Skills like empathy, responsibility, and self-discipline are not innate, they need to be taught. For children whose brains are still maturing, it can be hard to learn and develop these behaviors, so they come with practice and age. Martial art is a useful way to train children in how to have self-discipline, as well as many other behavioral skills that will serve them well in life.
Martial arts are more than a way to attack someone or defend yourself, they teach you about the consequences of your actions. Even for kids whose brains are still growing, a karate, jiu jitsu, capoeira, or other martial arts class provides an excellent environment for them to learn self-respect, respect for others, and self-discipline. Students have to respect their instructor, or they won’t be able to learn from him or her. They have to respect themselves in order to have the confidence to train properly.
Lastly, they have to develop self-discipline to practice and repeat their training until the movements are second nature. Martial arts, like many other things in life, teaches children by training them, forcing them to practice, letting them make mistakes they can learn from, and forcing them to practice some more. The different degrees that people can attain in martial arts disciplines give them goals to strive for, but it’s only after long hours of training and repetition that they are able to do so. Getting another belt in karate is something any kid interested in it wants, and the nature of the sport requires them to discipline themselves to do it. Exactly how self-discipline is learned is not something that’s easy to explain, since it’s the product of a combination of training, repetition, and the desire for improvement.
Self-discipline is a skill that translates well into every area in life, and school is no exception. In one study, kids who studied martial arts were found to perform better in math, be more attentive, have better social skills, and have an easier time focusing in class than those that didn’t. Taking up some form of martial art was even found to help children mitigate the symptoms of ADD/ADHD, and allow them to perform and behave better at school and at home. Some parents are concerned that teaching kids martial arts may make them violent, but the reverse is actually true- studies on disadvantaged children from violent homes found that some form of training actually made them less violent than their peers from similar circumstances.
Much like disciplines like yoga, martial arts can help calm and focus young minds while teaching them important skills. Practices like karate are much more than a means of teaching kids to protect themselves from bullies, they are a way to show them how to respect themselves, each other, and learn the kind of discipline skills that will help them in school, work, and beyond.