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How games can teach behaviour

Games are a important part of learning at any age, but especially with kids they are the most natural and effective method of learning all sorts of skills from physical to mental to social.

We use games in our classes to teach behaviours, as well as skills and I want to take a minute to look at a couple examples of how this works.

First up: “The Ball Game” as the preschoolers call it.

One of our 5-7 year olds helping out with a game of ball tag in the preschool class

The game is pretty simple, we use some big exercise balls and throw them at the kids, the kids have to run away and dodge the balls. If a ball touches them they freeze until rescued by another child. This can be through use of a technique (generally a takedown) shooting under the legs, helping them up from a seated position, etc.

The balls are big, bouncy, and while they can occasionally knock the kid off their feet don’t really hurt at all. Making it fun and safe.

But what are they learning?

There is the more obvious, they are running and exercising. They are learning basic tactics to run and zig zag, to predict collisions as they try to avoid the ball without running into it. Awareness of their surroundings, etc. They are also learning to fall (especially when they are using takedowns), get bumped and keep playing because… well… they are having fun doing so.

But the more important lessons of the game for young kids aren’t as obvious because we often take them for granted as adults.

Being able to resist the urge to run around when everyone else is running around and remain frozen is a skill that for a preschooler takes some practice. They are natural copy-cats who like to run… so when everyone else is running and they are to remain frozen their is a strong lesson in self-control going on.

The second really important lesson is learning to notice the other kids and when they need help, and then helping them. Preschoolers naturally love to help… but at the same time tend to view the world in a very self-centred sort of way for those years.

For the second example: Shield Sumo!

Shield Sumo at Summer Camp

This one gets used with all ages, and is a safe way to teach some really fundamental principles when it comes to wrestling. The basic idea is two opponents get a shield each, they win if the other person steps out of the ring or falls down. This is a game that goes great at all sorts of events and we often use in birthday parties as it is really easy to get started and a lot of fun to do.

But apart from simply smashing each other with shields it isolates some really important strategy and tactics.

When a stronger / bigger child is pushing into them they learn to snap back out of the way, making the pushing child fall / lunge forward. When someone attempts to smash them they learn to pivot. Pushing, pulling, pivoting & shoving are the keys to off balancing when it comes to takedowns and throws, and the game represents a simplified way to isolate and practice those elements in a very safe and very beginner friendly way.

 

Help Us Crush the Competition!

But first, let me tell you who my competition is…

It’s not some other martial arts school in the area, and we’ve had a couple open up in the past few years.

It’s not other sorts of gyms and sports.

It’s far larger then any of those…

We compete against bullies, that break down the confidence and self-esteem in kids that we are trying to build up.

We compete against Junk food companies, that makes our community over weight and lazy when we are trying to keep it fit and healthy.

We compete against big chain gyms that charge people for access and then let them fade away, paying for a membership they never use.

We compete against video games, that keep kids seated when they should be active.

We compete against a aged culture that says girls should look pretty and not be strong and fighters.

We compete against the diet industry that sells shakes, wraps and other “miracle” products that prevent people from doing things that actually make a difference.

We compete against a educational system originally designed to train workers rather then leaders.

So help us crush our competition, it’s not other sports or other martial arts schools. Those are our allies and we are fighting the same battle.

Martial Arts Culture pt 7 – Why So Serious?

I’ll be honest, we are goof balls.

Yup, it’s true, if you are looking for the stereotype of everyone always lined up yelling, looking serious and angry and appearing to be a military drill practice in funny pyjamas… well, that’s not us.

Study after study shows that both kids and adults learn best when they are having fun. They pay attention best when they are entertained. Even when serious topics are being discussed on a platform like ted.com, the most successful and impactful presentations and speeches often involve humour.

Kids tv figured this out years ago, hosts and actors are silly, fun and highly animated.

The truth is I’ve seen / heard so many martial arts instructors complain about teaching younger groups. They don’t like it, the kids won’t stay focused, they lack attention spans, etc. Yet for us all our staff love working with the younger groups and we see amazing results with them.

But we make a point to bring people on as instructors that are fun, animated, will be silly and play with the kids at their level. The most successful young kids instructor I’ve met started out in a Mickey Mouse costume at Disney… Getting results, real results, requires fun in our opinion :)

A taking the back drill turns into a pony ride…?

Was confidence / bullying a problem last school year?

The school year is over, and unfortunately for many kids that means relief, a break from problems with other kids.

It might be easy to take this time and breath a sigh of relief for the 2-months break, but September will come all too fast for kids that have had problems with bullies and confidence at school.

With this break from the things that drag kids confidence down in school it is the perfect time to build it up.

For the next 2-months there is a opportunity for all the kids that experienced confidence and bullying issues to take 10 steps forward, without being dragged 9 steps back.

Think about it, if you had a leaky roof that was causing you problems and you knew that you had 2-months of dry weather ahead would you breath a sigh of relief and ignore the issue until the next rain, or take the opportunity to patch the roof up (which is much easier to do when it’s not raining)?

It is far easier to deal with things when they are not in a problem state then when you are dealing with everything head on at the same time.

So if your child had problems last year in school, now is the best time to get them involved in something that will help them address those issues before having to go back to them. Martial arts is one that I feel very strongly for and have seen make a world of difference for many kids, but it’s not the only option. There are so many great camps, leadership building activities and other options available to kids that there is something for everyone.

That said keep the issue in mind when looking for a solution. If the issue is social (confidence, bullying, group behaviour, etc) the solution needs to be social as well. A child with trouble interacting with peers is not going to solve that through individual activities where they do not have to interact with peers.

Getting kids to do what they need to: Yes Patterns and No Patterns

As a continuation of the previous article here is another useful trick on getting kids to do what they need to.

Everyone that has worked with young kids has seen first hand how powerful “yes” and “no” patterns, especially “no” patterns can be.  This is when the child becomes set in a mindset where they refuse… well… everything and every answer is “no”.

It’s like a car that is stuck in reverse, every time you hit the gas you go backwards, regardless of where you want to go or where you try to steer.

If you know a child you can get a feel for the sorts of things that lock them in that “no” mindset sometimes, and this can help work them through it.

The trick is to first get them in a “yes” mindset, before hitting the potential obstacle.  Once that momentum is going it is easier to keep going then to start at the obstacle.  Think of it as getting through a snow drift, if you start at the drift and try to go you’re going to get stuck, but if you get some momentum going first you have a much better chance of crashing through it.

In class what does that look like?  Well, a simple example is how we start every preschool class.  We sit down, ask them how they are doing and what they’ve been doing. First we listen to them, then they will be more open to listening to us.  Next we start with something simple that every preschooler loves to do… we run.  If our warmups started with something hard like frog jumps it would be a lot harder to get them going.  So instead its something easy, something fun, and something they will want to do.

How might this translate to the home?

Find the things that are sources of resistance at home, and look for the elements of it that don’t meet resistance and start with those.  If bedtime is a trouble spot instead of starting with brushing teeth, try starting with picking out a bed time story,  then picking out PJ’s, then once a little momentum is built it is brush teeth so that we can read the story.

Build that “yes” momentum through fun things and choice, then use it to carry through to the pieces of resistance.

And if they do get stuck in a “no” mindset trying to push forward is not likely the solution.  It’s just like that snow drift, once you are stuck, you’re stuck.  Trying to go forward when it isn’t working just digs you in deeper.  You have to back up, reset, and try again.

This sometimes just means taking a break, letting them have a few mins to reset and then going at it different.  It can also mean changing focus to something completely different and unrelated until you get back in a positive mindset and then taking another approach.

Kids are really not so different from adults, although in some ways a little simpler.  If they have decided “no” and put themselves in that mindset forcing a change too it is taking away their sense of choice.  They sometimes get “stuck” a little more though, so if one thing is a “no” everything can become a “no” until they are able to reset a little.

More jedi mind tricks to follow, so keep watching our Facebook page or our blog :)

Getting kids to do what they need to: The choice trick

As a instructor I have the benefit of working with 100′s of kids in every age group. As well as being part of larger networks of experts and other instructors.

So I want to share some useful tricks me and my team use in class to work with different sorts of behaviour.

The thing to remember is that often kids get stuck in a specific mindset, and in order to get past it you have to change the approach.

For example, if we have a child that doesn’t want to do a technique pushing them to do it when they have decided not too is unlikely to work.

Defiance is part of kids finding their own way, learning to develop opinions and preferences. Once they have decided “no” changing that stated opinion is tricky.

One option is to give them a choice, rather then trying to force them to go against what they have already expressed. Even once they decide they do want to do it, they will have a hard time contradicting the opinion they already decided on.

So instead of and order “go do the technique” it becomes “do you want to do the technique with Sarah or Paris” and often that is enough to give them the sense of choice they desire.

This same tactic can be transferred to other aspects of their life as well. Just remember that often defiance is simply a desire for choice.

“Do you want Mom or dad to tuck you in?”

“Do you want to wear your red shoes or blue shoes today?”

“It’s time to go, what song do you want to play in the car?”

Offering a choice gives them some control and allows them to express preference. And once they have expresses it, just like once they have expresses defiance it affects their mindset. Once they have mentally and verbally committed to the red shoes, they are far less likely to refuse to put shoes on at all.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Practice what you want to be able to do… and don’t always colour within the lines

This seems obvious, but it isn’t always as obvious as we believe.

In order to get good at something, we have to practice it.  This is a fundamental concept when you look at study and learning skills in anything.

I was always a very practical learner, I learnt things by doing them.  I got good at math, computers, (and martial arts :))… things where you did things and solved problems.  I had a harder time in subjects that required more memorization.  Names, dates, terminology… those tests didn’t go as well.

After school and getting involved in teaching, both in Martial arts and post secondary, I think I figured out why.  I didn’t study for those right.

I could memorize things well enough, if they where things I was interested in.  But when it came to studying things I wasn’t interested in and had to memorize it didn’t happen.

Anyways, the trouble is if you want to be able to remember things you have to practice remembering them.  Seems simple, yet high school me re-read the same text over and forgot it all by the next day anyways.

This is why flash cards work really well in things where you have to remember information.  They force you to practice recalling the information, which makes it easier to recall.  Practicing reading the same information will make you better at reading it… but not always recalling it.

The same thing applies in the martial arts.  If I want to teach you to get good at taking someone down that is resisting, I need to get you to practice doing so.  Static drilling makes static drilling better, and that is important in developing technique.  But to truly get good at something to where you can do it live, you have to practice doing it live.

This is also something that sometimes is lacking in martial arts schools.  The goal becomes appearance rather then function, classes get run like military drill practices to keep things looking crisp and clean…  Creativity and learning to do things live looks messy at times, it is something that comes out of chaos.

It’s the difference between using a app that you scribble your finger in to paint a picture by filling in the area and it won’t colour on the outside of the lines anyways vs freehand drawing.

Sometimes we need to colour within the lines, it’s easier to get something that looks good that way.  It teaches us a isolated aspect of the whole, and is a good way to learn about important concepts.  But, in order to learn real skill and be able to freestyle we have to practice free styling, and sometimes it will look like scribbles.  :D

Bullying pt 1: What is Bullying?

Bullying is a subject that comes up far too often, and I’ve been fortunate enough to attend workshops with some of the top experts on the subject in North America. So hopefully this will be helpful to some of the parents out there. This is a pretty big subject, and one that I am going to split into a series of posts rather then one massive one.

The unfortunate truth is the problem is one that often goes unreported.  Part of that is failing to recognize what it is, and that there are ways to deal with it.  4 out of 5 cases of bullying go unreported to teachers / parents and everyone.

First, it is important to define what it is we mean when we say “bullying”, there are other behaviours that sometimes get confused with bullying, but bullying is a defined sort of behaviour. This is important as how we handle and teach childrento handle these different sorts of problems varies as well.

For something to be considered bullying it must be both intentional and repetitive. The behaviour must be aggressive, and with a (real or perceived) unequal balance of power.

Bullying can be physical, but it is mostly psychological.

Bullying behaviours is an attempt to take power from others, building themselves through knocking others down. It includes things such as:

  • Hurting others feelings
  • Public humiliation
  • Spreading rumours / gossip
  • Name calling
  • physically hurting them
  • etc.

Someone who is annoying, but unintentionally is not using bullying behaviour.   With younger kids especially some have a hard time keeping hands to themselves, or respecting other boundaries.  But without intent, it is not “bullying” and requires a different approach.

If someone is intentionally rude, but without consistence and repetitive behaviour this is also not bullying.  Bullying requires deliberate and repetitive behaviour designed to harm others.

Kids often don’t want to talk about being bullied, and find it embarrassing and shameful.  The things that receiving that sort of treatment tend to invoke.   This can often result in behaviour that comes across as disrespectful or acting out.  Faking sick, not wanting to do anything with a group, self isolating behaviour, talking back, etc.
In fact a lot of bullies where once vic
tims of bullying, and the bullying behaviour becomes a way of trying to take back the power that was taken from them.

It is important to remember that people that bully aren’t necessarily bad people.  They are often people that are hurting and lacking real confidence.  They attempt to coup with this through pushing others down to make themselves feel bigger.

It provides a short term and immediate sense of power, but it doesn’t help with real happiness.  Once bullying becomes a habit it is like an addiction, it is hard for them to have true friends and hold onto relationships that matter, and as they transition into adult head it will be hard to hold a job.  Bullying behaviour is an addiction, it hurts the people around the bully, but it also hurts them.

That is in a nut shell what bullying is, and is not.  Stay tuned for part 2 and we can start looking at how to deal with bullying.

What is a Submission?

One of the key concepts in martial arts is the idea of a “submission”, a point where one person taps out conceding the match.

This concept has been around for a long time, it is documented right back to ancient wrestling and pankration in Greece.  The means have varied in different times and places.  Raising 2 fingers, saying uncle, tapping out, etc.  But the idea has always been the same.

In a match one person places the other in a situation where they are forced to concede, recognizing that they are caught in a position where they would end up seriously injured if the match where a real fight.

Basically the “checkmate” of the martial arts.

Most people are familiar with the concept, it’s been getting used in Pro-Wrestling for years as a carry over from when the matches where not scripted.  UFC is now a household name as well.

But yet there is still some confusion around exactly what is going on.

A tap out is not one person giving up because something hurts.  It is one person giving up because they are in a position where they could be hurt.

When a person taps out due to being caught in a arm bar it is not because there arm is in excruciating pain, it is because they recognize that they are in a position where their opponent could cause serious injury to their arm if the fight where real.

Generally waiting until your arm is hurting to tap out is a terrible idea and will lead to damaged joints pretty quickly.

Of course pro-wrestling plays things up… but they are acting, not really trying to cause pain or injury.  And in professional MMA fighters will at times try to hold off on tapping out longer and sometimes to the point where they are doing damage to their joint, but they are professionals with a lot of money and their career on the line.

For the rest of us, that should never be the case.    We tap out because we recognize we lost, not because we are in pain or already hurt.

Why is the receiver the one that is responsible to surrender?  Martial Arts is a funny thing, it is an activity that both builds confidence and teaches humility when done right.  In the process of getting good, you have to surrender 1000′s of matches to people bigger, smaller, older, younger, stronger, weaker and every thing else.    Everyone gets caught sometimes, and everyone has to be willing to admit that they where physically defeated by anyone else on the mat if they get caught.

This is something I see as a huge benefit to building character over styles where all the scoring is done by a ref or judges.  Scoring points for hits which is fuzzy in the best situations too easily leaves the humility part lacking and the confidence turns to cockiness.  When you tap out it’s not a bad ref call, you lost, and you admit it.

Don’t forget to train your posterior chain!

One of the key things that often prevents people from developing functional strength vs mirror muscles / beach muscles is neglecting the posterior chain.

Basically these are all the muscles on the back side of you, the ones you don’t see in a mirror.  Part of it is likely just a out of sight, out of mind issue.

But the other part is those muscles are a little harder to train, especially without at least some equipment.  As a result a lot of home workout programs manage to do a decent job working the anterior chain (muscles on the front of you) but neglect the posterior chain.

The reason they are harder to train is in general these muscles work the “pulling” side of things, where as the other side of them is the push.  Using your weight and the floor gravity can help give you resistance for pushing exercises, but it is a little harder for pulling.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is strength training is all about balance.  Each muscle has an opposing muscle, your quads to your hamstrings, your biceps to your triceps, etc.  One pushes, the other pulls.

When your workout stresses one side and neglects the other you risk injuries doing ordinary things.  In the “real world” most things involve rotation.  If you throw a ball one side of your body pulls, the other pushes creating a rotation.  Same for shovelling, racking, pretty much anything.

When those muscles are unbalanced you have a strong muscle attempting to work with a weaker one, and it can’t keep up.  This can lead to pulled muscles in your back, hamstring, it can cause knee injuries, etc.

We already live a fairly anterior chain dominated lifestyle.  A lot of people spend pretty much their whole day using their glutes and hamstrings as something to sit on and little more.

So don’t neglect the posterior chain, it is vital for athletic performance as well as injury prevention.  It might not be as easy to train, and the aesthetics of it might not be as important if you are just looking to look good, but it’s a vital part of proper training and getting the best results you can.