By Joshua Hagen
Judo, like other martial arts, is a contact sport. This can sometimes lead to bumps, bruises, and even crying on occassion, not to mention the fact that putting your child into judo is literally signing them up for physical altercations. Some parents wonder: is this really such a great idea?
The important thing to keep in mind is that rough and tumble play is a totally natural thing that kids seek whether you support it or not. This is somewhat akin to playing with toy guns: you don’t need to have any toy guns in your house for kids to imitate shooting. Without gun toys available, they still turn their fingers or a stick into a gun, or they’ll build toy guns out of Lego. My almost 3-year-old son even turned a cut flower with stem into a gun today, making “pew pew” sounds at the lady who had handed him said flower. Kids want to be the hero, to save the day and defeat the evil pirates or monsters. This is natural, and I am sure that if you think back hard enough you can remember playing these games yourself. This does not make for violent adults. In fact,
“One of the most important components of rough and tumble play with fathers and their sons was how the fathers - without even realizing it - were teaching their sons an important life lesson: Even though they are bigger and stronger, fathers “hold back” to intentionally keep from hurting their weaker opponent, an important imprint for young boys.” source
Practicing sports like Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or Karate places them in a safe environment, usually with tatami or some other matted surface, which is probably a much safer environment than your home. Since martial arts teach your child to fall more safely, they also provide and reinforce boundaries. Older, larger students are often relied upon to help younger students with their technique, as they are more experienced. Even if the younger student knows that the larger student isn’t “trying” he still feels like an action star when he throws or pins the larger student. This builds confidence for a child, both mentally and physically. The larger student also gets an ego boost: helping someone achieve their goals is a naturally rewarding experience, as we coaches know.
Children are filled with energy and vigour, which if unused, can often lead to confrontational behaviour, yelling at their parents, or fighting with a sibling. They need an outlet, and that is what judo can provide. I personally believe that most all forms of physical activity will help deal with this execessive energy, but I also believe that some sports can do an even better job of it. Wrestling with a partner takes great physical strength, as your opponent is working very hard to perform similar techniques on you. To protect yourself from being bested, it also requires a great deal of balance and coordination. All of these skills are fundamental across the sporting landscape, and can help your child not only excel in a martial arts, but with in other games or sports they may play.
Another benefit of judo that is often overlooked or missed entirely is how greatly it can affect bone density. As we age, our bone density slowly deteriorates, so building it up is an important factor in preventing conditions like osteoporosis. There was a study done in Korea with boys who were judoka compared to children who were not and they found:
“the results of this study suggest that Judo practice during the growth period significantly improves bone health in high school male students.” source
According to exercise physiologist Dr Belinda Beck, the importance of load-bearing, high- impact training is an incredibly powerful tool in building strong bones:
“Walking doesn’t give the bones the stimulation they need to adapt and improve – bone cells need the ‘loading’ that comes with high impact exercise done quickly. Even running up and down stairs will load bone much better than just walking, but not as much as jumping, “ which is exactly what judo does in spades. source
Parents who are seeking confident, well-balanced, physically fit and agile children with a healthy sense of boundaries, who will stick up for their friends and themselves need look no further than The Gentle Way.
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