Jiu Jitsu for Kids: Lessons in Self-Respect

Friends of mine recently enrolled their two sons in a local Jiu Jitsu program for youth at Northwest Martial Arts. After they began classes, the boys would eagerly show me their new “ninja” moves and the stripes they earned for their belts. While I enjoyed seeing them so excited about something new they were learning, what I really found fascinating were the other aspects of the jiu jitsu program. Their parents told me the gym was teaching the kids life skills, self-respect, respect for others, confidence, and more. For instance, one of the stripes they received on their belt was for mastering the “seven words of respect.” Their parents noticed improved focus and behavior in each of the boys.

Of course, I have seen sports create a change in many youth. But I had yet to hear about an athletic program that truly had such an all-around focus on the child’s life, including academic performance, home life, and social skills. It was exciting to learn about an alternative to more mainstream sports AND to witness its success. I had to learn more about this program that was having such an all-around positive effect in this family.

Ryan and Jenna Kelly run Northwest Martial Arts, and they welcomed me into the gym to interview them about their youth programs and sit in on a class to take some video. I was able to make this short video which features some of the footage and interviews with Ryan.

Q&A with Ryan of Northwest Martial Arts

Ryan also took some time to do a Q&A with me about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the youth programs at Northwest Martial Arts.

GSD: What do you seek to teach kids with your youth martial arts programs?
Ryan of NWMA: Our children’s classes teach many valuable physical development skills, such as balance, coordination, and strength. They also teach self-defense skills for the possibility that we may need to protect ourselves. On top of that, we focus on life skills or character development, such as self-discipline, focus, respectful communication, positive self-image, and many others. This is done inside and outside of Northwest Martial arts by developing a partnership with parents and even teachers to connect the loop between improvement in the martial arts, at home, and at school.

GSD: Why is jiu jitsu a good avenue for teaching children life skills and self-respect?
Ryan of NWMA: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a great way to help kids learn valuable life skills because the things that it takes to get good at Jiu-Jitsu are the very same things that it takes to be successful in life, such as self-discipline, focus, self-respect, empathy and courtesy for others, etc. Our weekly practices provide a dynamic mix of physical and intellectual skills, interaction with other children, and the opportunity to learn to lose and win with honor and respect for one another. This variety of experiences offers plenty of opportunities for life lessons to be taught and learned.

GSD: How do the coaches teach these skills, and what changes do you see in the kids?
Ryan of NWMA: From day one children in our program must begin to display self-discipline by remembering to follow the rules and protocols of the school. They must also demonstrate self-discipline at home by doing something that they know needs to be done without having to be asked. This is how they will earn their white belt. From there forward, to advance in rank and receive medals or certificates, the children need to follow the rules of the program, be respectful of their instructors and peers, and have enough signatures from their parents to show they are using respectful words, self-discipline, and focus when they are at home and school. The kids really want to advance to the next belt and receive the recognition of medals and awards, so they really step up. We usually see improvement in key areas of self-development within the first couple of weeks. We especially see a transformation when a joint effort is made and the lessons are reinforced by instructors, their peers in class, and their parents.

Thanks so much to Ryan, Jenna, and all of Northwest Martial Arts for letting me come learn more about their martial arts programs for youth.