WHAT ABOUT THE 777TH MILE? Martial Arts and Character Development
Dr. Sheila Rochefort-Hoehn What is the most important benefit from practicing martial arts? Is it the acquisition of self-defense skills, improving one’s health, or toning one’s body? Or is it something more profound? The
most important result from practicing martial arts cultivates all of these benefits. It is an appreciation for, and an embracement of the journey it takes to go from a novice student to the coveted black belt. Earning a black belt, like many life goals we set for ourselves, is largely contingent upon utilizing skill sets, and character traits like perseverance, discipline, resilience, self-efficacy, focus, flexibility, and the ability to face and conquer one’s fears. It takes a lot of time, work, and patience to cultivate these things. Learning martial arts helps children develop the skills, tenacity, and discipline it takes to complete the 999 miles that come after the proverbial first step; so they can develop the life-enhancing skills and character traits that will transcend into other areas of their lives. It is the journey we take toward any of our goals that defines us as people. There used to be a misconception that character traits were fixed. Kids were either “good” or “bad.” Research has shown us that character is malleable. Though some skills and traits may come naturally, many more can be developed. In the right environment, children can learn lessons that greatly affect and even alter the trajectory of their lives. So, in a world where instant gratification is expected, and at our fingertips, how do we teach our children there are many priceless things in life that take time and hard work? How do we help our kids choose the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction and momentary happiness? And, why is the ability to do so such a valuable life skill?
Children who can delay instant gratification — showing patience while working hard toward something, take less for granted, have better problem-solving skills, are more responsible, possess higher resilience in the face of challenges, exhibit fewer behavioral problems, and do better in school. As adults, they have better relationships and an increased sense of fulfillment and satisfaction with life. When kids are able to work hard for something and earn it, they develop true self-esteem and self-respect. They also develop respect for others and what they may face in their own lives. The development of this deeply rooted self-esteem and respect is far more meaningful than the sense of themselves they develop from constantly just being told how great they are. Sure, kids need praise and positive affirmations, but they need to feel such praise is genuine and affirmative. Have you ever heard a child who felt defeated respond to a well-meaning parent with the phrase “you’re only saying that because you love me?” Children who develop true self-esteem know they can feel good about themselves even when they fail at something. They know that a particular failure doesn’t define them and that they can get back up and try again. In the martial arts, cultivating the mind and spirit is as important as the physical training and toughening it takes to become a black belt. To achieve balance of mind, body, and spirit, Martial Arts emphasize self-discipline and being mindful of the present moment while pursuing the future. We provide small, measurable goals that continuously challenge kids to grow physically, mentally, and emotionally beyond their perceived limitations and comfort zones. We teach them to take healthy risks, to do what feels uncomfortable, scary, or hard when it is necessary to enjoy the benefits that come in the long term. They learn what it is like to take a hit and to get knocked down; and what it takes to stand back up and keep moving so they can grow and eventually succeed. (Continued on page 24)