By Ray Tio
I have been a traditional shotokan karate practitioner nearly my whole life, since I was 9 years old. Since then, the longest time I have ever taken off from training or teaching was exactly one month, when my first daughter Isabella was born and that was nine years ago. In the past 30 years I have met, trained with, competed against and taught many children of different ages, races, personality types and social classes. Therefore I believe that I am able to address this topic with sincerity and confidence better than most can.
First off, let me tell you about myself and growing up before starting karate. I was a very, very shy kid to the point where I was almost held back in kindergarten. My mom was told by my teacher that I would barely speak in class and always looked down at the floor. I was the epitome of a child who lacked confidence and was the perfect target for bullies to pick on. By the time I was 6 years old, my parents went through a divorce, we ended up moving to a different neighbourhood and moved in with my grand-parents and aunt, where we lived for the next 3 years. It was definitely a rougher neighborhood. My older brother Stan who is three and a half years older would get picked on by older, bigger kids at school and would get into fights often. To the bigger kids dismay, they always came out on the losing end of the fights not realizing the anger that these life-altering changes had instilled inside Stan. He never put up with anyone’s crap! Me on the other hand was affected the opposite way. I shied away from conflict always looked the other way and always prayed that no one would pick on me. Inside I wanted to be strong like Stan, but knew I wasn’t. The good news was that I was rarely picked on because Stan was my older brother. So you have two kids living in the same household, one who is angry and loses his temper easily and in a violent way, and the other one who is shy and lacks confidence. During this time my mom met my current step-father and eventually the four of us moved in a house together. My step-father was currently training in traditional shotokan karate and was a brown belt. He felt it would be good for both of us to train too. I was 9 going on 10 and Stan was 13. Who knew that this would turn out to be a life-long passion for the both of us?
Through traditional shotokan karate training I became physically stronger, outgoing and more confident to say the least. Stan learned to control his emotions and channel his aggressiveness positively through karate training and this eventually led to both of us becoming multi-time International and National Karate Champions. I now own two traditional dojos located in Vaughan and Mississauga, Ontario and I am truly blessed to be able to do what I love and am passionate about as a career.
So why traditional shotokan karate, and not any other sport or martial art you ask? I would never say that karate is the only way to go and is the best for every child, I can only explain why it was best for me and the numerous other children I have seen positively affected by it. So here goes:
Positive Moral Values
Traditional shotokan karate is a form of oriental fighting, or “martial” art, but it transcends cultural and social differences as it is practiced by people throughout the world. Its fighting tradition is potentially harmful if practiced irresponsibly, however, students are instructed to behave in the same civilized manner as in their daily lives.
Traditional shotokan karate training begins and ends with respect, and these values are embodied in the Dojo Kun (Club Oath), which is recited at the conclusion of every class:
Seek Perfection of Character.
Refrain From Violent Behaviour
This constant reminder after each class reinforced to me that it was more than a just a sport, but rather a way of life for me and a means to becoming a better person.
Effective Self-Defense Against Multiple Attackers
Traditional shotokan karate offers a practical and thorough approach to self-defence. Techniques are practiced repeatedly with one or many partner opponents. This teaches students to understand how to use force in proportion to their attacks. Traditional shotokan karate aims to develop the ability to make a natural, decisive, and appropriate response to physical acts of aggression against multiple attackers. A martial art, like say Jiu-Jitsu on the other hand, is very effective in a one-on-one situation. When the aggression is non-physical, karate training helps to diffuse a threatening situation in an assertive and non-violent way, instilling the importance of self-control and self-advocacy.
Karate For Children
Traditional shotokan karate training for children is not only fun, it provides many important benefits to young people. Some of these benefits are referred to in Japanese as chiiku (mental development), tokuiku (moral development) and taiiku(physical development).
In terms of chiiku (mental development), karate helps build concentration, focus, clear thinking and decisiveness.
Physically (taiiku), it trains you to use your entire body to deliver blocks, punches, kicks and strikes and stances, therefore strengthening muscles in your body equally.
Both my girls ages 5 and 9 train diligently , 3-4 times per week, and I have seen the constant improvement in all of these three aspects within them.
Traditional Karate Practices
As it was in the beginning, traditional shotokan karate practitioners wear traditional white gis (uniforms) to represent purity and humility. The gi also reminds all practitioners that regardless of rank and social class, all students begin as equals. Student progress is demonstrated through a belt ranking system, rather than adopting various coloured gis.
Basic karate movements begin with the correct relationship between feet and floor. Most traditional shotokan karate dojos use hardwood sprung floors, similar to those used in yoga and dance studios. As such, practitioners are able to gain maximum force as they push across the floor; matted floors tend to absorb the pressure that is necessary to execute a sound technique. For a precaution however, these dojos usually have portable mats which are placed on top of the hardwood, so that takedowns, throws, and rolling techniques are practiced safely.
I personally have trained on both matted and hardwood dojo floors and to me hardwood is the way to go, and therefore I had them installed in both my dojos.
Both an Individual and Team Sport
Traditional shotokan karate organizations have local, regional, national and international competitions as do most major sports. Members are able to compete not only as an individual but also in a team setting, and are able to compete in Kata events (Pattern or forms) and or Kumite (Sparring) that are separated by gender and age divisions for children, youth and adults.
Speaking for myself, karate competitions played a huge part in bringing up my confidence and my mental toughness. I probably would have grown bored by my teenage years if I hadn’t competed. However, not everyone trains for the same reasons and competitions are never made mandatory.
So there you have it, my take on why traditional shotokan karate is great for kids, and how it changed my life forever…and for the better.