Why I Love Martial Arts With My Kids
Just A Couple Of Black Belts
"You "Spar" Your Kids?"
My oldest daughter, who's now 13 and almost taller than me (I'm 6 feet tall), started taking karate in 2009. My youngest daughter, who was born the month after her big sister started taking karate, followed when she was 2 and a half into the ninja tots program, and I signed to take training in the sport at the same time.
There have been moments where I've questioned the wisdom of the decision to train in the same martial art as my children are studying, but really, those are times when I'm frustrated with my own inability to do something in the moment. Then, I breathe, I might stubbornly push through, and when I finally have that "a-ha" moment when my body wants to cooperate with the images of what I'm told things should look like in my head, all is right with the world again.
My sensei has said in the past that "the family that kicks together, sticks together." Sounds cute, right? After 10 years of being around the same dojo, and over 7 of my own training there, I'm thinking this is more than just a cute little expression.
I've watched my oldest grow from a chatty youngster who struggled with growing into her feet and who was often mistaken as being older than she is - she's always been tall - into a teen who's growing more comfortable with her art and with herself daily. That is in no small part due to her work over the last nearly-ten years at the dojo that has welcomed all of us and treated us like extended family. She's grown to the point where she's now helping with classes twice a week, some of the kids that she's trained with for years are now her best friends - if not extended family - and (I like to think) she's walking a little taller because of the confidence she continues to gain there, which is not easy when you struggle with anxiety. She also performs with the demonstration team.
My youngest daughter effectively learned to walk there. When she was old enough, she started in the ninja tots program and gave her teachers a run for the money. She's a strong personality, that one, and while there are times when I'm certain the instructors often wondered if she would catch on to the importance of what lessons they were teaching, I'm sure they look at the 9-year-old red belt that still loves a good comeback and to joke around and marvel at just how much she's grown. Sure, she's gotten taller over the years - that's unavoidable, particularly if you're my kid - but she's also continued to grow as a martial artist, having joined the demonstration team and now taking on studies in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Like her big sister, she also has closer friends gained through the dojo than she generally does at school.
I look at some of my old pictures of my early training misadventures, and I can't help but smile at just how awkward I was then and continue, in some respects, to be now. I certainly have gotten involved in far more than I ever did expect, and am starting to show more comfort working with some of the weapons we train with than I ever expected to feel.
What's perhaps the best part of all this is, I've been able to share these experiences with my kids in a way that I wouldn't really have been able to staying on the sidelines. I was in the parent area multiple times during the first two and a half years, but dove in headfirst when offered the opportunity to actually train in the martial arts.
My oldest has started adult class now, and we frequently spar together, both in continuous sparring and regular point karate. Never did I ever figure I'd write those words - that my daughter and I spar together - but I often say it's cheaper than therapy, and really, my daughter and I laugh more than we try scoring points on each other. Needless to say, I didn't laugh too much when she wanted to attempt to kick me in the head just to see if she could, and when she tried to do it (with my guard up and my head helmeted, of course), I was surprised to learn she could actually effectively kick me in the head.
While my oldest and I mix it up in our classes, my youngest will hang out near the edge of the floor - she's too young for the adult sparring classes - and if music is playing while we're sparring, she's dancing. She might join the parents in what is affectionately termed "parents row" and start chatting up one or several of the parents.
Once in a while, I'll join the junior classes. I like the speed with which the younger kids move, as it encourages me to work my training in ways I may not experience training with adults, and really, the excitement I see on kids' faces as we're sparring - probably because since I'm so much taller than them they want to try and take my head home as a trophy - is amazing.
Every so often, I even get to spar my youngest daughter, and we have an amazing time, although I'm going to have to watch myself - she's getting to be a far stronger kicker than I anticipated a year ago.
So yes, I spar my kids. It sounds insane, but every time I get to mix it up out on the dojo floor with my girls, it's one of the most fun experiences I have with my kids on a regular basis. You can't bottle up their giggles, or mine - what could be better?