Children and the Martial Arts

I receive many emails, letters and phone calls from martial artists, parents, schoolteachers, administrators, counselors, social service workers and law enforcement officers. I would like to share some of them with you in the next few columns.

“Dear Dr.T. I am a mother of two children (a boy 10 and a girl 8) and have run a martial arts school for the past seven years. I have read your column each month and I greatly appreciate your ideas especially concerning children and the martial arts. I am concerned that many parents and schoolteachers don’t want to send their children to martial arts school for the fear of having them get hurt or hurting others. I think that this is because parents and teachers see martial arts action films and are horrified at the terrible violence in them. I think that the martial arts portrayed like this is keeping a great many people away.

I have heard that watching violent (martial arts) films and playing violent (martial arts) video games affect children’s behavior. Why do these martial arts action film “stars” say that the martial arts teach respect and peace when they are showing them as so violent? Isn’t this hypocritical?

I know that you are an expert in martial arts for children and that you write martial arts books and programs that teach kids to prevent conflict from happening by using their brains instead of their fists. I also know that you think that physical martial arts are important to give kids confidence to use their brains first. But I don’t see this happening in these films and especially the martial arts video games. They just promote more violence.

I hope that you don’t mind me complaining like this. It’s just that I am very concerned about children taking the martial arts under the pretense of being taught peaceful martial arts and maybe just ending up being bullies themselves! Is this the future of the martial arts? Please, tell me what you think. Thank you.” L. Jenkins, Colorado

“Dear Ms. Jenkins, I thank you for writing me. As a parent I can well understand your concerns. You are correct in your concern about children watching violent (martial arts) films and playing violent (martial arts) video games. Over 1,500 studies have been done since 1956 on these effects and the outcome has been unanimously in that violence on TV, in the movies and on video games has a dramatic effect on children’s behavior leading to more aggressiveness. There also has been a study done showing how these effects can be genetically conditioned into the brains of young people by these violent films and videos so that the next generation of children may have a greater tendency for violence.

I am obviously greatly concerned about all this violence. You ask what the future of the martial arts is. The future is what we make it. We are the world and the world is us. We make the world by the way we think. Conditioned, fearful thinking has created the world in which we now live. It is not independent of us. It is us! We can change it anytime we want by understanding conditioned thinking (not by “positive thinking”). We think that we cannot change the world, that what is happening is beyond us and that we are just victims of the violence. That is apart of conditioned thinking. The kind of violent martial arts films and videos that are being created is based on this kind of reactive, fearful thinking. But this is false thinking. This is not what intelligent martial arts is all about. Intelligent martial arts is about understanding and resolving conflict peacefully, which has its roots in conditioned thinking. In order to have intelligent martial arts for our children we must help them to understand themselves, how conflict is created by the way we think. Then and only then will the martial arts help our children to truly be peaceful because we have understood what has prevented it.”