For many of us, the term “martial arts” probably conjures images of that tried-and-true film, “The Karate Kid.”
In reality, there are many different styles of the practice originating in different cultures throughout East Asia. Karate, for example, emerged in Japan, while kung fu is a Chinese tradition and taekwondo originated in Korea.
According to Denise Rouleau of Rouleau-Holley’s Martial Arts in Keene, which specializes primarily in taekwondo, one thing these forms of martial arts have in common is that they are rooted in philosophy. While some might view martial arts largely as a physical sport, it is just as much — if not more — about the mental aspect.
“A lot of people think martial arts is what they see on TV, and it’s just way beyond that,” Rouleau said. “It’s not only kicking and punching and blocking, but we work on self-discipline and we work on self-respect.”
It can also be an outlet to help children learn to regulate their emotions. Steve DeMasco of Steve DeMasco’s Shaolin Studios in Keene has worked with children with behavioral issues and disorders such as ADD and ADHD. He stresses that rather than teaching kids violence, martial arts teaches them to control violence.
The studio specializes in the Chinese style of shaolin kung fu.
“What is that child really learning? Is he learning to hurt people, is he learning to kick and punch? Or is he learning to control his attitude, control his temper?” said DeMasco, who has been honored as an Educational Hero by the U.S. Department of Education for his teaching work.
At White Crane Martial Arts in Keene, which offers the Japanese styles of karate and jiu jitsu, owner Matthew Butler said potential students often come to him without a clear idea of what they want to get out of the practice. Some of them just want to learn to fight, he said. But rather than self-defense, he likes to think of martial arts as life preservation — something you do without the intent to harm.
“I think one of the things I really enjoy about karate is the culture,” Butler said, “treating each other with a certain degree of etiquette, of manners, of having an awareness.”
When thinking about signing yourself or your child up for martial arts classes, it’s important to find a school that’s a good fit. According to DeMasco, it can be easy to pick an instructor based on their rank, but it’s more important to find a teacher who can communicate well and inspire and motivate their students.
“Every child and every adult should feel these three things: I enjoyed this. Two, I learned something today. And three, I can do this,” he said. “And if a person does not feel those three things [after a class], then the instructor did not do his job.”
It’s also essential to observe or try out a class before you pick your school, Rouleau said. And though a lower price point might be attractive, it’s important to think about what value a school is offering for the cost.
“Does your child feel comfortable there? Do you and your child like the instructor?” she said. “For me, it’s always a turnoff if an instructor won’t let you come try a class at no cost.”
And though martial arts is often thought of as a sport, you don’t necessarily need to be in peak physical condition to benefit from the practice. Butler noted he has worked with students with disabilities, as well as age groups ranging from 3 to 90 years old.
“It just has to do with your desire,” he said. “Do you have the desire to learn martial arts? And are you willing to put in the work? If you’re willing to put in the work, the rewards are endless.”