What To Do With Your Son In This Era Of “Toxic Masculinity”?

Remember “Slug Bug?” If not, it was a game that I used to play when I was just a young lad.  Before Volkswagen had committed the cardinal sin of cheating at the expense of the environment by failing its breathalyzer test and then fibbing about it, Volkswagen made a “wagon for the people.”  They were ubiquitous…if and when you spotted one, you immediately announced it and then delivered a playful, taunting and exacting punch to your peer.  And when you blurted it out, you had to proclaim the color as well.  “Slug bug blue.”  “Slug bug black and blue.”  It seemed like those little Beattles were everywhere because we were looking for them, and precisely because they were everywhere.  

It wasn’t just a type of cognitive bias.  I suppose it proves the point of the proponents of toxic masculinity theory that we would gleefully hit each other while riding in the back seat of our parent’s wagons, or even while riding our BMX bikes to the pit, or trail or next best locus of aerial invigoration.  That is what we did as kids, and it wasn’t just the boys, but often times it was.  Skinned knees and welts from Volkswagen drive bys were just everyday pastime. Ride bikes, jump off things, wrestle, play tackle football, “slug bug,” ad infinitum. Was my hobby of punching my best pal on sight of a “slug bug” a telltale sign of or gateway activity that led to the very behaviors proscribed by the Toxic Masculinity Intelligentsia?

Now that I’ve brought it up, let’s set aside the theory of toxic masculinity, the extent to which it exists, and how it is said to effect men in general and society at large.  A well crafted martial arts training regimen is a beneficial prescription for all involved; those adamant that it is a scourge on the psychology of the modern male that leads to psychopathology and normative violence against women and men alike, and those who counter that it is a hack theory and politically correct WMD aimed at the traditional values that have informed and defined men since the beginning of time…put down the rhetorical bayonetts!

Here is why you might want to enroll your son in a Martial Arts program whether or not you give credence to the theory of “toxic masculinity”!

Play Hard, Study Hard, Sleep Hard.

I’m still kinetic though my testosterone levels abate.  Those who know say such emasculation happens to a man in his 40s.  I have two kids to boot, and having children, I guess, exacerbates the decline.  When I was a kid I needed to be moving even if it was just my fingers, but usually my fingers and toes were the last things in the chain to wiggle.  I would rock in my chair, fidget with my feet.  Because I had trusting, hands-off parents who let me set my own agenda within reasonable boundaries, I played outside everyday in any way, shape or fashion that I could dream up.  I also studied in school very diligently.  One mode of activity complemented the other.  If there was a hierarchical relationship between the two, I wasn’t aware of it. If I played hard, I studied diligently and vice versa. 

These days, as public school assessment scores flag and school recesses are curtailed, children need physical outlets to complement the intellectual demands of the moment.  When your child is regularly, physically engaged and challenged, he will be able to better focus on his academic pursuits.  Moreover, your child will have more restful and restorative sleep, which scientists now know is essential for healthy psychological development.

Your son’s hyperactivity and rough and tumble behavior is welcome here.

Exuberant physical behavior, such as I fondly recounted from my youth above, is healthy especially when channeled in a constructive manner.  A good Martial Arts program will provide a safe, encouraging space in which kids can develop.  It will acknowledge and validate a child’s physical needs and remind him that ‘we accept him’ even if he has to be encouraged to behave better with the use of disciplinary measures.  Clear rules about what is permissible and the penalties for infraction help a child to further develop the behavioral framework that is being established by his/her parents so that he can better interact and thrive in school, at home, eventually in the workplace and perhaps in a family of his own.  Obviously this type of grounding is beneficial for the individual and society at large.  Such men are more inclined to be pillars, leaders and committed fathers to sons and daughters of their own some day.

 A combination of physical exertion, fun intellectual games, and self-defense lesson is a good recipe for a kid’s program depending on age and developmental level.  In my opinion, every parent should make it a priority to foster in his/her child a healthy relationship with physical activity…even if it isn’t with martial arts.

MMA cultivates the mind and rewards problem solving.

While martial arts may seem like a grossly physical discipline, physical problems require intellectual solutions.  I always say that MMA is the thinking person’s sport.  Children will learn to reason during physical practice and exertion.  Given the fluid, dynamic nature of Mixed Martial Arts, constant decision making is required for split second problem solving.   Forms encourage kids to remember mechanics.  Combinations and obstacle courses will promote sequencing abilities.  Round timers will help children to perform optimally during a given time period; this is the microcosm within the macrocosm.  Children will be administered countless academic tests which may determine their academic trajectory.  The impending 4th technological revolution will reward people who have excellent “soft skills” like time management, critical thinking, decision making, flexibility, conflict resolution, creative thinking, teamwork…the robots are on their way to take care of the rest!  

Contrary to popular belief, MMA is a team sport.

My gym is just like any other job place or classroom or scholastic athletic team.  Our competition team consists of teammates who share the abstract common goal of excellence and victory, even while each will challenge himself to perform independently. A fighter cannot properly prepare himself for a competition without the guidance of a coach and the help of stablemates with whom he can drill, spar, condition and even commiserate.  And just as within the workplace, it is often hard to find and retain good help.  Showing up on time.  Doing what you have said that you would do, consistently.  Graciously receiving help when you have a competition coming up, and being available for a teammate when you don’t.  A martial arts regimen should demand and encourage this through activities and ethics.  Kids will live that code and be taught by and privy to coaches and other students who embody such behavior.

Confidence is important for standing up to would be abductors and bullies.

Children should be confronted with roll playing scenarios that bring concepts into the real world of school cafeteria confrontations, movie nights at the mall with rowdy teens, and even confrontations with bullies on the way home from study group.  Children will learn the conscienceless tools of defense and offense, but, as we know, with power comes responsibility.  Helping children to develop the physical martial arts tools without an understanding of how and when they should be used can lead to the very thing that martial arts often seeks to address. The world doesn’t need more bullies.   Children need to learn to be accountable for their newfound abilities.

Failure is a good option.  In fact, it is encouraged. 

Kids will fail in their lives.  They will fail in school, at kickball, while playing video games…How they learn to deal with that failure will define them.  That is no overstatement.  A good Martial Arts program will also help a child learn to deal with failure.  Eventually the goal should be for him to see failure as an opportunity to redouble his efforts and grow.  When a child can reapply himself physically and think his way through the best methods of solving physical problems, his confidence swells.  A well planned MMA program will provide a space in which children can engage problems, challenge themselves, fail in a supportive environment and set goals to overcome obstacles.  When a person, let alone a child, begins to set goals and meet those challenges, it inspires a positive feedback loop of growth.

Martial Arts has its own community, obviously.

A child enrolled in a Martial Arts program will interact with like minded kids and parents who share similar values, philosophies and goals.  Lifelong friendships often begin this way, and playdate vetting pretty much takes care of itself.  Billy and James both like to wrestle for fun, and they like Star Wars.  Sounds like a good start to me!  

Do your homework.

Irrespective of what you think about toxic masculinity, a well thought out and implemented Martial Arts regimen is a boon to the child, the family, the greater community and society.  There are a variety of philosophies, intensity levels, and art forms that fall under the “Martial Arts” catchall heading.  Call around, ask questions and observe classes.  Sometimes starting a new activity can be intimidating for both parent and child, especially Martial Arts.  Gentle encouragement is recommended, but forcing a child to participate against his or her will runs the risk of discouraging the child from participating in not just any of a variety of Martial Arts programs, but possibly athletics in general.  It’s a fine line. Being a parent of only a couple years now, I am still learning to walk it myself.  

There are many excellent programs in the Puget Sound Area.  If you live in or around Tacoma feel free to drop in on the Ludusport youth program.  I’m quite biased to be sure!  This is a non-paid advertisement for Ludusport…blah, blah!  If not our gym, we hope that your kids make it into a gym that embodies these principles!

Disclaimer:  this is not, by omission, an affront or a condemnation of girls or womens involvement in combat sports.  Girls are considered equals at the Ludusport gym and all brother and sister schools in the Pacific Northwest, at least in so far as I’m aware.  This article trains its sights on the notion of toxic masculinity as it affects boys in particular as contemporary popular culture is fertile ground for discussions about this theory.  Incidentally, the youth who is probably the most accomplished in Ludusport Pankration just so happens to be a girl!

academy: ludusport.com

youth video: https://www.facebook.com/ludusporttacoma/videos/889951424503340/

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