About the Methodology
of Teaching Martial Arts to Children
It happens quite often that teaching martial arts leads to the growth of the most despising qualities in people who already possessed such qualities before. It can also give a certain advantage to those who enter on the criminal path. Of course, it depends much on how the teaching is done, that is what ethical norms are suggested to students by their instructor.
On the other hand, teaching martial arts can become an important part of the work of true spiritual schools, where the ideas of love for God and for everything living including people, plants, and animals, become the basis for the world view of the students.
This is especially important in teaching children, because the initial views provided to them in the beginning of life define to a large extent their future destiny.
The true meaning of mastering martial arts in the work of sound spiritual schools consists not in gaining the ability to defeat enemies, but in overcoming one’s own weaknesses and shortcomings. This implies constant development of oneself as an active person, who realizes in life the ethical and spiritual principles — such as fortitude, gentle and careful attitude towards the objects of the world, kindness, sincere and tender love combined with readiness for self-sacrifice. Also, there is no doubt that such classes, when conducted correctly, can significantly improve the social and psychological stability of the students.
The main form of teaching martial arts is classes conducted for groups of students. This allows the instructor to teach students, among other ways, through formation of true spiritual relationships inside the group itself. In the process of training, children learn to communicate with each other and with adults. The instructor possessing certain skills almost always becomes an object of the students’ admiration and imitation. This, in turn, requires much responsibility from such a person. The instructor can easily “kindle the hearts” of the students with his or her own spiritual burning and become for them an example of higher ethics not only in the gym but in the usual life as well. Only a person with the opened spiritual heart is able to solve this task. The instructor also has to create the atmosphere of benevolence and sincerity, to release the spiritual potentiality of the students, to form in them the correct attitude towards the world.
For a student, the learning begins with the development of the correct attitude towards the gym where the classes are conducted; the gym is the place of the student’s development, and therefore it has to be kept clean and tidy. The student has to behave decently in it. During the class, the student must not make much noise, divert the attention of others, or do anything without the command of the instructor. By following these rules, children learn to control their emotions and actions.
The students begin their training in a standing position or sitting in student posture. Since martial arts develop the motoric-and-power sphere of the organism (one of its coordinators is the lower dantian), it is necessary to do this work on the background of subtle emotions. For this purpose, the instructor suggests that the students concentrate on the image of rising sun, helps them to get rid of emotional and muscle tension, to activate the middle dantian and enter subtle positive emotional states.
The next part of the class is the warm-up. The warm-up consists of movements of the tai chi kind. We called this series of movements Swaying Reed. By entering the image of a reed swaying under the wind, the students can easily do basic movements of warm-up: swaying, bending, sagging. This helps to make the body relaxed and pliable.
The instructor suggests more and more complex exercises, putting the emphasis on achieving plasticity and stretchability. Retaining a pleasant, comfortable inner state is an essential condition for safe increase of the load. Only in this way can one avoid traumas, learn to perform the forms (kata) fluently, and master the entire technique properly. This has a positive effect on the body (thanks to removing long-standing tensions, restoring and harmonizing all processes in the body) and harmonizes the psychic state in general.
Teaching students to assume the correct position of the body is an important element of martial arts. This is the foundation for mastering the basic technique, because it develops stability, which is fundamental for dynamic forms. Though children do not like to stand in the same position for a long time, these exercises are very important for a number of reasons, not only for mastering the technical aspect of the art. They help one to develop, among other things, the correct carriage, which is important for health.
For mastering static positions, we use the image of a tree which stretches its roots into the ground and its leaves — towards the sun. By working with this image, students easily learn to relax and to retain the positive emotional state during the entire exercise.
The dynamic way of mastering technical elements is much more interesting to children, and allows the instructor to include various exercises in the work. For example, running has a positive effect on the circulatory and respiratory systems, acrobatics develops the vestibular apparatus, exercises that involve large amplitudes strengthen the musculoskeletal system. A special part of dynamics, dedicated to basic technical actions, includes movements, blocks, and attacks.
Everyone at a young age wants to become strong and confident in themselves. But having begun to learn the dynamic exercises, the students realize very soon how much time and effort one needs to spend for mastering the technique. This develops in them diligence and persistence.
Almost all dynamic forms in traditional oriental martial arts are related to images of totem animals, to which people assign higher virtues. Imitation is peculiar to children. Observing the students, the instructor may see, for example, that one of them, upon entering the image of a tiger, stays calm and makes movements full of gentle power. Another student attunes to the aggressiveness of the tiger — with all consequences of this emotional state; in this case, the instructor has to explain to this student that this is wrong.
We recommend working with images of animals very carefully.
It is most safe and correct to work with images of nature: sun, water, wind, etc. This attunes children to pleasant emotions, to the purity and harmony of nature. For example, by attuning to a gentle flow of a brook, students begin to perform movements more fluently, easily, retaining a positive emotional state.
Quite often we combine such meditative methods with pranayamas. This allows one to do effective cleansing of the meridians of the body and to achieve significant improvement of the health of the students.
Students can do forms working alone or in pairs. Working in pairs makes them use all elements learned on the preparatory stage. In this work, the instructor can see the strong and weak points of each student. One of their tasks in this work is to learn to perceive the partner not as an enemy but as a friend and assistant. Such relationships develop sincerity and trust in each other, help to overcome fear and lack of self-reliance, and thus to avoid the development of aggressiveness. These qualities will be helpful to children not only during the classes but in everyday life as well.
Our experience shows that one can take into groups all children who are healthy enough. We recommend to all students, besides other ethical and hygienic norms of life, switching to killing-free nutrition.
It is natural that some students leave the group sooner or later. But some students continue to work for years. When they reach the age of about 20 years, we give them the methods of work with the chakras and meridians, and then — the methods of buddhi yoga [9-11]. Of course, only those students are given these higher methods who have accepted fully the main ethical principles and are well developed intellectually.
Teaching martial arts must not be limited to classes in the gym only. We also use other forms of teaching — visits to museums and historically important places, theoretical lessons on the history of martial arts of different nations, camping trips. All this develops the outlook of the children, their respect to cultural heritage of different nations, and cultivates in them a careful attitude towards nature. Thus, teaching martial arts can help to solve the tasks of raising children as harmonious, wholly developed individuals, to lay the foundation of ethics, health, and spirituality in them.