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Should Your Child Learn Self-Defence?

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In September 2017, the Royal Malaysian Police revealed that 4 children go missing every day in Malaysia. Against this backdrop and other frightening statistics, should our kids be learning self-defence?

Makchic speaks to SEN Master Academy‘s Master Eric Khoo (Principle Instructor) and Master Mohd Khaldun Redza (Chief Instructor). Khaldun is a 7th Degree Black Belt with 40 years of experience in Taekwon-Do, and Khoo is a 5th Degree Black Belt, with 25 years. Makchic is collaborating with Me Books Asia and SEN Master Academy in a Kids’ Self-Defence 101 workshop, which will be held on the 29th of April, 2018.

Some would say children are too young to be taught self-defence – what is your view?

Khoo:  In my opinion, toddlers may be too young to understand self-defence. Older kids, say from 5 onwards, will begin to understand the concept of danger and will appreciate self-defence training to some degree. In any case, self defense is not just about physical techniques but soft skills as well. It is hard to imagine a child fighting off an adult, though it is not impossible. Therefore it is important to learn awareness of their surroundings. They can learn to identify what constitutes as danger in order to avoid a possible threat.

Khaldun: We strongly believe that everyone must learn self-defence and be aware of how to keep themselves safe, regardless of gender, age and condition. Learning how to keep one’s self safe is one of the most critical life-skills that we can inculcate in our children.

The question however arises, what would be the most conducive age for us to instil self-defence and safety awareness? It is my firm belief that it should be at the earliest possible opportunity when the child has developed self-awareness. This is when they have an understanding of their environment and surroundings. It is also as soon as they begin interacting with others beyond their immediate family. As Eric had mentioned, toddlers may be too young to understand complex self-preservation concepts. But we should already try to instil some safety notions.

What are these ‘safety notions’ – how necessary are they?

Khaldun: A good and appropriate age to broach such complex concepts such as Stranger Danger, Good Touch and Bad Touch, and Situational Awareness would be from 4 to 5 years old.

A major point to note is that statistics reveal that at least one in 10 children in Malaysia have been, or continue to be sexually abused. One in four have been physically abused. Children today are vulnerable and exposed to all forms of danger. Teaching a child self-defence and safety awareness at a young age is no longer an option. Along with music classes or language classes, it has now become a necessity.

Another point to note is as Eric had explained, self-defence awareness and skills goes beyond physical know-how and aggressive techniques. The common misconception is that self-defence training is for the rough and tough. That it involves exposing children to violence and aggression. Self-defence is a mindset. It is an outlook, an attitude, an approach. Knowledge of soft-skills can be even more vital to one’s survival over physical prowess, or proficiency in super-cool Bruce Lee moves.

What are the other benefits of teaching children self-defence?

Khoo: Most people, even more so children, will not know what to do when faced with a dangerous situation and will likely freeze. Training in self-defence will help you to identify the threat and learn how to deal with it, and give you an opportunity to minimise danger to yourself.

Khaldun: It has often been said that failing to plan is planning to fail. Self-defence involves strategies, mental as well as physical conditioning. Consistent and continuous practice empowers the child with the presence of mind, know-how and confidence to avoid danger. They will also know how to respond appropriately and minimise harm to self. This is the core philosophy behind our A.R.M. Self-Defence approach.

Would it be better for parents to enrol their children in regular classes like taekwondo, karate or some martial arts to better defend themselves?

Khoo: Yes, as martial arts instructors, we are of the opinion that children will benefit from martial arts classes, whatever the martial art may be. Besides self-defence, they will also gain the benefits of health and fitness, better focus, team-playing and self-confidence. We have students who have gone on to improve academically after being involved in martial arts training. Also, in a traditional and classical martial art like Taekwon-do, we emphasise the teaching of life-values through our tenets – ‘Courtesy, Integrity, Perserverance, Self Control & Indomitable Spirit’ – which the child will carry on to adulthood.

What is the most important thing parents need to do to ensure their children’s safety?

Khoo:  Parents need to talk to their children and develop a bond of open communication. A child will always look to his or her parents for protection. Parents should be able to find out who their friends are and what they do on social media (if they are old enough to have an account). Asking how their day went will give the parent an idea of what the child is going through. They will be able to pick up signs if their child is in distress, for example, if the child is being bullied in school.

Parents will have to talk to their kids about dangers they might face, whether it is strangers approaching them or about being alert or not distracted by electronic gadgets in public. They could also imbue aspects of physical self defense through playtime.

I’m afraid of introducing more ‘violent’ concepts like fighting, hitting or attacking to my child. How can I navigate this area carefully?

Khoo: It is normal for parents to think that learning martial arts will make their kids more violent. But nothing can be further from the truth. In our classes, kids are always reminded that the skills they learn should never be used to harm others unless it is to defend themselves or their family. With our students, we emphasise that we do not condone the use of their skills to bully or to show off. If they are found doing so, they will be expelled from class. Children do understand what is right and wrong. We are glad to say that our students have adhered to our advice.

Khaldun:  It is important for us as adults to keep indoctrinating into our children that violence is not-acceptable. It is never a solution or an option. But we must not sugar-coat the fact that there are bad and violent people out there. That violence can happen to us or our loved ones if we are not careful. Awareness and avoidance is key. Teaching this to pure, innocent and trusting children especially those aged 4 – 5 years will of course require tact, gentleness and creativity. But you’ll be surprised – children these days can have a higher level of empathy and comprehension that we think they are capable of.

This depends on the quality of instruction.

Khairun: A good and responsible teacher will coach their children that the best way out of danger is to avoid it, or to walk away from it. It does not mean that we are cowards. It means that we are smart and brave. We learn how to fight so that we do not need to fight. In every class we will always stress that the skills they are being taught are strictly for the protection of self, family and loved ones. As the child progresses in their self-defence or martial arts training they will become stronger and more capable. They will realise this and it will boost their self-confidence.

They can cause hurt to others if they do not control their actions. We constantly remind them that the ultimate goal of all martial artists is to learn self-control, and to have control over their weaknesses and circumstances. They will be taught to control and bridle their power, impulses and reactions. A responsible and conscientious instructor will ensure this.

What will parents and children come away with after attending this workshop?

Khoo: They will learn to a least be mindful of possible threats out there and have some knowledge in dealing with particular situations. Will the lessons learned keep a child out of harm’s way 100%? No it won’t. But the child will have presence of mind to identify threats and be able to do something about it, at the very least. Parents will have learned some useful information and physical techniques to practise with their children. Self-defence is not something you learn one-off in a workshop and remember forever. It takes continuous practice to refine.

 

By Laych Koh


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