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Helicopter  Parenting

Martial Arts Class

Traditionally  in many dojo across Japan and Okinawa, There's usually one or two black belts on the tatami  (mat )  teaching the arts.   One will  lead the class and the other  quietly  assisting the class.  Nowdays, here in the west, we seem to have ballooned to eight to ten instructor.  One on the floor and  the rest are teaching  from the dojo's observation or guest  room.  

If you ever had a chance to see a layout plan of a traditional dojo, you will notice one area missing from the blueprint.  The visitor lounge or parents observation room area.   Did the masters of budo foresaw having this particular  area  as distraction thus deemed unncessary ?   Perhaps, they did or one can only wonder.   Imagine Okaasan ( Mother)  giving instruction on the sideline to her child  during class  " You are cutting with the sword wrong Akihito !!" 

Parents are the original child social services.   They have the duty to  provide shelter, sustenance,  the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, and  medical care.  But ,  when it comes to martial arts, there's a thick line they cannot cross even if they are martial artist themselves.   

The truth to be told is that no one can give kids self esteem or self discipline.   You can blah blah blah your way  by  qouting or even misqouting  about the virtues of martial arts using   archaic samurai qoutes and made up buddhist philosophy.    The problem herein, is that its all talk.    The training  in  Karate is a moving philosophy by itself.   I have seen kids achieving the impossible by doing it without being pushed to succeed."


While there are numbers of reasons why kids quit or fail in karate.  about a good percentage of failures  are caused by  the parents.   I can list a number of things, but for this articles, I'll focus on the most obvious and less accepted truth.   The Helicopter parenting.  

But before, I ramble on, I need to established the fact that the my existence as a karate coach and instructor is not to hate and insuring that kids fail in karate or any sports endeavors.   I am proud of all my kids and I take full responsibility to insure that they can live up to the virtues of karate-do.   But their chances of success falls on the  parents and their  willingness  to cut off the umbical cord and  accept the fact  karate instructors have a monumental task ahead of them  without the parents as a backseat drivers. 


Helicopter parent  AKA Over-protective parents are detrimental in their child's  participation  and success in any sports.       I know several dojo has thier own labels for these types of parents.   I call mine the AH-64 Apache Parents.    This  refers to a military air assault weapon, a helicopter.  The AH-64  parents are seen as an combined attack unit that will do what ever it takes to ensure a favorable position for their child regardless.  


In my discussions with Dr. Steven Clark, a psychotherapist and Associate Clinical Professor at UCLA, who is also one of our Black Belts , Helicopter Parenting may have the effect of depriving students of the opportunity to find their own way of addressing adversity.



Martial arts training is a metaphor for challenges we must all face in life. With the guidance of Sensei, students will find their way without the well intentioned, but counterproductive, hovering of parents. It's an issue trust; believing in yourself, your child, and the many years of training and teaching that your child is fortunate to receive from Sensei.


These overprotective parents take on the role of being their older children's status negotiator and dominating advocate in order to make sure that their children an easy path to a prestigious life.    Kids  often picks up on this and tends to act upon it.   knowing that they can't do no wrong,  respect for others and the dojo goes out the window because the child's  mom and dad will straightened the instructor  on how to teach karate or how a karate dojo should be run.     


I've known one  mother  who is in contant movement around the dojo to insure they are within "whispering" range  on their child during class.    This becomes a confusing scenario because the child does not know who to direct their attention  to.    During one of my class, I was discussing about the finer point of Gyaku Tsuki ( reverse punch) ,  when it was time to execute the technique,  one mom from sideline was literally teach her child how "correctly" punch.   Mind you, It looks more like mom was teaching the kid  how to throw a frisbee than a punch.     Unfortunately,  The kid knows that she needs shelter and food, thus obeying  mom's instruction might be a good option and  idea at that time. 



Worst time and worst place  to be these type of parents is at karate tournaments, You see these types yelling and  screaming  on the sideline.  There's one instant where the coach was instructing his athlete to use Mawashi Geiri, but dad on the sideline keeps motioning to throw straight punch instead,  Guess who's to blame for losing that match  ?.    Coaches are often overwhelm and tends to back away to avoid conflict during the competitive events.   


Back at the dojo,    One respected coach I know was so fed up with the parental side coaching that he decided to stand in front of mom and removed his belt.  He presented his belt to the parents and respectfully ask mom to put on his belt and step on the tatami and show him the proper way of teaching karate.   


They are also known to fight their children's battles !  They will call their children's friends and families  to settle disputes, visit teachers to protest a bad grade, communicate with employers, or argue what they perceive to be unfair treatment in social and academic situations.    


A few years back, I recall an entire family numbering up to 4-5 sibblings, they would all come  together everyday.  Its nice to see such big support units.   One day,  during  sparring session, their sibling got struck in the face or more liked "bop" in the face.     


Suddenly, a  scene right out of National Geographic TV  special  where monkeys up on trees would bounced  up and down,  howling  and growling  when they detect a predator nearby.   The whole family family felt a great injustice was done towards their "baby" sibbling.      They would continually  bring back this incident year after year.   Oh, and the kid was twelve years old and yes, she quit  because the family was becoming her main source of embassment.    



Another trait of  these Apache parents  is they mistake their children's performances  as a reflection of themselves.   They are often ashamed of their  children being an under   under-performing karateka   because they feel they reflect poorly on themselves as parents, so they will engage in a process of justification, claim unfairness, favoritism,   list of excuses, or try to 'fix' the issue and then pretend they just did a great favor. 


The effect of this type of parenting often and in some case extremely deterimental to the child's growth and success in karate.   Instructors would simply shy away and often times request to teach in different times  not because of the child , but having to deal with the parents.   "its often easier to correct a young student what they do wrong than the parents"   


Children with this type of parenting  suffers from low self-esteem, a task that martial arts  instructors knows full well.   But the constant "shielding" from these parents takes away that task.   Kids also developed low social standing and lacked of respect for Heirarchy structure inside a traditional dojo. 


“Overall, stepping in and doing for a child what the child developmentally should be doing for him or herself, is negative,” Larry Nelson, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University, said in a statement. “Regardless of the form of control, it’s harmful at this time period.”



When confronted with these facts.  I never get the acceptance from these parents rather, All I get are accusations and  contempt.    Some accusations that  stands out are  "  You don't have a child of your own !"  " You don't know my child !".     Allow me to say , you are correct , but let me tell you this.   I may not know your child  off  the mat or away from the dojo, I may not know how to raise a child nor I am inclined to tell you how to raise your child.    But one thing I can be sure of, I know how YOUR child is on MY mat.   As a karate instructor, I am not here to give you or your child what they want, rather I am here to give them what THEY need.  


About the Author:  Prince Loeffler is the Shugyokan Shorin Ryu Dojo head instructor.    This article is copy righted and may not be copied or duplicated in any manner including printed or electronic media, regardless of whether for a fee or gratis without the prior written per mission of the author

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