The idea of teaching conflict resolution skills to young people is vitally important. Yet it is almost totally overlooked. There is a tremendous amount of violence in our world, as anyone can see – on television, in films, video games, newspapers and magazines – where violence is all too often portrayed as a heroic cultural ideal, depicting fighting as the honorable solution to conflict. Violence is epidemic. It touches every life. Our children live in a world of constant violence, perhaps the most violent time in the history of humankind. According to recent statistics, a violent crime occurs every 25 seconds. But there are solutions that work to reduce violence.
If we are truly concerned about our children’s welfare as they grow up, we must take the issue of understanding conflict seriously. If we want to bring about a safe and peaceful world, we must help them develop alternative methods to our instinctual primal reactions to fear. The terrible violence that is going on in the world today, the thousands of years of wars we’ve suffered, I believe, is stimulated at least in part by our primitive fight or flight animalistic behavior. This can be addressed in the martial arts by teaching young people how to defend themselves so that they don’t have to because they have also learned to avoid and resolve conflict by nonviolent, alternative means as their first two lines of defense.
We must help young people understand and creatively, non-destructively deal with conflict. We educate young people in math, science, language, history, sports, and a multitude of other subjects. Why not in understanding conflict? A few concerned adults who have addressed this issue of teaching young people how to cope with conflict have made good beginnings. Some have tried to show young people intellectually how to get out of conflict. For example, some teachers have demonstrated ways of talking one’s way out. Others have taught children to defend themselves physically in the hope that this would deter a bully’s attempt to hurt them. What we rarely have done is to combine the two – the intellectual with the physical. Together they provide a complete approach to solving conflict. Many people resist teaching young children to physically defend themselves since they think that violence only breeds more violence. If self-defense is all that is taught, then the outcome may well be only violence. But if the young person is also taught nonviolent alternatives to conflict (through role-playing), then the child is capable of coming up with more creative ways of dealing with a potentially hostile situation.
There is no doubt that the effects of these skills taught in youth will naturally have an effect on adult life. Understanding the fundamental causes of conflict, as well as learning to avoid, resolve and manage conflict at an early age, will also increase the chance of young people entering adulthood with a more intelligent and nonviolent understanding of relationships. A young person taught to understand and deal with conflict knows that violence is not an acceptable way to resolve the problems of relationships.
In my view, Martial Arts training can be a unique and successful way to deal intelligently with conflict provided that both physical and mental skills are taught together. The need to help our children learn peaceful solutions instead of conditioned violent reactions is of paramount importance. As a parent, I want my children to learn these skills to intelligently and humanely protect themselves from harm. As a martial arts teacher, I know that these skills can be incorporated within the daily operation of a martial arts school. I have taught this approach for over 40 years and have seen it work. Having been a school administrator, I know that programs combining a healthy discipline in Martial Arts training, accompanied by developing nonviolent alternatives, can be incorporated into the overall school structure. Parents know that children can be taught to successfully cope with violence in nonviolent, creative ways, because they have seen it happen in the many martial arts schools that are using anti-bullying programs along with physical self-defense training. And that is why these schools are successful because they are meeting the real needs of society, to help young people understand and resolve conflict peacefully—the ART of the martial arts.