Kids in martial arts – self-defence or learning to fight?

Cheryl Tay
·5-min read
Kids training in martial arts at Neue Fit gym. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)
Kids training in martial arts at Neue Fit gym. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

SINGAPORE — It is highly recommended to start your children in a form of sport, so that it would teach them things like resilience, discipline and confidence. Similarly, martial arts instils the same things – and more.

Martial arts like Taekwondo, judo, karate, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) have the added benefit of self-defence to help kids protect themselves in times of danger, but does such martial arts training actually teach kids to fight unnecessarily? 

The truth is, martial arts teaches your kid not to fight. In fact, your martial arts instructor is educating your child to avoid physical conflict off the mats or outside of the ring. If fights do happen, this is where an understanding of how martial arts training applies in real life and an education on anti-violence comes in.

Neue Fit, a fitness and martial arts studio that opened in January 2018, has been training children from as young as three-and-a-half years old in BJJ and Muay Thai since it opened its doors.

“Having been bullied in school, I understand the impact bullying has on young minds and spirits," said co-founder Grace Huang. 

"So I’ve made it my personal mission through Neue Fit and through the education of martial arts to help empower young people navigate through the challenges of growing up. It’s as simple as giving any of our students the courage to say 'no' or 'stop'.

“It really isn’t about whether or not they can throw the perfect punch, kick or takedown, unless it’s for competition. It’s about what happens inside them – the mental and emotional mettle that comes from learning a martial art.

“And something we remind our students often is that knowing a martial art doesn’t mean we flaunt it or abuse it, it’s about learning to be their own heroes in life.”

Kids training in martial arts at Neue Fit gym. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)
Kids training in martial arts at Neue Fit gym. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Signing up daughters to teach them key values in life

Civil servant Fadly Hamzah signed up his two young daughters - five-year-old Misha Madina and three-year-old Faiha Fatiha - for BJJ and Muay Thai classes at Neue Fit earlier this year.

The 40-year-old reveals that he had been a victim of bullying during his schooling days, and recalls being frequently kicked and punched by a classmate who was much bigger and taller than him.

“I used to fear recess time so much and would hide in the corridors until it was time to get back to class because I didn’t want to run into him," he said. "Once, he tripped me when I was walking back to class after assembly period, and I fell face first and suffered a deep cut on my chin that needed three stitches.

“That was when my parents enrolled me for Taekwondo classes in school, and the bully stopped harassing me after he saw me in my Taekwondo uniform and after I broke a wooden board with a kick during a school demonstration.”

Having reaped the benefits of martial arts, Fadly wants his two young daughters to learn the same, as he and his wife Liya Saine believe that such training promotes "focus, discipline, respect and resilience" that they hope their daughters can pick up at a very young age.

Liya added, “We explain to them that they cannot use what they have learnt in class outside of the mats. Home and school are safe places and no one is going to hurt them, so they do not need to apply what they have learnt once they leave the gym."

Other than being more disciplined and focused in class, and more respectful to their teachers, Misha and Faiha are also able to break their falls properly when they trip and fall at the playgrounds, by tucking in their chins and protecting their heads – something that they were taught in their BJJ classes.

Kids training in martial arts at Neue Fit gym. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)
Kids training in martial arts at Neue Fit gym. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Picking up a life skill at a young age

Ari James Cherbonnier, who is in Primary Two this year, has been going for BJJ classes since he was five, and has also picked up Muay Thai this year. 

“We've long felt that martial arts is more than just a sport, but a life skill as well,” said his father Andre Cherbonnier, who also trains in BJJ and Muay Thai at the same gym. "Like swimming and cycling, it's a beneficial tool in anyone's journey through life combining athleticism with practicality."

Because of Ari’s early exposure to BJJ, Andre and wife Tracey have observed that he is uncannily strong for his size. They have also noticed that he comes out of his shell and shows more confidence when he is on the mats.

“To ensure that he does not use martial arts to start a fight, we constantly engage him and ensure we are part of the process," Andre said. "We've talked to him about it several times and we do let him know it’s okay to act in self-defence, or in the defence of others.”

Just as the home environment plays a crucial role here, so does the choice of gym and its philosophies.

Neue Fit is excellent at honing in on the philosophical aspects of the sport as well, where control and patience are paramount. The coaches don't drive the kids into competition and it really is about honing a craft,” Tracey added.

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