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Karate: A Soapbox for Youth

To state the obvious, navigating today’s world isn’t a cakewalk. Figuring out what side of the line you’re on is challenging – especially when lines are so blurred. Political events, social events, rights movements and changes to old beliefs and philosophies present us – almost daily – with things to ponder and decisions to make. On the other hand, there is the option to stay neutral and let things happen as they may. As adults and parents, we use the wisdom and life experiences we have to navigate these sometimes troubled waters.

But, if wisdom comes with life experience, where do younger generations find what they need to navigate these same times? And, can Karate help?

Last night in the Dojo I was watching a young teenager, Alexander (Alex), do some drills with another student. Alex was poised, a little grin on his face, and he was confident. He had no issue talking to his drill partner

Alex and Claire have trained together for several years.

and helping him with the one-two combinations they were working on. He was focused.

Not too long ago Alex wouldn’t have been so comfortable in this role. He was shyer and less confident, but with continued practice, and support from the senior students and Sensei in the class, he is maturing into the Deshi role.

Karate isn’t solely responsible for Alex’ maturing, but in my humble opinion, it helped. Karate can be a kind of soapbox for youth. Sensei Power and the rest of the leaders in the Dojo don’t judge kids on their physical strength or confidence, nor on how quickly they can learn Karate. Rather, they see them as young people with all the potential in the world, and they teach them Karate, and if they gain confidence and develop socially somewhat along the way, that is a tangible bonus.

One of the maxims I live by is that you get what you expect, and the Dojo expected Alex, and others kids like him, to improve and get physically stronger and socially more comfortable. And he did.

A dojo is a safe place for individuals to test things out - and to test themselves - in front of other Karateka of various ages and skill levels. Individuals who find the courage in the Dojo to do a solo Kata in front of their peers, or to conduct a warmup for the group, oftentimes translate this to other aspects of their lives. In this sense, the Dojo is a microcosm of society.

Our society is full of fantastic, intelligent youth, who are held back because they don’t quite have the confidence to show the world what they can do or to express their ideas.

Youth need ‘their thing.’ Everyone has to have their thing; it gives them purpose and it gives them an outlet for expression. Karate won’t be everyone’s thing, but it is a valid option, just like volleyball, art, music, or basketball (shout out to Carl English’s CE23 Basketball program), are all valid options.

Any program that genuinely sees youth as a world of potential is a good program.

Alex chose Karate and it is becoming obvious that Karate is choosing Alex. He, like the rest of us, will have plenty of issues to face and decisions to make in life, but I firmly believe that the discipline and ability to focus that Karate demands will be helpful along the way.

Besides that, Alex is an intuitive and intelligent young man, and there is a level of Karate that also cultivates those. Karate is a brain game if you’re into it enough. Finding applications for techniques and refining awareness to use against an opponent are mental processes.

As I watched the interactions last night between the various ranks and age groups I couldn’t help but notice the nonjudgmental connections. Bonds are built in the Dojo and some of them will last a lifetime.

Might be a bit philosophical, but when I see Alex I see a younger me. My father put me in Karate to help with my confidence and to have me involved with an organization that teaches discipline and hard work. It was a good move. Karate has given me a lot and has put me on a path with like-minded individuals who are supportive and determined to get better…and not just at Karate.

Keep it up, Alex.

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