This weekend, my partner Chris took a break from teaching, so I held all classes for him. So on Friday, I was doing a children & youth class in our Aspern-based dojo (www.shinergy.com/aspern). At some point near the end of the class I noticed one of the kids was missing, so I told the rest to wait and went to look for the boy. When I saw him standing in the anteroom, I told him to immediately go back to the others. Thereupon his mother, who was watching the training, explained to me he told him to drink something and that he was only 5 and I’m too strict by far at all. She insisted on discussing my teaching methods after class.

Now I can handle constructive criticism, however, criticising me in front of the class is something I just can’t tolerate. All that does is wear down the discipline – something that was lacking at that particular class from the beginning. Quite frankly, I don’t care how old or how special someone is, as soon as he sets foot in my class, the same rules apply to him as to everyone else.

As for leaving the training area, that means asking me for permission to do so. That’s not because I’m a control freak, but simply a necessity to ensure a basic level of safety. I can’t have kids running around on their own without knowing what they’re up to. While in this particular case the boy left the room to drink, it could be some injury in another case. There’s a whole lot of reasons apart from injury and thirst why kids – especially young ones – decide to leave a room: quarrels with other students, a feeling of being treated unfairly, headaches, stomachaches or just plain boredom.

In any case, I have to stop all class activity and go figure out what happened. I have to make sure the kid doesn’t hurt itself in some door or just leaves the building. That means, everyone else can’t train during that time.

That’s a break that can easily avoided by one simple question: „Lukas, can I go and drink something?“. Of course you can. Drinking is important, every coach and athlete knows that. This little question doesn’t cost anyone a dime but allows for a smooth training without interruption. Something that is definately desirable for everyone in the class.

If you take a look at the history of „traditional“ martial arts such as Karate, Judo and Taekwon-do, you’ll notice that they were all introduced for the same purpose: education.

1882, Jigoro Kano names his brand of JuJutsu „Judo“, the „gentle way“. As from 1911, that martial art was a compulsory subject in japanese schools.

Even before that, Karate, which was laid down in it’s current form by Gishin Funakoshi, found it’s way into the Okinawan school curriculum in 1902. When Funakoshi went to Tokyo in 1922, the Japanese were quick to adopt Karate to their school system as well.

The name Taekwon-Do was branded in 1955 by general Choi Hong-hi. That guy was actually a general in the korean army. Coming from a TKD background myself it’s not easy for me to say that, but as a matter of fact, TKD is just another form of Karate that was adapted to korean culture. The branding of a national martial art was a means of regaining a string cultural identity after a time of japanese occupation. It goes without saying that TKD was soon to be incorporated into the school system to ingrain korean values and identity into students.

Now, all those styles share the concept of uniforms, belt gradings and fixed patterns of any kind. Those fixed patterns – kata, poomsae, tuls, whatever you want to call them – are by no means meant to teach effective self defense.

Imagine a group of soldiers marching to a goose-step. I’m sure you can think of more efficient, faster and less exhausting ways to move forward. Anyhow, there’s a benefit to the goose-step that’s crucial for a military unit to work – uniformity. The point is the denial of individuality and freedom of will. A soldier has to carry out commands, preferably without even giving them a thought. Also, uniformity gives everyone a feeling of strength and power.

At this point, I’m sure you can see the analogy that holds true for the so-called „traditional martial arts“. Coming from asia, where individuals always take a second place to society, those martial arts aim at educating it’s students towards group-thinking and subordination.

Although there’s nothing wrong with that, considering the cultural background, that concept just doesn’t fit into our modern, western society. That’s why we don’t have uniforms, belt gradings (well,… those are meant to be introduced soon) and fixed patterns in the Shinergy system. Our commandment is empowerment. Shinergy as a philophy aims at supporting everyone to express himself and reach his own highest potential. As a martial arts, Shinergy claims maximum effectiveness at all distances, so traditional techniques such as the Oizuki don’t have a place in our curriculum.

As you can see, there’s a vast difference between the idea of TMA’s and the Shinergy system. All the same, as a martial artist, discipline is an imperative. I’ve already written some articles here on the importance of self-discipline, however, also external-oriented discipline – call it obedience if you wish – plays a significant role, especially with children.

In taoist thinking, there’s the idea of microcosm equalling macrocosm. Sounds complicated? It really isn’t. The same principles, laws and concepts that apply to the whole universe also apply to it’s smallest parts. Put into a different way, things work same same way on the inside as on the outside. That’s by the way the whole idea behind the „peaceful warrior“ concept. Once you stop fighting inside – all your fears, your anger, your aggression – by embracing all those shadows as a part of yourself, you won’t have to fight in the oustide anymore, either. Although that’s an intriguing concept that deserves more explanation, it’s not the topic here so I won’t go into any more detail on it. However, it has to be noted that it carries over to the topic at hand – discipline.

If you have a hard time accepting authority and can’t stand the idea of holding discipline in a martial arts class, chances are you had no self-discipline in the first place. That’s also why I believe that educational systems like Montessori, Rudolf Steiner and the like can only work for a very small percentage of kids. For most, it’s just the receipe for disaster.

In my youth classes, I require students to shoq enough discipline to adhere to 3 simple rules:

  1. When I speak, the rest is silent. My job is to teach and ensure safety – that is only possible if what I say is heard and understood. For the duration of an explanation, there’s no talking, jumping around, dancing or whatever. That’s not a one-way rule: I also listen to my students, provided their questions and comments are training-related.
  2. Nobody gets hit, kicked, picked, spit at, laughed at, insulted or in any other way attacked verbally or physically during my class. This should go without saying, sadly it doesn’t. Only exception is – of course – sparring. Even there, respect has to be shown for fellow students.
  3. Things learned on the mat stay on the mat. The street is not a place to show off martial arts skills.

I’m convinced that any averagely intelligent kid should be able to stick with those three rules. Without them, no structured training is possible. Anyone not willing or able to abide by those rules really needs to ask himself if martial arts is the right place for him.

It’s funny that once those three rules are intact, there’s no need to be overly strict anymore. The less those rules are followed, the rougher I get.

No maybe I got the whole concept ack-basswards, but then, looking at the students that attend my classes at my Stadlau-based dojo (www.shinergy.com/stadlau), I think that success supports my point.

Think about it.

So long,

take care

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