Confidence the best defence against bullies
Martial arts can help bolster the confidence of young people who feel vulnerable. JANE DUNBAR reports.
What is one of the best weapons against a bully? Self-confidence.
And how can you build self-confidence? There are lots of different recipes, but one starting point is to build a sense of physical confidence - of being fit and well co-ordinated, of being in control of your own body and able to respond to perceived threats in an effective way.
Confidence is a word that comes up a lot when talking to people who run martial arts classes for children and teenagers in Christchurch.
Do many children go to martial classes so they can protect themselves against bullies? Some do, say the clubs, but the key to protecting yourself is confidence, not clever martial arts moves.
Bullying is "something that comes up in conversations with parents and among the children from time to time", Nadia van Vliet of Kennedys Freestyle Martial Arts says.
"We teach children not only how to physically defend themselves, but also other options if they feel threatened. They learn to look for other options - eg: can they run? Is there a parent or other adult around? Martial arts give children the confidence that if they need to defend themselves, they can. This confidence alone can be enough to stop a child being bullied."
Over at Aikido Shinryukan Canterbury, Andrew Williamson says that some children "join because of bullying and often at the instigation of their parents looking to give them confidence". However, "mostly kids carry on because they have fun".
At the Academy of Combat Mixed Martial Arts, Tara Moore says that many of the children aged 5 to 12 who come along to classes "want a bit more confidence". But it is not really until the 13 to 16 age group that she has heard anyone wanting to be able to stand up to bullies; to be able to defend themselves if they have to. The gym, however, does not in any way condone fighting outside of it, she says. What classes give young people is a sense of self- discipline and a greater sense of self-confidence and empowerment.
What about self-defence for girls? Do many sign up for martial arts because they are afraid of being attacked?
Moore says that the academy runs a female-only class that is popular. When girls sign up for the class, some put "self-defence" as their reason, she says.
At Aikido Shinryukan, Williamson says: "Our ratio in the kids' class is about 50 per cent girls."
"In the ages 5 to 12, self defence is not the major concern for the girls. However, several young ladies in the teenage years do clearly think about self-defence as one of the reasons for training."
At Kennedys, van Vliet says: "As far as girls go, I'm not sure how many come just because of the self-defence aspect but the number of girls in our classes, from children through to adults, has grown significantly in recent years. As a female instructor, I know the importance of girls and women being able to look after themselves if needed."
Van Vliet returns, though, to the wider benefits of classes giving "self-confidence and so much more".
"We have a lot of children who have learning difficulties - dyspraxia, ADHD and Asperger syndrome. It gives children an opportunity to take part in a sport that allows them to grow and develop at their own speed. We focus on children improving themselves without comparing them to how others in the class are developing.
"Martial arts help with focus, understanding how their bodies and how they move, and respect for others - classmates and instructors."