As a young boy I was prone to severe temper tantrums. Forty years later I can still recall losing control, lying on the floor outside a busy restaurant, screaming and crying while my parents stood helplessly by and waited for it to pass.
After one particularly bad episode, at the suggestion of a friend, my mother enrolled me in a local martial arts class. It was the late 70’s in England, and Judo was the popular martial art. I started training two times a week and absolutely loved it. I can still remember the pride I felt when putting on my uniform and tying the belt. The feeling of tradition and respect as we bowed before stepping onto the mats. Standing still in a perfectly straight line as we listened to the instructor. Bowing before we took off running in a circle to start the class. Counting in Japanese, the push-ups and sit-ups, the partner drills, the sparring and the final meditation, I remember it all.
I stuck with Judo for three years before moving on to other activities, but my mother swears that once I started martial arts training, I never had a bad episode again. Martial arts taught me how to unleash pent-up energy in a constructive manner, how to breathe and stay calm when emotions tried to carry me away. The countless repetitions taught me focus and dedication that replaced feelings of frustration and inadequacy. I’m not a natural athlete, but I learned that if I practiced hard I could get good at anything.
The physical skills I gained through my training feel almost like a side-note to this article as I write, decades later. The mental and emotional benefits seem to far outweigh the physical. I can still call on many of those physical Judo skills in a split second—I did have to use my training in an encounter with the school bully in the final year of elementary school. But more importantly, the practice of martial arts resulted in the increased self-confidence and self-awareness to handle potential bullying situations without the need for a physical response.
I’m now the proud owner of Jacksonville Muay Thai. My wife and I started the gym five years ago to provide the best possible martial arts training for our daughter, as well as other children and adults of all ages. Based in a beautiful 6000-square-foot facility on Beach Boulevard, we’re the home for modern Muay Thai in Jacksonville.
Why Muay Thai? This 2000-year-old martial art is the National Sport of Thailand. Also known as the Art of 8 Limbs, it’s widely recognized as the most effective stand-up martial art there is. Powerful and effective, it’s a lot of fun to practice. And the traditions woven into the very fabric of the sport are lessons in history, culture and respect for everyone who trains with us.
Training in Muay Thai is especially beneficial for kids, as it greatly improves overall fitness, coordination, balance, strength and flexibility. Both girls and boys develop enhanced self-esteem and confidence through facing the challenges of the training. The physical skills they develop are effective in self-defense, and the mental self-control can help to keep a bullying situation from escalating.
The Junior Muay Thai program at Jax Muay Thai is carefully structured to develop students’ physical skills as well as their mental attitude and focus. The program is based around the principles of RISE:
The youngest of our students start their training in the Mini Muay Thai class, for ages 4 to 6. Games and obstacle courses make the class fun for the littles, while short pad rounds develop muscle memory and technique.
Elementary and middle school kids develop fitness and focus in the Junior Muay Thai classes. Stretching and warm-ups lead into bag drills and pad rounds with individual attention for each student. When the students have mastered the basics, they can participate in the kids’ Advanced Sparring class. This class ties their skills together in a carefully supervised environment, with protective equipment and no head shots allowed.
In fact, studies show the risk of injury in a well-structured kids martial arts program is considerably lower than in most common team sports, such as soccer and football. These team sports have a much higher risk of serious knee or ankle injury, and even head injury. For example, a 5 year study by researchers in the Trauma Department at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands) found much higher rates of injury in soccer, gymnastics and volleyball compared with martial arts.
Far from being just a means of fighting, Muay Thai involves skills that benefit kids throughout their lives. Within a few sessions you’ll notice physical and mental improvements in your child, as my mother did in me. Our gym even has parents who train alongside their kids—and it’s not unusual to find the more advanced kids helping to train the adults.
My vision for JMT has always been to create positive growth for everyone who trains with us. When I see our students becoming teachers, I know my mother’s decision for me had a life-changing effect far beyond what she hoped for or imagined. As I watch my daughter start middle school, reach the kids’ Level 9 Pra Jiad, and coach her class of Mini’s through their testing, it’s incredible to think that her grandmother’s gift to me long ago has enabled her grow into the best young woman she can be today.