We recently received the following kind feedback from a parent thanking us for our work with his son in our martial arts classes.
“Sensei, I thought I’d drop you a line to say how thrilled we are than my son is making progress in Ninjutsu and really enjoying it. Thanks to his asthma he has always lagged physically and comparisons with his more adept and sports-mad sister were a little stark! However he now has something sporty he can ‘own’ and we’re seeing a big difference in his effort elsewhere too. I think they’re connected. So thanks very much.”
Feedback like this makes teaching martial arts rewarding but it also speaks to the value of non-competitive martial arts programs for many kids. There is nothing wrong with competition. Many people are naturally competitive and we live in a competitive world. Many kids enjoy competing, find it helps them do their best and it can teach valuable lessons about winning and losing with grace.
That is all good. But for many kids too, competitive sports are a nightmare. The constant comparison to other kids and the failure to measure up often means their sense of disappointment from competitive sports far exceeds their sense of accomplishment. The problem is that competitive sports have deadlines – essentially the next match or tournament or season – and that makes it hard for children to develop at their own pace.
There are no competitions in our martial art and while we do have ranks, students work towards their next rank at their own pace. This approach instills an important lesson in our exam-focused deadline driven world: you can keep improving, often greatly, if you just keep working away at something no matter what and not against any artificial deadlines.
Imagine a student who trains hard for several years and earns a black belt but it takes them a little bit longer than average, say four years instead of the average three. They may have taken a bit longer and they may have suffered a few setbacks. But they will also have a great sense of achievement because along the way to earning that belt they did lose games, miss out on team selection or feel like a loser.
And that, for some kids, is ALL the difference. Competition is great but it is not the only path and, for many kids, not the right one.