Black Belt Strong: How Kids Benefit from Martial Arts Training

Another candidate for post title: “How My Kids Can Now Kick Their Father’s Ass.”

Yeah, that’s funny. But the truth is, a martial arts black belt (in this case, tae kwon do) is less about “kicking ass” and more about self defense, discipline, focus, and the ability to have confidence and respect. Respect for yourself, and your peers.

Both my daughter and son are involved in the classes. Joey started practicing martial arts in 2007, and while advancing through some of the lower belts seemed easy for him, real challenges have come within the last year and a half.  It took an absolutely insane amount of effort on his part to finally finish and qualify for his first degree black belt.

My son is 11 years old. As part of his requirements, within a couple of months, he had to complete 1000 push ups, 2000 sit ups, 30 miles of running, and numerous sessions of jumping rope, forms practice, and self defense practice.

Black-Belt
Board breaking en route to the Black Belt!

What my son did in a 90 day period most sedentary Americans don’t do in a lifetime. The kid worked his butt off.

He also had to write an essay on why becoming a black belt was important to him. This is an excerpt:

“I became a Bodan black belt candidate in December of 2010. When I got my binder in January, I realized how much work and discipline it would take to be a black belt. My instructors have taught me many things besides tae kwon do. I have learned to be respectful of everyone, and made friends with many people.

My body has become stronger and my mind has too. I am a better listener, and can study better as well. Tae kwon do has made me a leader in my classroom and given me more confidence.”

Before he started tae kwon do, he was a quiet guy who was a little shy and had trouble focusing in the classroom. This training did boost his confidence as well as his focusing skills. I still don’t know how he remembers all the forms he’s had to learn over the years.

My daughter takes the classes as well, and she is even more naturally skilled at the sport with her length, height, and flexibility. Since tae kwon do emphasizes kicks from a mobile stance more than punching, she has an advantage here with her powerful legs. Just ask Dad…she packs a wallop!

There were adults as well as many kids going for a black belt at some level the last testing period. Some common themes ran through the essays of everyone;

  • The ability to do anything you set your mind to
  • Enhanced self esteem and confidence
  • Not giving up, no matter what
  • Going beyond your comfort level and pushing yourself
  • Smarter, stronger, more self confident
  • Becoming stronger not only in body, but in your mind
  • The thing you need most is effort

“A black belt is a white belt who never quits”

I’ll admit, tae kwon do classes are an expensive option for a kid’s (or adult) activity. But, if you have children who need lessons in discipline, persistence, and fending for themselves in a world that’s going to try to slap them down, I’ll say it’s well worth the coin.

What do you think? What tools do you use to instill a little discipline into your kids? Or better yet…yourself? Share this with your friends, tweet it…use the buttons below, thanks!

ItalianAmerican: Sylvester Stallone

88th Annual Academy Awards -Arrivals
The 88th Annual Academy Awards Arrivals Featuring: Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Flavin Where: Los Angeles, California, United States When: 28 Feb 2016 Credit: Apega/WENN.com

Since the mid 1970’s, Sylvester Stallone has been my definition of the term American Idol.  As writer, actor, and director of some of the most famous franchises in the film industry, he has been nothing less than an Italian American inspiration.

He has inspired me for many years. In a previous post, I wrote how the original Rocky, the movie that was his breakthrough project, was also important in the life of  a particular socially awkward pre-teen.

With this inspirational movie as my training catalyst, I went from an overweight introvert destined for a life of sloth and obesity, to a young man that could do miles of running with ease, and, if needed,  physically eject uncooperative patrons from my family’s bar/restaurant.

Stallone kicked ass, and he showed me how to do it, too.

Again…thank you Mr. Stallone.

“I think everyone has a certain kind of formula in their life. When you deviate from that formula, you’re going to fail big or you’re gonna win big.”

“I believe there’s an inner power that makes winners or losers. And the winners are the ones who really listen to the truth of their hearts.”

“I have great expectations for the future, because the past was highly overrated.”

“Once in one’s life, for one mortal moment, one must make a grab for immortality; if not, one has not lived.”

“Success is usually the culmination of controlling failure.”

The “Stallone Effect:” A Rocky Road to Weight Loss

I can imagine in this modern day, it is not easy to be the fat kid in class.

Stallone with my favorite exercise equipment: the heavy bag

I remember it well, as I was that kid. It was years ago, in elementary and middle school, but I was once the fat guy. Chunky. Overweight, whatever you prefer to call it.

I empathize with today’s modern kid because even if you want to lose weight, there is temptation everywhere. Fatty foods, high carbs, sweets, sugar in everything…it seems worse now than when I was young.

It’s challenging to be overweight when you grow up Italian American as well. Although I’ve mentioned before that my grandmother cooked me a lot of great meals that were heavy on the vegetables, I also ate a lot of things that could potentially put on some weight.

I’m talking meats, rich sauces, sweets and pastries galore.

As much as I loved my veggies, meatballs and manicotti were likely to be on any menu as well.

If there was a cannoli in the room, chances are I would eat it.

Things were also made a little more difficult attending middle school at a military academy.  With the extra weight, I obviously did not look the part of a polished cadet. Among the sharp creases, perfect shoes, and shiny belt buckles, you stand out from the crowd when your stomach flops over that belt buckle.

I have to admit, when I finally decided to make some changes to take weight off, it wasn’t  for any health reasons. I was too young to think that way. I just wanted to get those rotten kids in school off of my back.

Although I wanted to make some strides in taking off some weight, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I had little knowledge about health and fitness, and even less inspiration and motivation.

Then my inspiration hit me, square in the face, while sitting in a movie theater.

Rocky.

For anyone unfamiliar with this mid 70’s classic, Rocky is the not so improbable story of a boxer with slightly less than average fighting talent, living in near poverty, who is randomly chosen in a 4th of July marketing ploy to fight the world heavyweight champion.

In the movie, the fight scenes are dramatic, the acting crisp, and the training montages, where Rocky prepares for his big night, are inspirational. For me, very inspirational.

Can you picture the face of a young kid, watching Star Wars for the first time, or some great animation, staring at a movie screen with eyes wide, his mouth agape? That was me while I was watching Rocky, as he trained by climbing the summit of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or pounding a side of beef posing as a heavy bag in a desolate freezer.

He transformed himself from a washed up, out of shape fighter, to a lean physical specimen that was a whisper from calling himself champion. I had my answers.

After seeing the movie, I ran circles around my neighborhood. Running became a top priority in my life. I learned to use a heavy bag, worked around my awkward attempts at jumping rope, and although I never aspired to do the one handed push-up that Rocky did in the movie, I became pretty good at the two handed version.

Rocky was Sylvester Stallone’s baby. He wrote the script and played the lead in what was to be the breakthrough moment of his life. And I can’t thank him enough for it. It also wound up being a breakthrough moment in my life.

Fueled by the motivation I had gotten from the movie, I worked for months to shed pounds and get fit, and it was a success. I don’t know exactly how much weight I came off, as I lost track after the first 20-25 pounds.

By the time I was 15-16 years old, I was in pretty good shape. And I stayed that way. When I met my wife years later (I was 30), I was 6’1″ and 170 pounds, with a 32 inch waist.

I’m not in that kind of shape now, I confess I am a little heavier. But as far as I can see, Stallone still looks fantastic physically, now in his 70s!! Knowing that, maybe it’s time for me to recommit to the roadwork, the heavy bag, and the sit ups.

Yo Rocky…how ’bout a rematch?