Back to School Part II: Martial Arts and Mental Health

It’s back to school season, and for most parents and kids (not to mention the teachers and school staff helping them grow and learn), it’s a season like no other. That’s because so many kids (elementary age) and young adults (middle through high school) haven’t been in class for more than a year, at least not consistently.

The idea of sitting at a desk, in confines with other kids (some of them friends, most of them unknown), and an authority figure up front, is intimidating, to say the least. And for kids, it can shake you up mentally. It’s tough to find that resolve.

Here’s the first paragraph of the CDC’s webpage on Children’s Mental Health:

“Being mentally healthy during childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems. Mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities.”

A black belt program and a black belt mentality helps establish these milestones for kids. And that mental fortitude helps at every stage of their young lives.

This week, my wife and I walked our youngest to her 1st day of 1st grade (kindergarten was an entirely online experience), and she was the most composed little 6-year-old you ever saw. Right up until it was time to enter the classroom, that is, and for Mom and Dad to walk away.

Her face crumpled a bit, and she waved, and almost broke down in tears. It was all we could do not to “rescue” her from the line of students filing into the classroom. But we stood by and waved back as she went inside. And at the end of the day she had brightened up, bouncing out of the building full of joy to share some stories about her day.

Like a lot of parents, we signed up for karate (with our older kid, who was also just 6 years old at the time) with the aim of making gains in confidence, self-respect, strength, and leadership. Her progress toward black belt, week by week and year by year, showed us that these qualities can be developed, even when a kid doesn’t seem to have them at the outset.

“It’s time to go to karate! Are you excited?” Kids might not be, at first. But because the karate school is a safe, welcoming, exciting and challenging but supportive environment, kids respond and succeed. The vast majority of Ripple Effect Martial Arts students go on from their first class to earn their black belt—four years later. Anyone who’s done it can tell you, it takes incredible mental toughness. But it’s a toughness you develop along the way.

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