Kids Kick Up Self-Esteem with Martial Arts

Students at the Baltimore Elite Martial Arts Academy learn the Korean martial art of taekwondo (Provided)

Krav Maga, Hebrew for “contact combat,” is Israeli self-defense and street fighting, said Brian Kushner, head instructor at Roundhouse Krav Maga & Martial Arts. It’s “really just martial, without any art.”

Krav Maga’s focus on straightforward fighting and self-defense, said Kushner, “is a way to defend yourself on the street.” Although there are “military, law enforcement and VIP protection” forms of Krav Maga, Roundhouse Krav Maga & Martial Arts teaches what Kushner calls the “civilian version,” which shows students “how to avoid, prevent and if something bad happens, how to protect yourself.”

With Krav Maga, “you learn the technique straight off,” Kushner said. “If you took an hour class with me, by the time you left you would know how to defend yourself on the street.”

Epistemic benefits include “self-confidence, the feeling that you can defend yourself,” which, Kushner said, “can even be a deterrent” for an attack.

“As a woman, you may not be physically as strong as a man,” said Kushner, “but we work on techniques and ways where that evens out.”

The physical health benefit of Krav Maga comes from “a lot of repetition to create muscle memory. That way when you do have to defend yourself you don’t have to think about it,” said Kushner. “If you don’t practice under duress, or when the heart rate is up, which is what happens when you defend yourself, you can’t do it. Or it takes too long to react.”

Karate also works the mind with the body, said Jonathan Tissue, owner of Maryland Martial Arts in Timonium. Tissue said karate practitioners enjoy “improved concentration, endurance, balance, stress-relief” and even the social benefit of “meeting new people and being part of a team.”

All of these benefits come in conjunction with a thorough physical-fitness class. “It’s a great workout for the muscular and cardiovascular systems,” said Tissue. “We do a lot of kicking techniques and punching techniques in the air and on bags.”

Tissue said for some kids, karate “becomes a source of pride for them. It helps them find themselves. Many kids are, at their age, dealing with issues of identity and self-esteem. Kids who really apply themselves to their training get a sense of pride in their accomplishments. It becomes a big part of who they are.”

Discipline for the mind and body, Tissue said, is a big component of karate. But rather than employing “a rigid, authoritarian” atmosphere, Tissue said discipline “builds kids up rather than bringing them down.”

James Dorff Jr. was a construction worker in his mid-forties when he joined Baltimore Elite Martial Arts Academy, hoping their taekwondo program would “slow down the aging process.”

The student became the teacher, and today Dorff is the lead instructor at Baltimore Elite. Known to his students as Mister Jimbo, Dorff said the benefits of taekwondo rejuvenated him in more than one way.

With a new curriculum at every belt level, Dorff said, “study” and “progressive training” meant continuous learning as the physical fitness benefits accumulated.

Taekwondo is the Korean martial art of the hand and foot, Dorff explained, which means there is a lot of kicking and punching, but not a lot of floor work. Dorff enjoys seeing his students grow and mature with the program and seeing them conduct themselves with a sense of pride.

He said the mind-body exercise keeps him young except “when I spar with the younger kids. That’s when I feel older again!”

Erica Rimlinger is a local freelance reporter.

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