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More focus, hand over fist

By Rochelle Brenner

Full of energy.

That’s how Courtney Carrington first described her son. I’ve heard those words countless times before about busy 5-year-olds. Chase lived up to his name – instructors had to chase him down to get him to participate in even a few minutes of class. He bounced non-stop. He interrupted the karate instructor by shouting, “Hey, teacher!” He ran off the training mat.

His disruptive behavior was no surprise – that’s why Carrington brought him to karate in the first place.

“Some of his teachers were mentioning he had so much energy he was having a hard time reigning it in, pulling it in. Another mom mentioned great things were happening with her little one in karate and self-control so I decided to try it,” Carrington said.

Chase was a challenging student. But in 20 years as a martial arts practitioner, I’ve seen many challenging, sweet, eager, smart kids like Chase. I knew that he would be an amazing student with a little bit of patience, redirection, confidence and rewarding lessons.

Why would a kid struggling to focus in school suddenly thrive in a loud room of kids screaming “Aya” and “Asah” with a dizzying number of kicks and punches and a non-stop emphasis on ninja-like discipline?

It’s because martial arts gives kids like Chase a way to channel their energy in a healthy environment. Many doctors and therapists recommend martial arts for children with ADD or ADHD. The physical challenges of martial arts combined with mental self-discipline keep their active minds focused. Even before Chase was diagnosed, the structure at karate gave Chase the opportunity to succeed and gain skills that help him in school too.

“One of the things I recently noticed is his balance is getting so much better. Also, he takes things a lot more seriously - ‘Wait mom I’m supposed to do that again, and use eye contact.’ Helping around the house has improved quite a bit. It has helped tremendously with his focus, his determination. Chase gets frustrated when he doesn’t win, or he’s not the first to be called on, now he takes it a lot better,” said Carrington, a high school teacher. Chase is now 6 and thriving in his virtual classes. An unexpected surprise: It’s even helping him to be in virtual classes away from the distraction of other kids.

Chase didn’t make this progress in one class. It took patience and persistence from his mom and instructors. As a martial artist, I’m not a medical professional. Whether or not a student has a diagnosis, takes meds or gets therapy, the challenge is always the same. Our job is to teach focus, discipline and self-control so the child can improve their behavior and communicate effectively.

A journey in martial arts often starts with a frustrated parent. Mom or dad or grandmom recognizes that a child is struggling in school and wants to do everything they can to help. The kid is receptive to it simply because kicking targets and earning belts is fun and engaging.

“(Chase’s) progress has been amazing,” said Tariq Boston, an instructor who has worked closely with Chase. “No matter what if I look over, Chase is doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing without being told. That’s why I love to spotlight him in class. You can see the enthusiasm with him. I absolutely love it.”

Boston is a new instructor who started teaching karate the same week that Chase started training. One of the reasons to highlight Boston’s reaction is because he doesn’t have decades of teaching experience. He stepped into the Action Karate training system and saw the benefits clearly and quickly. He was even a little surprised to see how much he made a difference in the lives of the children with playful martial arts drills and stern insistence on respect.

I’m sure there were frustrating moments but success stories like these motivate instructors to give their best to the most challenging students. The progress is what gives us confidence. It’s stunning. Often times, we hear that a student’s therapist or teacher noticed an improvement too.

Another student Riley got notes home from her Kindergarten teacher almost daily with one behavior issue after another. She is 8, extremely intelligent, super creative, a bit combative, and you can find her spinning in circles and headbanging her hair in many karate classes.

It took a long time for her to pick up on the rhythm of martial arts. Her mom, Kelly Champagne, tapped into an explanation for why martial arts helped her ADHD. It’s in the language of martial arts: the constant refrain of words like discipline, self-control and perseverance.

“She’s able to follow directions better, listen better. It’s given her the discipline to know the difference when she’s using self-control, for her to understand when she’s having problems focusing. I have something I can relate back to with the right words that she has learned at karate. She had a major improvement in school when she started karate, so noticeable the teachers noticed it,” Champagne said.

Martial arts has made such a big difference in my life. It makes me feel: Full of energy.

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