I have had parents come to me passing messages that one or two of my students had gone over to Jujitsu. They say that the other parents think that they learn better self-defence from learning kicking and punching. My initial comment is: "I am sorry to lose them as students but I have nothing against well-taught Jujitsu". After all, Judo is Jujitsu with some features that distinguish it and I often have a lot of respect for the teacher that they go to. I have a very good relationship with him.
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However, the idea that really concerns me, something that I passionately repudiate, is the idea that children learn better self-defence from learning kicking and punching.
Atmi wasa or Striking practice is well established as a form of self-defence but it has some serious shortcomings particularly when it comes to children. I am referring to children as being under 10 and any child older than that who is not large in stature:
A strike or a kick has to be well placed in order to be effective.
The physical development of a child works against even the most well-placed strike or kick being anything but a distraction. That is not to say that a well-placed kick or strike won't hurt, but something that hurts is not necessarily disabling. Now I will be the first to admit that a good distraction is an excellent self-defence tool but only if its part of an overall strategy. Running for instance.
I teach significantly more than this in my classes because running also has to have the correct context to be effective but in the right context running is a good start.
A strike or kick has the potential to do greater harm than good harm in the wrong context.
The place where a child is going to have the most effect with a kick or a punch is against their own peers. Do we really want our children using kicks and punches in the school ground?
You have no doubt realized by now that I have a very minimalist approach to Atmi wasa. I sometimes teach a Kata (form practice) that has kicking and punching in it but it is designed as a warm-up exercise not a form of defence (Tandoku Renshu).
I do however teach about the uses of Atmi to my students and I have a saying " If you are going to hurt someone you'd better make sure it is worth it. Because whether you are right or wrong you are going to get into trouble".
I have, in another article on, outlined a number of what I think are better ways that can be used to help a child who is being bullied in school. They just require the parents and the school to have the will to do something about it.
Beyond that, if there is no other way to deal with bullying or threat situation I teach my students a number of highly effective skills that are age-appropriate that try to avoid striking of any kind.
If you strike someone and you don't disable them, they are more often than not, likely to come back at you with even greater violence.
This is a fact that many of the striking martial arts choose not to discuss. The reality is that violence may not be avoidable but it always begets violence.
The only time when this is not true is when the threat of the consequences is so great that fear itself is the deterrent. Even then some people are so controlled by fear that they respond to a treat irrationally and to their own detriment and the only way to stop them is to disable them to the point where they have no ability to act any more.
In our context consider the child that has kicked their way out of a situation against a much stronger attacker. What do you think the reaction of the attacker is going to be? Let me tell you that it is not often going to be to run away.
Anger, pain and the loss of face are great motivators and the psychology of a bully is much more complex than people think. Only some bullies will run away if they are stood up to.
The effect of a kick or a strike on an adult is minimal
Consider the prospect of a child coming up against an adult. It's is obvious that the effect of a kick and a punch is going to be minimal.
Sometimes I teach demonstration self-defence classes and as part of the demonstration I invite a child up to hit me as hard are they can. Even the children that have been smart enough to hit me in my testicles have had little effect. Because they are just not strong enough or fast enough. How much effect will they have on an adult who wants to hurt them?
I will admit that a child that has been taught to hit properly will have more effect but not that much.
Faulty kicking style
The fact is Kata is what is taught in many of the kicking and punching styles of martial arts and it is very useful as a teaching tool. Useful to help instil form and automatic movement. But it is also very good at programing faults into someone's technique if not watched very carefully. Faults that can be extremely difficult to teach out.
Now all students of any kind will pick up faults but consider the prospect of a faulty placed kick. Forget about the fact that schools are not always just places to be. That is nothing compared to the trouble a child will get into if someone ends up with a broken arm or leg or even skull. The legal aspect of kicking and punching are enormous.
In my view, there is only one value in teaching children to kick and punch and that is so they will be better in this form of Martial Art when they get older. This cannot be underestimated.
Properly taught Atemi Wasa Kata is of great benefit to an older student that has been taught young. But we must get out of this attitude that teaching a child to kick and punch will help them to defend themselves.
In most cases, it just won't!