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Lessons on the mat from a 4-Year-Old

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

The last year has seen with it the development of two significant Tri-City Training programs -- the Kinder Karate class (offered to 3-5 yr olds) and the Cubs Wrestling program (for ages 4-5).  Both of these classes focus on teaching physical literacy, sport specific movement patterns, social skills, focus, and resiliency skills among others.

When considering how much these little ones really learn about "karate" or "wrestling", we are often pleasantly surprised by the skills they can demonstrate in a relatively short period of time.  More significantly however, are the characteristics that build a foundation for resiliency and personal development in life, that soon become evident both on and off the mats. Character development is a priority on the Tri-City Training mats both in karate and in wrestling.

When a three-year-old enters the dojo, he/she is learning physical literacy and developing movement patterns and skills that are foundational for life.  The social development and resilience and focus-training helps these young ones experience greater happiness and satisfaction in their (often) ego-centric worlds. These students have fun and develop physical and social skills at the same time. They learn how to train and as a result, build a foundation for learning that is transferable into any discipline.

One of the favourite activities during the warm-up is to 'play' animals - each student chooses an animal to act out as they run down the mats.  Collectively, they usually choose "poisonous snakes"  or "poisonous horses" or "poisonous cheetahs" and I do my best to evade their poisonous grasps as they reach their finish line.  It's great fun and learning is happening on many levels.  I can't help but laugh during every single class.

As the students march around 'raising their shields' to (barely) block their heads or evade my attack or attempt to turn over their club-mates in a rousing game of "bulldog", I can't help but appreciate that I am learning from them as much as they are learning from me. Over the years, I have learned to fine-tune instruction and create excellent lesson plans based on "best practices" in education, but part of this improvement comes with the realization that sometimes the teaching moments are not constructed at all.

Kinder Karate female young child in gi (karate uniform) smiling
Tri-City Training Kinder Karate Program

And on the days where I tie 10 karate belts 47 times each, and someone is crying, and someone is running the opposite direction, and someone needs to blow his nose... and I wonder what they are possibly learning, I'm graced with some incredible gifts.

One particularly challenging day, a rambunctious youngster said, "Sometimes I need to remind my brain not to drop my shields, but I'll keep trying." I was reminded that these youngsters can often easily articulate their mistakes or frustrations, and often have the strength to 'not give up trying'. How easily (as adults) do we admit our weaknesses and use it as fuel to move forward and keep trying? Over the years, there have been many things I've learned from the 4-year olds... here are a few...

1. Sometimes the best plan is to throw away the plan and "go with the moment".

2. Sometimes the four-year-old really does know best

3. Sometimes it's ok to be last place when you're having fun - embrace the moment.

4. Sometimes when the 4-year old says, "I don't want to listen. I'm the Toach", it's ok to say, "No, I'm the Toach. You need to listen."

5. The time in works... they keep showing up and eventually it "sticks"

6. Sometimes it's better to keel over in uproarious laughter than to finish the lesson. Sometimes that's the lesson.

7. Sometimes moving 'dragon eggs' around is the only way to learn collaboration and team work. Sometimes telling a story helps us understand each other and helps us better work together.

8. It's best to move out of the way...even before we try to block our heads...especially if our arms aren't long enough yet and don't block our heads anyway. Move first.

9. At this age, most of these four-year-olds will do something with their whole body... they give their 'whole selves' to the task at hand. They don't hold back because they think they might look 'dumb' or not get it on the first try. They throw themselves in... lessons to be learned here.

10. No matter how the class goes they end it with a 'high five'.

Every day I'm so grateful I get to spend time with these little heroes... each one carving his/her path and offering so much of themselves as they learn and grow. It's amazing how much we can learn from others...including 4-year-olds... if we open our hearts to do so.

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