It might seem counter-intuitive that allowing kids to hit and kick each other would actually teach them how to self-control and self-discipline. Because we are doing sparring in the advanced classes this block I wanted to talk about some of the not-so-obvious benefits associated with sparring.
Ok... so this one is sort of obvious, but... still worth mentioning. Kids need to learn to take a hit. They also need to learn how to hit. Why? It teaches them to overcome their fear. Fear of hitting and of being hit. Learning to overcome physical fear is a way of developing courage in our kids -- especially when it is a controlled environment, with helpful and supportive coaching. Learning to take a physical hit develops their confidence and translates over to mental toughness. When kids learn to deal with physical confrontation they also begin to learn the mental toughness necessary to deal with verbal and emotional abuse as well as dealing with disappointment and failure. Life can pack a punch and hit hard sometimes. The mental toughness to get back up and keep going is an important life skill.
There is something scary and overwhelming about someone standing in front of you trying to kick you, punch you or knock you down... even when you have protective gear on and referees standing by. Kids need to learn how to handle and deal with stress and to not collapse when under pressure. During sparring kids learn to deal with that stress. They learn to breath and stay relaxed, to be calm and composed even when challenged under pressure. This translates over to dealing with stress from parents, academics and even social pressure from their peers.
Aggression is a natural part of life. Watch your 2 year old have a temper tantrum and you immediately realize that anger is inherent in all of us. Unchecked aggression can be destructive. Sparring teaches kids how to turn on their aggressiveness and assertiveness and then reign themselves back in and turn it off. They learn how to flip the switch between being emotionally charged to being calm and controlled. Learning the self-awareness to stop at the appropriate time keeps kids out of trouble, especially as they get older and bad choices can have life-changing consequences.
Culturally and at school our kids are learning that "everybody is a winner". The truth is life doesn't play by those rules. In life there are winners and losers. Sparring teaches our kids that there are winners and losers but also allows us to teach our students to win with grace and humbleness. It also teaches our students that losing means there are still lessons to be learned and that we must work to make ourselves better. A winner cannot win if he doesn't have an opponent against whom he can demonstrate his skill. The loser has an opportunity to learn and to do better the next time. If you lose, don't make excuses... on that day or in that match the other person was just better. Deal with it. These are skills kids need for life. If they can learn to approach competition with both honor and humility (when they win and when they lose) they can do the same in life.
In the sparring ring things rarely go "as planned". Sparring is dynamic and unpredictable. Your opponent rarely complies and does what you want them to. It requires kids to take the things they have learned and improvise to make things work. They learn the physical attributes of balance, speed, timing and accuracy. Those physical skills have mental, emotional, and social counterparts. When students gain confidence in their ability to combine and create in the ring, they can take those skills and apply them "on the go" in life situations. The confidence gained here cannot be faked. It is confidence gained through competence. It is the kind of confidence that helps kids know they can handle bullies or stop aggressors, or that they can handle that algebra final exam, or anything else life throws at them for that matter.
Even though your child may be tentative about or fearful of sparring, or you may be scared for them... it is one of the most beneficial activities martial arts has to offer. The truth is kids injuries from sparring are extremely rare and mostly composed of bumps, bruises and occasional jammed finger, thumb or toe. While it is not entirely without risk, the skills learned from participating in sparring can help your child succeed in life.