‘The first five years have so much to do with how the next eighty turn out.’ – Bill Gates

Barely out of diapers, precocious pre-schoolers using iPads is an all too familiar sight, as tech-savvy toddlers enjoy a remarkable comfort level with even the most sophisticated 21st century communication devices.  By the age of three or four, what began as ‘entertainment’ may have evolved into a viable learning tool, or an all-consuming diversion.

There’s no shortage of experts extolling the benefits of smartphones, tablets and interactive media, citing gains in hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills, and praising a global encyclopedia that can be quickly accessed with a few key strokes.

While there is substantial data to support these claims, shouldn’t a child’s development extend beyond the virtual world?  Should ‘facetime’ hold the same value as face-to-face time, and does interactive equate to interaction with others?  Additionally, what role can martial arts play in helping children and youth cultivate interpersonal skills – that is, the ability to communicate and interact, verbally and non-verbally, with others?

When Northern Karate Schools was launched in 1972, there were no personal computers. Children used pencils, notebooks and texts, and research was stored in brick-and-mortar libraries, where youngsters could be found on line (as in ‘queues’) versus on-line.  While much has changed over the past 45 years, what has remained constant is the social benefit NKS students derive from their practice, including heightened empathy, compassion, and self and mutual respect.

What is new is our approach, particularly with more preschoolers arriving at our dojo than four decades ago, many with heightened fine motor skills but substantially underdeveloped social aptitude. The same 3 or 4-year old who demonstrates impressive dexterity when using PDAs is uncomfortable with the simple physical act of shaking hands.  The 5 or 6-year old PlayStation master tethered to a mouse has difficulty making eye-contact. The 7 or 8-year old gaming prodigy with razor-like screen focus can’t toss and catch a pad or learn basic routines, and the 9 or 10-year old who possesses the stamina to swipe, upload and download for hours lacks the energy to complete a half-hour class.  Tweens and teens with hundreds of Facebook friends or Twitter followers don’t have a single confidant, and while tweeting and posting is second-nature, the ability to communicate one-on-one evades them.

Teaching these boys and girls the value of real interaction through a high-touch physical activity like martial arts provides them with a foundation for empowerment and empathy as they mature from child to tween, and adolescent to adult.  Investing time and attention into our youngest members, at NKS we’ve witnessed remarkable progress – physically, emotionally and behaviorally, as students blossom into more coordinated, confident and social individuals.  How?  NKS is unique.  We represent a community dedicated to both team and personal success.  Lesson plans emphasize the extrinsic and intrinsic value of establishing and achieving goals.  In-class drills challenge students to work together and independently, take the lead or follow their dojo mates, or wait their turn as they learn patience and respect for others.

Bottom-line: Children require technical literacy to lead us into the future.  They also need interpersonal social abilities to build a better world and Northern Karate Schools’ classical and cutting-edge system has been helping youngsters develop social skills for more than four decades…and counting.  To paraphrase Mr. Gates, we remain committed to ensuring their ‘first five years’ at NKS will prepare them for the next eighty.

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