When I was growing up, Power Rangers and Dragonball Z were about as cool as it got. While the small, grown-up part of me hopes that no one reading this today actually knows what those shows are, they did leave an impression on me. I have always had an innate curiosity around martial arts, but never any formal training in Shaolin Martial Arts or any other form.
As my kids are getting older (5 years, 4 years, and 8 months), martial arts came up as a possible extra curricular activity. I first did a little research on my own, and then reached out to a black belt that I know to get more information. Ultimately, I wanted to know what benefits my kids would get from taking martial arts.
Megan Toney holds a fifth degree black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu and a black sash in Tai Chi to adorn her psychology degree. Her studio, Shaolin Martial Arts Center, teaches both of these styles of martial arts, along with jiujitsu. Megan invited us to come to a class and see it up close before doing an interview.
As soon as I walked in the door, my attention went to the swords, axes, and other various weapons adorning the walls. After watching the class, Megan and I were joined by her fiance, Chris Smith, another instructor and second degree black belt at Shaolin Martial Arts Center. I came with a list of questions and we went straight into the interview (Megan abstained from my proposed sword fight).
How early can kids start Shaolin Martial Arts?
Right off, I asked how old kids need to be to learn martial arts. Although they teach classes for three and four year olds, the consensus seemed to be that five was a good time for kids to start martial arts. According to Megan, the three and four year olds are still primarily developing the gross motor skills needed to do martial arts. It isn’t until five or six that they are comfortable enough with those skills to start working on the organized movements that are needed to do martial arts.
What are the core principles of Shaolin Martial Arts?
To better understand how martial arts benefits kids, it is important to know what the pillars of martial arts are. When I asked Chris, he explained that martial arts principles are fluid and often adapt to fit the person. That said, honesty, compassion, hard work, and restraint are necessary in any martial arts discipline. He also explained that the end goal of Shaolin martial arts is peace. In his words, Shaolin is a way to achieve “Pacification through destruction.”
Pacification through destruction might sound a little harsh at first, but this is as much metaphorical as literal. Though martial arts does address the need to defend yourself should you be attacked, it also requires you to look at your own drawbacks and limitations. Those things that bring you down are obstacles to face in your martial arts training and help you develop peace through learning hard work and patience.
What qualities do these concepts instill in the children you teach?
Knowing that Shaolin promotes peace and isn’t simply a way to beat people up is a good start. Being a parent, I wanted to dig a little deeper still. I asked specifically how the teachings manifest in children, and it turns out that a lot is at play. According to Megan, the hard work and discipline required to progress in martial arts forces children to find their strengths (mentally and physically) and accept their weaknesses. Chris also chimed in to point out that this self acceptance begins to extend beyond just themselves. Shaolin has its roots in Buddhism, and students learn compassion and acceptance for all life. This allows them to react to all situations with logic and understanding.
Megan stated that “Shaolin mitigates anger by promoting a focus on the breath. It balances the body by releasing endorphins and hormones that relieve anxiety and depression.” In short, I think she meant that Shaolin is the meditation in motion.
Is it dangerous to teach Shaolin to aggressive children?
Even though Shaolin promotes peace, it does teach students how to defend themselves and, if they choose, hurt someone else. With this in mind, it seems that teaching Shaolin to aggressive kids might pose a problem unless they gain the control and compassion to govern their martial arts skill set.
“I’ve seen it go both ways,” was Megan’s response to this question.
Some angry kids find Shaolin to be their outlet that helps them direct and control their emotions. Others do see it as learning to hurt people. That said, Megan and Chris both assured me that the latter never continue the lessons long enough to become dangerous to anyone. They either leave due to lack of discipline, or on rare occasions are asked to leave for the same reason.
Is Shaolin safe?
Martial arts are dangerous, right? For attackers in a dark alley, definitely. For kids training, not so much. Sparing is always light to medium contact for kids, so there are no hard blows. On top of that, everyone wears gloves and protective gear just in case. Even minor injuries rarely happen in the kids class. According to Megan, they have never had a serious injury in the kids class.
What’s my conclusion?
Shaolin martial arts is definitely an intriguing and effective way to keep your kids active and teach them self control and compassion. Bri and I have even found ourselves in a couple of classes at the Shaolin Martial Arts Center since the interview, and have mentioned it to AC and JL to see if they were interested. At the moment, AC is focused on his geography, and JL wants to dance. That said I’m sure seeing us practice will spur their curiosity.
The most important takeaway for me is that Shaolin martial arts inspires self-reflection. Self-reflection is necessary for self-growth, self-esteem, and compassion toward others.
Contact the Shaolin Martial Arts Center or follow them on social media to learn more about Shaolin martial arts:
Hi! Our names are Bri & Mike and we are the creators of Practically Parents. We have three awesome (and challenging) kids and love to share our parenting successes and failures with you.