Despite parents’ efforts in shuttling their children to and from sports practices and events, they often – as is well known – neglect their own health, though we occasionally see the irony in how much exercise our kids are getting and how little we get ourselves. Martial arts, touted for all the benefits they offer young people, are a great way for parents to maintain their own health. Start with a practice that appeals to the whole family, and you’ll all get the payoff.
Whole body work
It’s often said that the best exercise regime is the one you’ll actually do, and perhaps the greatest built-in physical benefit of martial arts is that they all work every muscle at some point. Practitioners of the grappling arts such as judo or jiu-jitsu may look like they’re hardly moving sometimes, but make no mistake: they’re working up a sweat for a reason. (And, let’s be honest, those Tatami Fightwear rash guards under their uniforms are the coolest.)
Kung fu, tae kwon do, and others involve forms that work muscles, develop aerobic fitness, and work your brain as well. These will also have you learning some high-flying kicks – mums and dads, you might surprise yourself with what you can do.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to find some of the lesser-known arts, such as kali, a weapons system from the Philippines; iaido, Japanese sword practice; or kumdo, Korean sword practice. If you’re looking for serious self-defense and combat skills, you should definitely look to the Israeli system of krav maga.
Whole class support
Martial arts schools are not gyms, although the physical work that happens there is just as intense, if not more so. At their heart, they are communities, just as they were created to be centuries or millennia ago. A good school uses the competition between students to advance the skills and development of all members. Schools often have a social aspect to them, with members gathering for meals after class or having regular get-togethers.
A by-product of this environment is that when your spirits start to flag, you have a whole class full of people who are there to help you up, motivate you, and keep you going. Of course, there is the potential downside that you’ll feel a bit guilty if you lay off class for a while, but isn’t finding a way to stick with your regime part of the point.
A different kind of family business
An international study of 1,600 children, conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto and Bowling Green State University in Ohio, in the United States, found that young people between the ages of 12 and 17 benefitted significantly in wellbeing and academic success when they spent six hours a week or more with their parents. Published in 2015, the study followed the same group between the ages of 3 and 11 and again between 12 and 17. Those who spent an average of 50 minutes a day together showed higher grades and lower rates of drug and alcohol use and delinquency.
Finding a family martial arts practice has the potential to accomplish many goals, then. You’ll be giving yourself the twin gifts of physical and mental health and family togetherness.