REAY JESPERSEN:
WRITER OF, AND DABBLER IN,
MANY THINGS

On Martial Arts For Children

I’ve long wanted to get into martial arts myself — I haven’t, for any number of reasons/excuses, although my brief dabble with a friend’s capoeira classes was really enjoyable — as a means of both regular exercise and learning self-defense.

Then along came Laila, and while it was some years before I really started giving it much thought (regular Daddy duties are already plenty time-consuming enough, not giving new parents any time for things like sleeping and eating properly and remembering pants and how to engage with adults, though in retrospect perhaps those last two are connected), I realized that I wanted her to be able to defend herself as well.

Preparing our kids for being able to succeed as a good person in the world of course includes teaching them of dangers. Look both ways before crossing the street, don’t pet the doggy that’s growling and baring his teeth at you, light sockets aren’t for fingers, etc. But at some point you need to explain, without totally freaking them out or providing nightmare fodder, that there are people in the world who want to hurt them. Not them in particular, necessarily, but who want to hurt people. And it’s a natural extension of that, I think, that from as early an age as practically possible, your kid should be taught self-defense. Martial arts, especially with being great exercise as well, seems to fit the bill nicely.

Which begat something of a rabbit hole for me. I don’t think I got caught up excessively with finding the best martial art for a young girl to take (although I’m pretty sure I saw Jackie’s eyes glaze over when I tried to break down my conclusions after a late night of educating myself online about various styles and their strengths), but I grant I may have spent more time than needed. My concern was mainly that I wanted her to be able to handle herself in whatever circumstances arise, with the main goal of getting away safely. To that end, I may have gotten distracted by notions of the tendency of some martial art styles to be more about, for instance, taking down your opponent and then dominating them on the ground with X, Y and Z methods of choke holds or joint locks.
That’s all fine and well, but in my head, once Laila has her opponent (in this case, a real life assailant) on the ground, she’s running the hell away, she’s not grabbing their arm and easing back to risk snapping an elbow (in the ju jitsu style), and I don’t want her to focus primarily on kicks (Tae Kwon Do) or more on grappling than strikes (Judo, although of course in this close quarters scenario I’m imagining she’d be in, there’s an absolute need to know about grappling)… she could do some krav maga, but wing chun is made for people of smaller stature… it all gets a bit dizzying. To say nothing of the reality of the situation: Once deciding upon the martial art I really wanted her to get into — whatever it was, I honestly can’t recall now with my terrible memory plus the blur of research — it turned out that no one around here taught that specific style.

So back to square one.

Or so I thought.

Cut to perhaps a year later, wherein notions of her self-defense continued to bubble at the back of my mind, a friend of hers started ju jitsu.
Laila, of course, wanted to follow suit, because hey, it sounds cool and the friend has fun there.
So Jackie and I are considering it, when Boom, Laila is invited to a birthday party by another friend at the dojo the friend was attending.
Note to new parents: Dojo birthday parties are a thing now.
The party consisted of an hour of (sincerely) fun “game” drills in the dojo (conveniently a handful of blocks from our house), then a break for snacks and cake and the usual party fare, then a bit more time punching and kicking and doing tumbles.
Turned out that not only did Laila have fun at the party, but she liked it so much that she wanted to join the friend’s class. She wanted in.
We signed her up two weeks later and she’s now taken her first class. Not only did she like it, but she showed me two distinct ways that she was taught to break away from someone attacking you; one from the front and one from behind.
That was her first class.
Turns out this particular style, Goju Juitsu Ryu, is a blend of the takedowns and submission style of ju juitsu combined with some striking aspects of karate. And, evidently, it teaches you from the get-go two ways to deal with being grabbed by someone.

I couldn’t have asked for anything better for her that’s also literally the closest possible place she could have gone for lessons.

Sometimes you can be as prepared as you want to be for something that never happens, while the exact perfect thing falls into your lap unexpectedly.

A unique high

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