Thursday, January 29, 2009
Martial Arts and the Snow Shovel Kata
“Kata” is a Japanese word, defined as “a set combination of positions and movements (as in karate) performed as an exercise”. Since all three of my children took martial arts classes for years I have seen many skills practiced and katas are more relaxing for me to watch than sparring. Karate has been thought to be beneficial for children with AD/HD and other learning disabilities for a number of reasons. One of the aspects that I like best is that it allowed my children to be involved in a sport yet work at their own pace. They could work toward their next goal even if it took longer for them to get there than for others. Martial arts with an experienced instructor can be individualized to provide challenges and just enough frustration to allow the student to learn how to manage it with self-control. This is especially important for our impulsive children. As a mother of a quirky child, I was appreciative of the aspects of training that taught self-defense. Honestly, there was something different about Josh and aggressive or mean kids would just hit him or give him a shove. This happened often, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like for him if he had been in a traditional school setting. Josh never meant to be annoying, and he was able to forgive and forget pretty quickly. (This was not true for me, and often when Josh was being victimized I’d go all brainstem emotionally and want to retaliate for him, which is not good considering I am the adult and need to thwart such impulses and use my higher thinking skills. I always did, by the way, but sometimes the override of the emotions was tough to accomplish.) Another benefit from martial arts training is the cross-body movements that are incorporated as the student crosses the midline of his or her body, thereby utilizing both hemispheres of the brain and increasing coordination and fluency. Over the years, I saw my inattentive, accident-prone and clumsy son develop quicker reactions, improved balance, and such grace that he could be a ballroom dancer if he wanted to. He doesn’t want to, but isn’t it nice that he has a choice? The ability to transfer information quickly across the corpus callosum, the fibrous band that connects the brain hemispheres, is also important for academic tasks. Yet another benefit gained by participating in martial arts for our children with various struggles is the outlet for excess energy that hyperactive children exhibit. A good class under the guidance of an instructor who understands that some children have bodies that demand to be in motion can provide a safe outlet for physical activity. For children who struggle to learn the rules for sports and remember them from one season to the next, martial arts eliminates those “between seasons” gaps by being a year-round sport. For Josh, the parks and recreation program for sports such as basketball lasted six weeks. By about week five, Josh was finally starting to catch on and things were starting to click. He’d have one good week, and then basketball would be over for another year. Our local school district also refused to allow home school students to participate in any extra-curricular activities, including sports. The martial arts dojo was not affiliated with the school system, so my homeschooled children were welcome there. As a homeschooler, I was glad to find something my kids could participate in with others from our community. The classes blend new learning with review of previous skills, so the retention is easier to maintain. Josh especially loves katas that involve holding something like a long stick in his hands. He performs the moves smoothly, over and over, until his muscles have the motor pattern down. He has generalized this to every portable object that is long, thin, and straight and he performs his own version of katas whenever he has anything stick-like in his grasp. From uncooked spaghetti noodles to broom sticks, pencils, and dowel rods, Josh twirls and strikes away. Josh’s leaf raking kata is a blast to watch, but I think my personal favorite of Josh’s katas is the snow shovel kata. He looks like he’s really enjoying himself as he flings snow up over the wire in a neighbor’s backyard or into the branches of a tree. The snow does not end up in neat rows piled along the side of the walkway, but it does get removed from the sidewalk in creative ways. Josh also changes the kata slightly so the snow shovel kata is different each time it is performed. One more thing to love about martial arts training!