Martial Arts: The Best Kick-Ass Cure for Troubled Teenagers?

“A black belt is just a white belt that never quit.” ~ Genesis Martial Arts                            

When my younger son, now 15, hit his early teens my lovely, polite, happy and kind boy transformed into a being unrecognisable to me.

I knew the hormones had hit – big time.

It must have been hard, he had all that testosterone circulating round his still relatively childlike body and it made him antsy, aggressive and confused. At this time his OCD became a real problem and he stopped doing his extra curricular dance and drama. I was worried. I didn’t want him to get sucked into a gaming obsession.

I tried not to pressure him and just let him be, but at times I was pulling my hair out. He wasn’t interested in music, but I remembered Genesis Martial Arts – a local company run by passionate, principled and well qualified instructors, specialising in kickboxing and mixed martial arts (MMA).

I floated the idea to William, who was not keen to do anything his mother suggested at that time. I managed to get him along to a trial session, as I suspected afterwards he might feel differently, and rather than railing against it because of me, he would experience the benefits it could offer him.

Three years down the line I can honestly say it was the breakthrough and blessing he needed in his life. Recently William did his kickboxing green belt grading; a tough, two hour session alongside his fellow Genesis students.

The green belt grading

I watched as they were first asked to stand and have their attire and kit inspected. This is the basic making sure your belt is tied correctly, you are properly dressed and have the appropriate sparring gear to hand.

There is no room for sloppiness in this sport. Attention to detail is key. The physical aspect of the grading began with three bouts of skipping, each for two continuous minutes, mixing up different styles as you see professional boxers so effortlessly doing.

It was like watching a room full of Rockies!

Then they spent time split into two organised rows doing the green belt syllabus moves; a series of kicks and punches in a certain order.

Green belt moves – Will in the middle facing forward.

After some water the group got out their gloves and mits to do some set moves in pairs, then donned the full gear and did several bouts of full sparring, changing partners each time.  When the sparring was completed they were required to each do thirty sit ups, thirty crunches, and set defensive moves.

At this point they all appeared just about done for, but they were asked to hold four minutes of horse-riding stance.  This is the closest thing to torture you can get to!

With legs apart, toes outward, sitting on an imaginary seat with a straight back and arms stretched out front, hands at right angles. The position has to be held without moving for the allocated time.

The lactic acid build up in the quads, hamstrings and glutes is intense. After a couple of minutes it’s sort of mind over matter.  William has gradually built up to that length of time, and when he takes his purple belt next year he will have to hold it for five minutes.

4 minutes of horse-riding stance

Brown belt is six minutes, and when he reaches black belt horse-riding stance must be held for fifteen minutes. Luckily that is a few years down the line… I’m hoping he’ll achieve his black belt by the time he turns eighteen.

I’m glad to say he passed his green belt grading with flying colours! The only segment he failed on was the horse-riding stance!

William sporting his new green belt.

These last three years of regular kickboxing lessons have been instrumental in the amazing young man William is becoming. He has been able to channel his aggression into a worthwhile physical pursuit.

He is laser focused on his school work and is highly goal oriented.

He is doing drama lessons again, he is strong and fit and loves physical exercise, he doesn’t smoke or do drugs, he is respectful (at least to his teachers), as they usually extol his virtues to me whenever I meet them. I rarely have to remind him to do homework.

With ten GCSEs to take in six months time, and a goal of getting into a local Sixth Form, Will is now doing an average of two to three hours of homework and revision a night. He also studies at weekends.

I am in awe at his work ethic.

William is a self-starter, has a healthy self-esteem and is well on his way to a bright future.

He still has has his narky moments (mostly when he’s hungry), but don’t we all?

Sparring

But it could so easily have gone the other way.  I’d rather have an insatiable teenager than a monster who’s smoking, doing drugs, partying all the time and generally slacking.

My love has always been a constant, and indeed that of his family, but I feel what has made a big difference is his overwhelmingly positive involvement in martial arts. He has made massive progress physically, emotionally and mentally since he started.

He is very fortunate to be taught by Corey Cain, who is a black belt (triple Dan). Corey’s titles include: five times world kick boxing champion, World Tae Kwon-Do Champion and British Kickboxing Champion.

Corey has high standards and expects his students to give their best, but he doesn’t ask them to do anything he is not prepared to do himself. He is highly skilled, but more than that, he is able to teach others how to attain that same skill should they desire it.

Corey pushing himself with the 100 Burpee challenge:

Corey is dedicated to his young acolytes and teaches them skills for life. His students listen, because if they don’t they will drop and do thirty or more push-ups. Lateness is the same outcome. Disrespect even more so.

William is translating all of these values into every aspect of his life and has set the bar high for himself.

“Fall down 7 times, get up 8 times.” ~ Japanese maxim

Martial arts is not necessarily for everyone – my daughters did not quite manage a year, but for those who embrace it there are many, many benefits. Kick boxing has invigorated William as it suits his drive and personality.

It has certainly helped to preserve my sanity…

12 kick-ass ways martial arts changes young lives for the better:

  1. Mutual respect – Respect for the teacher, your opponent and everyone is paramount. Students face their teacher and press their left fist into their right hand as they bow. This attitude of respect underpins the entire sport.
  2. Discipline – Students are encouraged to practise their sport, improving their skill and fitness level.
  3. Punctuality – Good time keeping is a lifelong habit that impacts every area of your life even into time management. Lateness is not tolerated and on more than one occasion Will has had to do 30 press-ups.
  4. Stamina and strength – Mental strength is just as important as physical prowess, both are developed in classes.
  5. Definite goals – Working towards each subsequent belt teaches the students to break down the overall goal into smaller steps that they build on progressively.
  6. Patience & perseverance – It can take time to master the techniques required for each belt, plus injuries may delay gradings, (as has been the case with William). He does not want to rush taking his purple belt, but to thoroughly learn and be fully ready when the time comes.
  7. Reward for effort – Even though he appeared physically tired I could see a sense of achievement in Will’s face. The presentation of the belt is a reward, but so is the knowledge you have worked hard and achieved something worthwhile.
  8. Self esteem & confidence – Ever since Will achieved his white belt, then blue, orange, and now green, he has grown in confidence in all areas of his life. The knowledge and the belts are part of his male quest, and being as the teenage years are a particularly vulnerable time for boys and girls, any achievement is a feather in the cap for mental health.
  9. Love of learning – They learn new skills on an ongoing basis, but they don’t run before they can walk. The learning is embedded, and later contextualised into everyday life. They learn that they can do anything they put their mind to.
  10. Focus and fortitude – Single mindedness of purpose is at the forefront of achievement in the sport. Techniques and values are instilled until they are expressed. If a student cannot get a move right they are encouraged and shown time and again to overcome perceived failure and push through mental blocks and barriers.
  11. A form of meditation – Just like playing a musical instrument is a form of meditation for a musician, the form and movement of martial arts quiets the mind to the movement itself, taking the person out of worry and distraction.
  12. An attitude of service – Students not only work to improve their own skill, but also partner with other students to teach and help each other in the process. Lessons are inclusive and everyone’s contribution is appreciated.

A love of martial arts at this crucial time has provided a steady course that has enabled William to steer his teenage ship unscathed on turbulent emotional waters. I’m grateful to Corey for being such a great role model and mentor and for how much he has helped William develop.

Black belts training in the Genesis gym:

Martial arts does not indoctrinate or aim to make students something they are not, but harnesses and encourages positive traits and builds strength (mental and physical), in a structured and supportive environment.

When hormones are raging and things might not be great at home, martial arts is a valuable outlet that channels energy and anger into a more productive pastime.

Anyone who undertakes martial arts with integrity will embody these skills for life and will undoubtedly make a difference in the world in their own unique way.

“The tragedy of life lies not in not reaching your goals, but in having no goals to reach.” ~ Benjamin Elijah Mays

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