Families in Martial Arts
Are your family united, or do they find it hard to communicate, let alone sit in the same room and be civil to each other? If so, have you thought of getting your family to try sport or a Martial Art together? There are many families training together in the same sport and Martial Arts are no different – it has attracted millions of families in the U.K. alone, as it offers many benefits such as family bonding, good health and, when learning together, the family becomes stronger. There are many other factors, too many to mention.
My name is Chris Snow and I hold a 6th Degree Black Belt in the art of I.T.F. Tae Kwon Do. I am a fully qualified International Instructor under the I.T.F. and a certified Examiner. I would like to tell you about my experiences with T.K.D., as I now have three family members training in my chosen Martial Art – each has their own unique reasons why they train with me. I hope in reading this and seeing the families that train in the Lions Tae Kwon Do Schools Independent (L.T.S.I.), you will realise why it is important that you and your family go and try a class of T.K.D. at your local school.
Three decades of Martial Arts
I have been studying the art for nearly three decades now. I started Tae Kwon Do in January 1986, due to having a very turbulent life. I was in and out of homes and boarding schools, was used to violence every day and basically off the rails. I took up T.K.D. and it helped me learn to contain my anger and deal with issues I had from my past. I became a coach of T.K.D. in 1994 to try and pass on the skills I have learnt, as I personally feel it has done only positive things for me and my family. I have seen hundreds gain from learning T.K.D. as a family under my personal instruction. Anyway, this article is not about me, but those training in my family – it is also about some I consider as friends who reside in the group.
My family members in Martial Arts
My first family member who started T.K.D. was my nephew Elliott, who is now a 15 year old 2nd Dan Black Belt. Prior to starting T.K.D., he was a quiet lad who did not have much confidence or respect for others (and quite frankly was a complainer). I would see him at family functions maybe twice a year and probably get the odd grunt from him when I said hello – I found him rude and hard to communicate with (wow, how things can change). When my sister asked to enrol him and his brother, I was reluctant to allow him as I did not like the idea of teaching family members, but after persuasion, I agreed to teach them. His brother quit within weeks, but Elliott stuck around. From day one, I told him when you walk through the door of any of my clubs, I don’t know you. He looked shocked, but took it on board and it has always been the same rule. Like everyone else at the club, he knows if he steps over the line and breaks the rules, I will remove him from my class. Many have said I am tough on him, but my argument is he is treated the same way as all the students of my clubs are. As a coach, I have the reputation in the art of being disciplined but fair. I expect results and will push the student to get the best they can personally muster. Since starting in 2002, Elliott has attended many National tournaments and courses and won many gold, silver and bronze medals – this has been a major confidence builder for him. He has gained some very good friends that he mixes with in and out of the club and, in my opinion, is an outstanding practitioner of the art. Don’t get me wrong, he has had a tough time as he was not naturally flexible when he started and he has a few habits (like all of us who do the art). As an uncle, I believe he has so much respect now in and out of the club. He helps me at my junior classes twice a week and is an ideal role model for our juniors. His dad tells me he gets up and stretches from 6am until 7am Monday to Friday, which is what I call discipline in the first degree. We have a tight relationship now due to the time we spend together each week – also, he never grunts anymore but will reply accordingly!
My next family members to start the art were my daughters, Lauren and Rhiannon. My eldest daughter Lauren (age 12) was the first to start T.K.D. in the early days, but sadly she gave up after I failed her at an area exam. Two years later, both my girls expressed a desire to learn T.K.D. (or rather they used to kick and punch each other!) – eventually I said if you really want to start T.K.D. you can, but I gave them the same terms as Elliott. They were not happy! They even thought about not doing it, but now they follow the rules and over the years they have got better. They understand when I teach, I am their coach, not their dad.
There are ups and downs of teaching your kids. Firstly, the ups – they are learning to mix with other kids and learning basic social skills (sharing, team work, their communication skills improve drastically as well as general well being and good health, due to the vast amount of fitness drills used at classes in the form of games). They learn to play fair and accept when someone says “You are out” or “No, that’s not allowed”. The other benefit of learning the arts is, of course, co-ordination – this is taught from kicking drills and pattern work which is basically fundamental movements in set diagrams. These are often called ‘kata’ in karate, or ‘forms’ in other Martial Arts. The all important one is kids work together and, in the case of my girls, as sisters at home they share better, but sometimes they do argue which will always happen as sibling rivalry is part of growing up. Out of the two girls, Lauren is more dedicated, especially now as she is looking for Black Belt in October 2008. Again, this is something that happens with all students prior to the degree test – they knuckle down and work hard. The other reason is Lauren is in the 11’s plus class, which has a very different class structure to the kids’ classes. Technically, more emphasis is placed on her, as children’s classes have to be more fun and relaxed – some say children’s classes as watered down in Tae Kwon Do, which is true to a certain point. Personally, I am quite strict on my kids, but I understand kids are kids – therefore, applying pressure and teaching them the scientific side of T.K.D. would cause them to give up as there is so much to learn. We have a system where under 10’s do not learn I.T.F. sine wave or kinetic linkage, but they learn the main frame of the art. Once they are 11 years of age, we move them to the next class and they learn the scientific side of the art. My girls take part in National championships and have won a few medals. Lauren is driven and has an ambition to win more medals than me (about 30 to date), so she has a personal aim of beating her dad – I think she will achieve that. They are very tight as sisters, but like chalk and cheese as far as T.K.D. is concerned. One is driven; the other just enjoys meeting her friends at the classes and the social interaction. She gives her best, she’s just not so motivated.
As a dad, it’s great to teach as they will always ask for help on theory at home. Another benefit is when things kick off at home I say ‘Are you living by the tenets?” or “Is this the way a Black Belt should act?”. This normally works a treat, as they understand all practitioners should live by the tenets and, for the older one, she knows being a Black Belt means we have to be upstanding citizens.
What are the downsides – well, only that they are more opinionated and, through learning T.K.D., they learn to voice their opinion correctly when they think you are wrong. I think as parents we sometimes penalise our kids and some believe we are always right – by learning the art, the character and confidence of the practitioner often gets shaped and they will learn that ‘It is an act of cowardice to not speak out against an injustice or when they believe they are right’.
One of my longest serving students is Stuart Smith, 3rd Degree. He is like a son to me. He has a family – some of the kids have been adopted by him which, if you ask me, makes him a special person. Again, I think T.K.D. has helped him accept the kids as his own through the understanding that the tenets of the art teaches us. All his kids do Tae Kwon Do under him – one is a 2nd Dan, two are 1st Dans and one is a red belt. One thing that amazes me is he has managed to get his wife involved (what a task that must have been!). As an outsider to his family, I feel he has taken learning the art to another level, as all the kids are disciplined and controlled. They do their best to live by the tenets and they help him at the classes – when the group hold events, they are always there to help too. As I said before, T.K.D. instils the courage to speak out -over the years, we have had a few run-ins, but that is a good trait, not a bad one. He is not afraid to say if he thinks something is wrong.
Everyone gets different things from learning. Be it the mere fact they are learning as a unit and learning to bond through the art – seeing a family on the floor together, sweating out, trying to find solutions to improving techniques and watching them develop the vast array of skills learnt in the art is even better. When a family reach that goal of Black Belt together, you are not going to get anything better. Gaining the Black Belt is not easy, because I.T.F. T.K.D clubs do not run ‘McDojo’s’ – all those that gain the Degree status tend to have done their work and had their fair share of sweat and tears in their career, regardless of the club or group you join.
If you want something that will unite your family and will gain you friends as time goes by, why not nip down to your local Tae Kwon Do school and try out this fantastic art. I found T.K.D. by accident almost 30 years ago in 1985 and I find I still learn something new at every class. There are those committed to tournaments, those committed to getting fit and those who look for a great pastime. All these people learn many other things, especially self defence skills. Many think learning the skill means you will have to use it – the fact is many will never use it, as we learn to defend ourselves at all classes. The point is we are more scared of the damage we can cause to an aggressor, so we will always try and talk our way out of trouble for fear that our strike in self defence could end a life. The constant rehearsal of movement and many thousands of rounds of free sparring we participate in builds our reaction skills, where what others see as a skill is purely second nature to us as time goes by.
You don’t believe me? Try a class and let me know! If you want info on the L.T.S.I. why not visit www.uk-ltsi.com and have a look at our video library that will introduce you to the art. Nothing is like visiting your local club though, as each Instructor offers his unique style when teaching.
Written by Chris Snow, 6th Degree 2009