A few years ago, my husband told me he had been investigating jiu jitsu and he thought it might be a great sport for our two kids to try out. My mind went directly to a Mixed Martial Arts clip I’d seen a few weeks prior. The two athletes, blood dripping from their faces, fought until one was knocked out. I shook my head and I’m sure my face showed my concern. My husband launched into explaining several studies he had read showing that jiu jitsu helped kids better control their impulses and manage their response to a variety of stimuli. After much discussion, I reluctantly agreed to try it out, not knowing quite what I was agreeing to.
Fast forward a year or two down the road. My 13-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son were on the mats three to four days each week. Conditioning, rolling, sparring, and LOVING every class. They begged to go and hated to miss. They competed several times, won several medals, and earned many new belts. And I was learning all about tap-outs, crossface, rear-naked chokes, close-guard, and side-control.
My initial concerns were quickly squelched that first day on the mats. I saw my kids learning discipline, building muscles, and pushing themselves outside their comfort zone. They learned to set a strategy, follow a plan, and push past the obstacles they encountered. My kids learned to be comfortable in their skin. Their confidence grew and they learned their bodies were strong and flexible. They saw their hard work on the mats paying off in sparring and competitions. And I saw a change at home. They were less impulsive and more disciplined and responsible. Maybe this jiu jitsu wasn’t so scary. Maybe it was actually good for my kids.
Did they come home with sore muscles, bumps, bruises, and black eyes sometimes? Yes! But they didn’t mind and remarkably, neither did I. The pain or soreness was worth it to them. They knew they got better every day they worked on the mats, and I saw the growth in their attitude, work ethic, and resilience.
Since that time, I’ve researched martial arts and the positive impact it has on the development of children. Studies show that the routines kids learn help build coordination, focus, flexibility, and body awareness. It helps with the development of characteristics like goal setting, confidence, and socialization. Kids benefit from learning not only a life skill of health and fitness, but self-defense. Overall, studies have shown jiu jitsu is great for all ages, but particularly good for kids and teens.
I Was Wrong
As I write this, I’m watching my son, now 11 years old, teaching his fellow teammates how to work through a move he has learned. It’s amazing to watch his mind process the steps, keeping safety first, and giving tips that will help his friends be successful with the move. He is not afraid to talk, share, teach, and learn. He’s happy to give and take feedback. He’s confident in his skills, the strength of his body, and his ability to roll and spar with kids and adults. He knows that whether he wins and gets a submission, or loses and taps out, he goes home stronger than he came – both mentally and physically.
This new year, if your kids are looking for something new, give martial arts a try – specifically jiu jitsu. I’m glad I didn’t let my fear of the unknown and my assumptions of what jiu jitsu was win out. I was wrong. Jiu jitsu wasn’t so scary. It’s not just about fighting. It’s so much more and it’s been so good for my kids.