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Does Karate Really Teach Discipline?




We've all heard that karate training is a great way to improve on different aspects of life; from physical fitness to stress relief and everything in between, but can training in traditional karate really instill discipline in students?


Before getting into the answer, let's first explore what we mean by discipline. To me, there are two forms of discipline, and both are valuable to our lives. The first is the sort of discipline that helps us learn about consequences.





Inevitably, we will mess up; it's part of the human experience, and since no one is perfect we can all relate to having done something we know we shouldn't have done only to come face to face with the disciplinary actions of a parent, teacher, or other adult figure from our childhood. The disciplinary action is meant to be unenjoyable and uncomfortable so as to serve as a teaching tool in order to help us learn to avoid making that mistake in the future.

Because we want to avoid the discomfort of the consequence, we learn to make better choices in the future which in turn leads to better outcomes.


This sort of discipline is imposed from the outside and although it's quite effective in helping us learn about how our choices will affect our lives it's not quite as strong as the second type of discipline, which is self-discipline.


When I refer to self-discipline, I mean a deep desire to self-moderate and stay within the boundaries of positive choices, not because of a desire to avoid punishment but rather because of a deep desire to reap the reward of a positive future.


Self-discipline isn't just about learning from mistakes; it's about delaying the short-term pleasure of a negative choice in favor of the long-term benefit of following through with what we know to be the right choice.


This can range from sticking to a fitness schedule, staying current on homework, or showing up to work on those gorgeous spring days when the beach is calling; not because someone makes us but because we desire the positive benefits that result from making the right choice.


Dave Ramsey often says that "Children do what feels good, adults learn to delay pleasure in favor of a positive outcome." And therein lies the definition of self-discipline.





So, can karate training help teach discipline? In short, yes! Students in karate will ultimately be faced with many choices that will challenge them to make the right choice for the desired positive outcome. This can range from using control during partner practice drills, pushing through a difficult workout or technique, or studying for a belt promotion; however, none of those are quite as important as the self-discipline that can be learned from simply showing up.


Your sensei knows what it's like to go through the ranking system. They understand the fears and concerns you may have surrounding learning techniques that are challenging and they have some great wisdom to help you learn to overcome those concerns....but all of their wisdom can't help the student who forgets that the most important part of learning self-discipline is making yourself (or your child) show up on the days when you'd rather stay home. As is true in many endeavors, showing up is half the battle.


Parents of children have a specific role to play in teaching the benefits of self-discipline because often children do not fully grasp the benefit of making the choice to follow through until they have been guided to do so in a consistent way over time by a firm but loving parent.





The truth is you will not always be motivated. Life will ultimately hand you a tough break, work or school will pile on responsibilities, and sometimes you will simply just not feel like staying on schedule.


Because you will not always be motivated, you've got to learn to be disciplined and when you make the commitment to attend class on those difficult days, you are strengthening the cause / effect relationship in your subconscious that reminds you to keep making the right choice in the future. This positive outcome leads us to continue to make the right choice when we reach our next low point, and the pattern continues to strengthen as we go along.





That's why staying consistent is so important. Especially during holidays and summer break. The consistency of attending on a regular basis will keep a student moving in the direction of their goal which can motivate and propel a student through the peaks and valleys of training which helps them avoid the 'down days' that can derail their goal achievement.


Taking breaks, or skipping classes have a negative effect because when a student misses class, they ultimately notice their skills stagnate, or worse they lose the gains they've achieved already. This decline in progress gives way to complacency and adds fuel to the fire of the downward spiral. Children are especially susceptible to this because when they begin to slow in progress, they notice their friends moving forward and this leads to a decrease in self-confidence. All of these issues combined makes for one huge hurdle to overcome, and often students give way to the pressure of it.


While it is common to experience valleys during your journey toward black belt, successful people understand that positive outcomes don't just 'happen', rather the positive outcomes we desire are the result of making a conscious decision to put forth effort, even on the days we'd rather not.





There's no substitute for consistency and the slow forward momentum that comes from sticking to a schedule and continuing to 'show up'. It's the great lesson from the story of the tortoise and the hare, and in karate we can actively learn just how powerful our daily

efforts are as we progress to black belt and beyond.


Finally, as I look back over my martial arts career, I can remember times when as a child I protested attending class only to leave the dojo smiling and happy that I attended; even if it was my mom or dad who was the one responsible for making me attend.


I undoubtedly would not have achieved any of my goals had I been left to my own decision-making skills as a child, and as an adult I can honestly say that I'm so grateful for those days when my mom or dad put their foot down and insisted that I will not skip karate class.





So on those days when you feel less than motivated, when the beach is calling, or when the task at hand seems too large to tackle just remember that all you have to do is just show up, your sensei can help you through the rest.



~Sensei Jen Davenport



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