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Anxiety and Martial Arts

Anxiety is on the rise, especially in kids. Martial arts can help. It seems that every couple of months the rules change, and it's having quite an impact on our kids.

Virtual school. Masks on tight. Back to school. Masks off for lunch. It's hard enough for adults to keep track of the recommendations and to wrap their heads around the on-going scientific research, statistical analysis, and other factors contributing to the frequent shifts. For a kid, it's chaos. They know it's serious, but struggle to understand why the rules keep changing. I'm not surprised to hear from my professional psychologist friends that they are completely booked out for new client appointments, especially for young people.

For most of my years as a martial arts instructor, it's been the parents who were the most concerned about safety factors when signing their children up for new activities. But I've met many kids recently who are far more nervous than their parents about trying something new. We wear masks, run HEPA filters, and do all that we can to keep our dojo community safe and healthy—parents can see these things and weigh the risks vs benefits. But, for kids, the anxiety is like a fog. Everything is a little (or a lot) scarier than it was before.

Young minds need structure for healthy development, and the past two years have not exactly provided an abundance of stability. And many of their healthy activities have been postponed, gone virtual, or have been completely canceled, leaving normally active kids without a positive outlet for their energy. And we know that bored kids, especially bored teenagers don't always make the best decisions when they are desperate for authentic connection and self expression but don't know which outlets are safe and which are dangerous. For many, the dojo has been a place of solid consistency. While so many other things in their lives have changed, the dojo, the training, and the familiar faces offer some much needed reassurance and comfort. The practice of martial arts has been shown to be extremely beneficial in helping people develop the tools to work with their anxiety. The training helps us get out of our heads and into our bodies. We learn to feel our way through a situation and not rely solely on thinking our way out of a problem. Intelligent minds are susceptible to the endless wheel of thoughtful consideration, sorting out every possible contingency and identifying with every possible interpretation of each and every potential choice. The result of this is often indecision. Effective martial arts practice involves safe exercises in which there is simply not enough time for complete and comprehensive analysis of a situation before moving into action. A target may only present itself for a moment, or a threat may require immediate interception. We drill movements repeatedly until we find our bodies moving into safe and stable positions, even before our brain has had time to sort out all of the information.

Judson Brewer, author of Unwinding Anxiety, defines anxiety as fear plus uncertainty. In the dojo we work to assuage the negative effects of anxiety by working with fear and uncertainty. We learn ways to position ourselves so that we can see threats coming from a greater distance, reducing uncertainty. We learn skills that bolster our self-confidence thereby discovering that we have tools to approach the things that frighten us. We remember that being a warrior does not mean we no longer experience fear. Having courage is when you can show up, stay connected, and make decisions despite the presence of fear. And even though we may not feel that we have all the information, we remain empowered to hold the reins and take command of our experience in life. In our dojo, we practice the self-defense system called To-Shin Do. It's roots are found in Japan's oldest warrior traditions, brought to you with today's best and most practical and up-to-date teaching methods. It is not a martial arts sport based on competition, in which your progress is determined by how well you fare against others in a contest. It is a journey of self-discovery where you grow by getting rid of limiting behaviors. We become bigger by getting rid of the habits that hold us back. Both kids and adults find this training to be completely transformational to their lives, empowering them to do all sorts of things from which they would have otherwise excused themselves. Be bold, and send us an email about getting started with our new-student trial offer. Do it for your child or for yourself. You'll be proud of the person you become!

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