A lot of kids get involved in martial arts for the valuable life skills that they can learn. Our second grader, A, is eighteen months into his martial arts journey with Taekwon-Do and is about to test for his Red Belt next month. I have really been impressed at the hard work and discipline he has learned from his experience among the other tenets of Taekwon-Do. What I have also started to realize is that some of the life skills he is learning are particularly important lessons for gifted kids to know. As a partial disclaimer, A cannot officially be placed in a formal gifted program until third grade. However, three teachers have basically flagged him for the program based on his school performance so far, so I feel that for purposes of this article, he qualifies as such. From my experiences as a former classroom teacher of eight years and a parent, I have noticed several skills gifted kids can learn from Taekwon-Do. While I would like to emphasize that these skills are good for kids of all ability levels, the particular skills I am going to discuss directly counter certain behaviors gifted kids can be prone to.
When something feels easy, gifted kids might only put in partial effort. Many teachers have called gifted kids out on not doing what they know is their best on an assignment. When something comes to them easily, it can be tempting for gifted kids to put in the bare minimum effort. It’s also not unheard of for gifted kids to get a little cocky about their abilities and start getting sloppy with the details. In regular school, a kid might get a lower score on an assignment but ultimately gets to move on in the curriculum. In Taekwon-Do, that is not the case. A student cannot move on without showing consistent mastery of their current level. In order to be allowed to test for promotion at my son’s school, he must earn a sort of mini stripe in four areas (Patterns, Knowledge, Sparing, and Basics/Stances). If he starts slacking off and getting careless, he can lose one of those stripes and not be allowed to test at all. If he makes a lot of little mistakes during a test, he could find himself not promoting or not promoting as high. This actually happened to A once as a Green Belt, and he very quickly learned that he needed to put more care into he was doing. When kids are sparring, they also cannot let themselves get sloppy or they risk the dreaded headshot. In my experiences as a Taekwon-Do parent, there is nothing that annoys a kid more than taking a headshot, especially in a tournament, where landing a headshot is an automatic win. To also counter the general need gifted kids have to be challenged, once they gain mastery they are bounced to a whole new set of skills so that they frequently have something new to learn.
Gifted kids can be tempted to “rage quit” when something isn’t immediately easy. At times gifted kids can be so used to something being easy that they often try to quit or avoid things that look like they require more effort. Learning the importance of putting in practice or more work to master something is a critical life skill. There have been several times, including that time when A got a little sloppy on his testing and did not promote to the level he expected to, that our son has learned that some of his “pattern” and “steps” have required more work to master. That had meant extra practice and more attention to detail. Patterns, in particular, simply cannot be mastered in one try the way using a particular math formula or grammar rule might be. The pride he has earned after that work has paid off in one of his little stripes or in a new promotion. At school, a kid might be able to move onto something new even if they didn’t quite master an aspect of the last unit. Taekwon-Do is not set up that way, and in order to move on a kid might be forced to put more effort or practice into something.
Not every gifted kid has the patience to work with kids who don’t get something that they do. In the classroom setting, I have noticed that gifted kids often struggle when they have to work with a student that doesn’t grasp a concept or skill as fast as they do, and it can be the bane of paired assignments or group projects. When Taekwon-Do students get to a certain level, they are required to start putting in time teaching and helping with teaching in order to promote. This teaching tends to be of students at a lower rank, which means they have to be able to work with someone who has not mastered the things that they have. It is a key lesson in patience that is extremely beneficial.
Taekwon-Do has had some great benefits for A. We are hoping that some of the challenging behaviors that are found in gifted kids will be far more countered by the life skills he’s learning from his martial arts journey. Since he is younger, we feel we have more time to try to address these behaviors before they become frustrating. Older gifted kids should still be able to pull these skills in as well, but they may put up more resistance in the beginning. Parents of kids that are gifted or are likely to qualify as gifted should consider enrolling their kids in Taekwon-Do or another martial art.
Do you have a kid or gifted child in martial arts? What benefits and skills has your child learned from their experience?