Be Happy.

When children have joy they don’t need to be taught “be good to others”, they’ll do it naturally because that is the highest expression of the human condition.

On the recent 3-day karate camp the children learnt so many things, but mostly they learnt about the structure of why we train the way we do. When they understand this they are empowered to apply it to all areas of life. Of course children must be children, but they are also capable of understanding a lot more than people give them credit for. For this reason, when we train and a question comes into existence, we discuss it together and understand the cause of the confusion and the way forward from it. We call this a ‘circle talk’; everyone is a part of it.

A few months back I had the parents watch an end of term class. In it we discussed the fact that ‘the world around us’ has changed massively from our own childhood. ‘Do you remember when you made plans to meet a friend and you went there at the agreed time? No, texting ‘I’ll be late’ or ‘change of plans’. Decide. Do.

Children today are in a different time to the one we knew back then and for them the changes will be happening at a faster and more frequent rate. Karate is just our chosen vehicle to teach a series of skills that will enable them to cope with change, keep focus and direction. Stay grounded. To experience joy and know it’s value.”

It would be nice to think that a lot of karate and martial art classes do the same but they don’t. It is evident to me that many teaching the arts today are just pottering in the front garden, teaching a closed system synonymous with the game Simon Says. A lot are actually closing the art down, not only this but passing on limiting thought patterns from their own fears and inhibitions too – so closing children down; don’t do that.

The traditional structures of education, which evolved in the time of colonialism, are breaking down. They are too limiting for the world we’re creating so it is natural that they have to go. Forward thinking schools are adapting to this realisation. The new teaching structure is not fully realised yet but in the meantime we can teach children some life-skills. In reality it will be down to them to work out the new structure anyway. Such fluid thinking needs supple bodies.

“Flexibility is the barometer of health.”

The junbi-undo exercises I teach at the start of classes give us a way to self-check where we’re at with our physical wellbeing. Stiffness in each stretched or contorted posture reveals insights into the state of our internal organs. The children are learning the function of each organ in their body, not just its biological task but the related emotional attitude too; how it affects their mood.

What is both interesting, and concerning, to see is that a lot of the children (almost all) show stiffness and undue tension in their livers, spleen, lower backs and legs. The causes are likely a mix of dietary habits and living a too sedentary lifestyle. Children need to be out running, skipping, climbing and exploring! While technology can bring convenience and comfort it doesn’t bring wellbeing – we all need an exercise that nourishes the body and mind together.

At the start of the camp, having cleaned the floor and sat upon it like a blank canvas, we discussed what was going to be happening over the next few days. It began by telling them this:

“You are the most advanced technology on the planet today. Your brains are faster than the worlds super computers. Your body’s perfectly tooled to thrive in the world around. Together they enable you to create and achieve anything you put your mind to. Karate is just the activity we are going to use to learn about, and refine, this remarkable technology so that we can do the best we can. We call it the ‘Way’ karate is just one method.

It will make you stronger, keep you supple and empower you to do whatever you choose to do. You will learn to listen to your senses, understand the function of your organs and become your own doctors and scientists.”

From this point on the first stage of each session was about stretching, breathing and developing a sense of independent ability, measured by internal cues such as the stiffness or discomfort in a stretch.

After independence, the next stage is to experience synergy, the act of working harmoniously with others. The children achieve this through group exercises such as the circle challenge. Here a problem is presented and, without talking or logical thought, a solution is found by ‘feeling’ and actively moving towards it. If one child switches back to ‘independent mode’ it all fails. Everyone arrives at a realisation of success together; undeniably.

Now the energy of synergy has the potential to be used positively, to solve a problem, or negatively, to cause one. If happiness and joy enable everyone to be at their best output then innovation, the process of developing new ideas from the combining of two or more existing ones, flourishes.

Problems need new ideas to solve them. With innovation, any problem can be solved. Children are not inheriting the cleanest or most problem free world at the moment but they can be equipped and empowered to fix it. Karate is teaching the children greater awareness of themselves and their surroundings, a sense of belonging and inner balance. These lessons stay with them for life.