My recent article about teaching children martial arts at martialdevelopment.com drew a bit of controversy. Sensei Didi Goodman over at The Kids Karate Workbook wrote a recent post in response to it stating that although she agreed with the idea that exercise as punishment is not a great idea, she supports its use anyway, under certain circumstances. She makes some good points. I will try to refute her opinion here. As she is a friend of mine online and a worthy peer in the field of martial arts for children, I will keep our disagreements about this issue civil and friendly.
Here is the biggest reason I do not support exercise as punishment—it discriminates. Against who, you ask? Let me explain.
Exercise as Punishment is Discrimination
Scene #1: You have a class full of children doing their martial arts drills. One boy is constantly poking other children and doing exactly what you told him not to do five minutes earlier. You say “drop down and give me ten push ups”. He smiles at you in a challenging way, drops, cranks them out, and pops up as if to say “next”. Although you carry on with the class and try not to make a big deal out of it, the other kids can’t help but notice he is really enjoying it. Why? Because he has now just demonstrated his physical prowess in front of the whole class. What lesson has he learned? That next time he misbehaves it will be another opportunity for him to show off, and also gain the attention of the other children in the class; which is why he started acting up in the first place.
Scene #2: This time your misbehaving child is slight and weak. He experiences real pain and discomfort as he struggles with the pushups, and now has the added ridicule of the whole class because he can’t do them. What have you just taught him? That exercise will always be a source of ridicule and pain. He will grow to hate not only your martial arts classes, but also exercise in general. Although punishments should be uniform in order to fair, in this instance it discriminated against the weaker boy and rewarded the stronger boy. If you give the weaker boy less push ups to do, people will say you are not being fair, never mind the added humiliation of giving him a lesser number because he can’t do them. Which boy really needed to exercise the most? The weaker boy. Isn’t that just plain wrong?
No Difference Between Punishment and Discipline
Didi states in her post that you have to differentiate between punishment and discipline. I believe there is no difference. If exercise is used to enforce rules in the martial arts dojo, it is punishment, no matter how you look at it. The reason it is punishment–you are singling someone out for special treatment as a result of their behaviour. It is not conditioning, as some might call it, unless the whole class is doing it together, and with the knowledge that it will help them in their relevant sport.
Many states in the U.S. consider using push ups or other exercise in this way to be corporal punishment. It is against the law, because for many, it is painful and humiliating. In the end, it sends the wrong message to kids when they are at a very important stage in their development. A good teacher will find better ways to motivate children, like catching them when they doing something right and praising them. Let’s make sure we send our kids the right message about exercise, so they can grow up fit and healthy.
Check out Didi’s excellent blog at The Kids Karate Workbook for a balanced opinion on this subject. She is one of the true experts in the field of martial arts for kids. In the meantime, I would like to hear your thoughts on this issue, so don’t be shy.
Teaching Children Martial Arts: Exercise as Punishment is an original article by Sensei Matt Klein.