Karate Works for Personal Growth in Girls at Cedar Ridge
Karate Training at Residential Treatment Center Helps Girls Build Self-control & Assertiveness
By: Rob Nielson, Program Director & Chief Instructor
At Cedar Ridge Residential Treatment Center, experience reveals depression and anxiety are occurring more and more often among young girls who are being referred into treatment. More girls are feeling stuck, too afraid to stand up for themselves. Feeling stuck leads to repressed emotions. Repressed emotions are a major reason why girls dissociate and cut themselves as a means of seeking relief from these emotions. Such relief-seeking strategies only serve to reinforce the hurt and pain that cause these behaviors. Left unchecked, relief-seeking behaviors set the girl up for a lifetime of hurt and ineffective strategies for resolution of these feelings.
Learning the appropriate expression of feelings and practicing being confident and assertive goes a long way toward helping girls overcome repressed feelings. Our karate classes provide a solid foundation for appropriate, assertive expression of feelings and the ability to stand up for oneself. Formal karate teaches self-control and self-discipline. With correct training, karate is an antidote to aggressive and impulsive reactions. A disciplined training routine does wonders for depression and anxiety.
Karate can provide a wonderful format for teaching the appropriate expression of feelings. Sometimes, being assertive (like arguing to get your way with a parent) is a skill the girl has, but then doesn’t use in situations where she needs to use it. In some girls that skill just doesn’t seem to exist. If that’s the case, then karate, along with individual and group therapy, can help build that skill set.
Karate training at Cedar Ridge Academy is invaluable in helping build this skill set. I’m not talking about the local karate studio. My reference to karate training refers to the way that I personally teach karate. The methods that I use are tempered by the 40+ years that I have been teaching Shotokan karate, coupled with more than twenty years of conducting therapy with adolescent girls.
Traditional Karate Training Helps Girls have Healthy Interactions with Boys
The traditional discipline of karate effectively conditions confident and assertive behaviors in my students. In addition to the basic karate skills, my extensive therapeutic background enables me to provide experiential exercises that facilitate the appropriate and congruent expression of thoughts and emotions that girls repress.
Over the past twenty years I have seen a steady decline among the girls with whom I have worked when it comes to standing up to boys. The media is partly to blame for this, but without getting into why girls are more willing to accept abuse from boys, this rate of decline is disturbing. More girls are willing to take a submissive role in a relationship with boys. Getting girls to role-play assertive behavior with each other increasingly triggers resistance.
In my experience, fear of rejection by boys drives this resistance. Even after a girl has experienced abusive, demeaning behaviors from a boy, she would rather repress the hurt than stand up for herself. On the other hand, there are more boys who expect the girl to fall in line or else be criticized and ostracized for not going along with what the boys wants. These girls gravitate toward the “bad boys”, the risk-takers who portray themselves as strong and confidant, which makes this dynamic worse. Many of these boys present this image as a means of compensating for insecurities. When this fragile narcissism takes a hit, this (bad) boy will react with anger, even rage, whenever their veneer of being cool becomes threatened.
Much has been written about girls with insecurities being attracted to the grandiose behaviors of boys who have a lot of narcissism and how destructive these relationships can be. Even after being mistreated, these girls stubbornly continue their idealization of, and loyalty to abusing relationships. Letting go of abusive relationships is often the last of all the developmental tasks to accomplish in therapy and, when accomplished, is a sign that the girl is now strong enough to want to choose situations that are truly in her own best interest. The “centering” that girls learn through karate training accelerates them toward the inner strength requisite for standing strong.
Learning how to Center Creates Poise and Grace in Girls
Centering encompasses physical, emotional, and spiritual principles. Physically, karate’s power comes from the core muscles. Learning to tighten the core and relax the chest and shoulder muscles creates a strong feeling of stability. Contrasted to the tensing of chest and shoulder muscles when anxiety is triggered, centering alone stabilizes mood and nurtures a “fighting spirit,” making it easier for a girl to demonstrate assertive and confident responses to events that would otherwise cause them to repress emotions. Centering facilitates fluidity and balance of movement. Centering opens the door to having poise and grace. Not to be confused with a rough and tumble activity, karate is an art form closer to ballet than to media portrayals. Some girls begin karate, thinking that they won’t like it, only to become strong supporters of the discipline when they start to feel and see the personal benefits, both physically and psychologically.
Whether through basics, kata (forms) or kumite (engagement with a partner playing the role of an opponent), attending to the congruent emotional set during practice conditions into the practitioner a greater and greater ability to react effectively to stimuli that would previously threaten that individual. Physical and emotional components combined in this manner foster an elevated sense of consciousness, which is the way I define spirit, i.e. Chi (intrinsic energy) or Ki (the Japanese equivalent of Chi). Students learn to “kai,” which is defined as spirit shout. Continual practice of this vocal expression of emotion is congruent to the physical expression of defending (standing up for) oneself. When practiced sufficiently, this emotional response becomes second nature to the practitioner. Doing so builds a resource of skills that can then be tailored in individual and group therapy – skills relevant to appropriate expression of emotion when standing up for oneself.
Integrating therapy with karate training helps girls master needed assertiveness skills
Therapy also utilizes various forms of role-playing inside and outside of formal karate training. Having this kind of karate training as a regular part of therapy assures that the student thoroughly masters the skills of assertiveness. Mindfulness training and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT, which incorporates mindfulness training) are current therapeutic interventions for the type of problems that many girls are having. Mindfulness was originally a big part of karate and is still valued by instructors who stay connected to these foundational concepts. A major component of DBT has to do with becoming aware of being judgmental of self. Being judgmental, usually by being overly critical, becomes quite noticeable during karate training and gets addressed when it occurs. I have achieved good results with having girls acquire this skill while practicing karate. I prefer this method to the tedious homework that is incorporated in DBT classes – homework that many of my students are reluctant to do.
Karate classes at Cedar Ridge Academy are an excellent delivery method when it comes to helping students struggling with depression, anxiety and many unwanted affects that come from repressing emotions. Karate doesn’t teach aggression. Rather, it teaches confidence and self-control. DBT and mindfulness interventions are easily brought into karate discipline and training paradigms. When practiced sufficiently, karate training provides a solid foundation for appropriate, assertive expressions of feelings and the ability to stand up for oneself – skills which are crucial for girls to become healthy young women.