Childhood obesity is a worrying trend that needs to be addressed as urgently as possible. Overweight children not only suffer from all kinds of health problems, they are invariably the targets of bullying in school and generally occupy the lowest rung of the social ladder among their peers. Telling an obese child to control his/her food intake or to substitute high calorie snacks with healthier ones is a pointless task - all it does is hammer home the point to the child that you think he/she is lacks self control.
Exercise is a great way to lose weight, but it does tends to get boring. However, there is a way to get overweight kids to exercise while empowering them with self confidence and a definite sense of achievement - through training in the Martial Arts. Learning martial arts is an excellent way to lose weight, build stamina, learn self discipline and develop a positive sense of self and the advantages of this type of training cannot be overstated.
The child is taught by a trained expert. There are many forms of martial arts and each one of them has a different approach and philosophy. The cornerstone of any form of martial arts training is the relationship between the master and student. Strict adherence to the rules of the training school and obedience to the master are vital aspects of the training process. In return, the child as a student of the martial arts school gets the teacher's guidance in all matters relating to the particular form of combat he/she has decided to master.
Since the sanctity of the teacher- student relationship is paramount to the the philosophy of martial arts, the overweight child finds in his trainer a mentor that he can respect and whose advice he is willing to follow.
Self defence is the most important aspect of martial arts. This means that the student is taught to protect himself from any form of physical assault. Since overweight children are often regularly bullied in and out of school, the ability to confront their tormentors with the knowledge that at last they do not have to be at the receiving end, can be a powerful tool in gaining self assurance. Moreover, the traditional forms of Oriental self-defense or combat (aikido, judo, jujitsu, karate kendo kick boxing kung fu sumo wrestling, tae kwon do) utilise physical skill and coordination and concentration without the use of weapons, so there is little chance of inflicting lasting damage.
Self discipline is pivotal for those who would like to master the skills needed to become a good exponent of the martial arts. This means that the child, once considered too weak willed to control his/her appetite, is taught by a master to curb his desires, learn restraint and conduct his/her life with perfect self control.
Building stamina, learning the correct method of breathing, flexibility of the body and strengthening of muscles through repetitive exercises are the inevitable results of learning any of the different self defence techniques. The student can sense the changes in his/her body within a month or two and the effect only increases as the higher levels of technical difficulty are scaled.
With little or no external pressure to be the best other than that which the students place on themselves, the out of shape child can take as long as he/she wants to master each level of skill before going on to the next. Since older and more experienced students are encouraged to lend a hand in coaching the newer ones, a feeling of belonging and camaraderie is fostered. This in turn gives the obese child the safe environment he needs to master his chosen discipline knowing that he /she will never be mocked or made to feel worthless.
Although learning and mastering any of the various forms of self defence requires a long term commitment; the positive results that manifest themselves within a short period of time indicate that perhaps this is an avenue worth exploring, along with diet restrictions and regular exercise, as a means of reducing the number of overweight children in our society.
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