physical attributes of balance, speed, timing, and accuracy. Those physical skills have mental, emotional, and social counterparts. When students gain confidence in their ability to combine and create in the ring, they can take those skills and apply them “on the go” in life situations. The confidence gained here cannot be faked. It is confidence gained through competence. It is the kind of confidence that helps kids know they can handle bullies or stop aggressors. Or, that they can handle that Algebra final exam, or anything else life throws at them for that matter.
Even though your child may be tentative about, or fearful of, sparring, or you may be scared for them, it is one of the most beneficial activities martial arts has to offer. The truth is injuries from sparring are extremely rare and mostly composed of bumps, bruises, and an occasional jammed finger, thumb or toe. While it is not entirely without risk, the life skills learned from participating in sparring can help your child succeed for a lifetime.
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