Training Together – Family Fitness the Martial Arts Way

Training Together - Family Fitness the Martial Arts Way

Many of us who were very physically active as young adults and as young married couples can have a very difficult transition into the world of early parenthood, where scant sleep and abundant stress, combined with all the new duties of being a parent, can really shut these activities down. During these early years, just making it through the day with sanity intact might be all that we can do. During this phase, we may tell ourselves that “once the kids get past these early years we will gear our activities back up.”

And once our children are a few years old, and the daily routine starts to improve, we immediately start to think about having them do various activities that will improve their strength, coordination, and balance – the early fitness foundation upon which they will later build. And as our kids enter elementary school, and sometimes even before that, most of us are trying to get them involved in sports and other activities that will begin to instill in them that lifelong love of fitness that we want each child to infuse into the very core of their being. And as I look around the cities and suburbs, I see parents making tremendous efforts to make sure this happens for their kids. But what about us – the parents – how do we maintain our physical fitness while we make sure that our kids are being immersed in that world?

Certainly spouses can take turns watching the kids, taking the kids to practice, and providing training/coaching assistance, while the other spouse gets in their workout. And actually being a coach for their kid’s team, regardless of the sport, typically provides for some level of physical activity, with the bonus of getting to be integrally involved in the child’s development in that sport. But for most of us, pulling all of this off can be a challenging symphony to orchestrate, which is why, even for previously active folks, their fitness level typically declines as they end up becoming bleacher-creatures and full-time chaperones in support of their kids’ activities. As parents, we are more than willing to make these sacrifices so that our kids can benefit. But wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to stay active along with our kids? Is there a solution?

Our family has found one possible solution to this dilemma by doing martial arts together. Rather than watch from the stands, we attend classes with our kids and compete in tournaments together. We don’t have to wonder why certain moves are tough to master, or why the kids’ muscles are sore, or how their practice went that night – because we live through it all with them! We can support their training with an insider’s view. And all the while we – the parents – are getting a workout, and learning a new skill, right alongside them. For parents who have sat and watched plenty of little-league soccer games and gymnastics practices, this has been a welcomed evolution of the family’s activities.

A big part of being able to accomplish this marvel of synergistic family fitness is being able to do our martial arts training at White Tiger of Cary. Their facility, location, instructors, and flexible schedule are all key contributors to being able to make this miracle work. Unlike the typical strip-mall studio, White Tiger’s mammoth facility houses several training rooms, which allows them the freedom to schedule all of their belt and specialty classes at multiple times throughout the week. This means a much higher likelihood of fitting in a class around school, work, and other activities during the week. The instructors are very talented, particularly in their ability to teach to any age and ability level, oftentimes within the same class. The fact that the school is located in the middle of Cary means that, for many in the Town of Cary and beyond, it is easy to get to from home, work, or school.

My kids were at least somewhat interested in martial arts ever since they started watching those zany, ninja-skilled, talking turtles on television. And no doubt most kids, from an early age, have some level of enchantment with martial arts. But translating that into something tangible, something worthwhile, can be a challenge. Imitating movie stunts is one thing – getting your child to engage in a structured martial arts training program is quite another.

My oldest son, Alex, was 5 years old when we enrolled at White Tiger. Focus and discipline had never exactly been his strong suits, but his martial arts training has slowly made inroads into those important areas. Those skills are some of the many benefits that one can absorb from martial arts training. The ideas of respect, control, dedication, and hard work are all threads that are solidly woven into the fabric of martial arts – concepts that we want to put in front of our kids as much as possible. Immersion in these ideas several times a week is a positive prescription for just about any child, and we can see the effects on Alex.

One area in particular that has greatly improved for Alex is his self-esteem and confidence. As I interviewed him for this article, he admitted to me that he didn’t think he would ever be able to get his Black Belt when we first started (about three years ago). Now he says he will be “really proud when I get it,” and that it will indicate that “I’ve actually accomplished something.” When we talked about some of the tournaments he has been in, he again made comments that indicated he had gained some confidence in what he is able to do. Referring to a “jumping snap kick” competition, he said, “I never knew I could jump so high.” This is one of the concepts we so desperately want our kids to understand – that yes, you can do amazing things when you try, and yes, when you add in hard work, you will be even more amazed at what you can do!

Alex, being a “daddy’s boy” at this point, clearly enjoys doing things with Dad, including working out together in martial arts. Since he looks up to his Dad, giving him the almost superhero status so many kids at his age place upon their fathers, it is a chance for me to demonstrate all those positive characteristics I want him to absorb. He can see me working hard, staying focused, being respectful to the masters, and being a good sport in competition. It is a great chance to “walk the walk” right in front of him, instead of just “preaching” these things to him as he competes. Actions speak louder than words, and I know that he watches what I do all the time. And of course he will absorb and store the images that you are never too old to exercise, compete, and learn – concepts that will serve him well, later in life, when he is my age.

My younger son, Logan, started training when he was three years old. Since he was too young to just start right into the regular classes, he started in a White Tiger program called “Tiger Tots,” that works on very basic martial arts concepts while allowing the kids to also have some fun. Logan’s eyes still light up when talking about Tiger Tots, saying it was “really, really, fun.” After about six months, at age four, he moved up to the regular classes. The rest of the family took their time moving through the belt levels so that Logan could eventually intercept us, and then we were able to move forward from there with the family all training at the same belt level.

Logan mentions that it is “kinda cool working out with the family.” Sometimes he gets to line up against his brother in sparring class (one of Alex’s favorite classes) – which also happens to be the only time the two are allowed to actually kick each other. The protective pads mean that they can blow off some steam with each other without someone getting hurt.

Logan, however, actually prefers the board-breaking class, where he likes to smash things and “hear lots of cheering.” When he started, he was very tentative and he might have taken three tries to break a board. Now he confidently snaps them with strong hand-strikes and kicks that belie his small, forty-pound body. His performance in tournaments, which again get his label of “really, really fun,” has continually improved. And while he explaine
d that he does like winning medals, it was clear to me that some of the important concepts that we want him to absorb were getting through as well when he said, “It doesn’t matter what medal you get – just try your best.” That type of attitude and sportsmanship is certainly a key theme we want our kids to grasp as part of the sport. Again, being right there alongside him as he learns these concepts, and to be able to in fact demonstrate these characteristics right there in front of him, is part of the synergy gained when having the family train together.

While my kids are certainly gaining a whole range of new skills and life-lessons, my wife Sherry has arguably benefited the most out of the whole family. While I have always known she is an amazing person capable of great things, and I had high hopes that she would at least enjoy the training, her progress in martial arts has far exceeded any vision I had when the family first signed up. Not only has she brought her weight into an ideal range, increased her coordination, and improved her conditioning, but she has developed into an impressive martial artist along the way. Her accomplishments competing have been nothing short of stunning, at one point putting together a string of eleven straight first-place finishes. And her success has not been lost on the kids, who get to see first-hand what their mom is capable of doing. Not only will it add to their respect for their mother, but as two young boys, it gives them a first-hand lesson in respect for women in general that should stay with them for the rest of their lives.

While Sherry had done her share of strength training, running, walking, yoga, and other activities in the past, the martial arts training and competing over the past three years have really been at a level above any of her previous athletic endeavors. With her asthma and other health challenges, it would have been understandable had she decided to not engage in this type of training. When asked about it, she admits that she has been “amazed at how well I’ve done, how far I’ve come.” Early on, when seeing someone perform a tornado kick (a powerful, spinning kick), she would think “there’s no way I will be able to do that.” She smiled when adding, “It is very empowering to be able to do something like that.”

Sherry, who calls it “amazing” to be able to train together as a family, says that it makes daily scheduling for the family much easier. As she puts it, our routine is “not as helter-skelter as some families – eating at different times, etc.” The typical family has to juggle all of the different activities, deciding who is taking each child to each activity, and making sure that nobody feels short-changed. Sometimes this adds stress, and creates friction, between family members. In contrast, training together has actually been a “bonding experience,” says Sherry, and at a personal level, has been “a great stress release” for her.

As for me, I wrestled in high school and took a few years of karate in college, so martial arts were not foreign to me when we joined White Tiger. And yes, getting a Black Belt was something that I always wanted to do. Not just to have a Black Belt – but because it was a challenge to get there and something worthy of achieving. I tell my kids all the time that the things in life that you will value the most will be the things that take the most effort to achieve. Easy things, quick things, do not settle much in your heart, but the ones that take years of blood, sweat, and sacrifice will take up a special, permanent residence there. These are things that, no matter how many years go by, you still think about and treasure. Training diligently for years to achieve a Black Belt fits this template. And I believe that you are never too old to chase these kinds of dreams. Chasing these kinds of dreams is, to me, what separates “really being alive” from just “living.”

As parents, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to take our own advice. While our kids and their development are a top priority, neglecting the needs of the parents completely should not be part of the overall family solution. Our health and well being are also important for the family as a whole. And our kids are watching what we do. In this era where there are plenty of examples of people not taking care of themselves, we can demonstrate how important staying fit is by doing it ourselves. We can “walk the walk” instead of just preaching to them. And we can do it in a synergistic way by having the whole family train together.

So here we are a few weeks away from the whole family taking its Black Belt Test. We have trained for three years for this. We know what the other family members are going through – the hard training, the sore muscles, the nervousness – because we each feel it too. Of course separately each family member also has their own thoughts on the road traveled to get here, on what each has had to overcome, and on it what it all means to him (or her). As I reflect on my own road, which has indeed included some obstacles of various sizes, I smile because I know I have almost made it. I know, because of that road, and the effort expended to get here, that this will be something that I really value and treasure. And to do it side-by-side with my whole family makes it even sweeter, and will make the memory that much more special.