Martial arts teaches focus, discipline
Carrie Cohen's 5-year-old, Michael, is what one book termed an "Out-of-Sync Child," one who perceives sensory information differently, making tasks in school and life difficult.
"He sees a zigzag where I see a straight line," she said, and though occupational therapy in school is helpful to Michael, where Cohen has really seen improvement is when he is running the drills and kicking the pads in his Kensington martial arts class.
Several parents that send their kids to the Black Belt Martial Arts Center in Kensington are doing so not just for recreation or self defense, but because it has a noticeable effect of the coordination and focus of their children.
"For my son, the Tae Kwon Do helps him with confidence and independence, which is his body in space," Cohen explained. It's a difficult thing for kids like Michael, and the discipline and nurturing environment help him through them, she said.
Phyllis Levine, of Aspen Hill, brings her son Brady, 6, to the class for the same reason. Brady has a diagnosed neurological condition that interrupts his motor skills beyond childhood clumsiness.
"It helps him to overcome, I've seen him make improvements since he's been here," she said, a period of about three months. "Today's the first day I actually saw him do something close to a push up."
Marilyn Lee, the program director of the Black Belt Martial Arts Center, said it's common for parents to notice improvement with fine motor skill issues, sensory conditions, neurological conditions as well as with behavioral conditions like Attention Deficit Disorder, after enrolling them in the classes.
"A lot of the parents that come to us come for a specific reason," Lee said. Before a child is enrolled in a group class, a private session is held with Lee's brother R.J., the head instructor, and parents can tell him about specific things they want their child to work on like sensory processing disorders.
"That's where it starts," Lee said. "There's a lot of focus on discipline but it's done in a nurturing way so it's easy for them to catch on to."
The center gives stars to children to put on their uniforms when their parents report progress in the child's home life, whether it is improved focus in school or making their bed, and checks in with teachers to find out how the child is doing in school.
R.J. Lee also holds "Mat Chats" every class, to discuss things like the importance of respecting authority, proper hygiene and open-mindedness.
Levine said the martial arts class has been the most helpful thing she's tried since she learned about Brady's neurological condition.
"I've noticed more (improvement) with this than with the school," where Brady works with an occupational therapist weekly, she said. "They do their best but they see him once a week for a few minutes."
Monica Wims said her daughter Kyla is a social butterfly, and when she entered kindergarten was much more interested in chatting than homework.
"I think the whole scene, the whole school and the friends kind of took over in the beginning," Wims said.
Now, Wims said, after a few months of martial arts, Kyla, now in first grade, will sit down and do her homework independently.
"It was a focus type thing," Wims said. "The class is very good for her in that aspect, discussing, learning more to interact with other kids."
"I've seen a huge change, huge change," Wims said. "I'm surprised with homework at how focused she is."