Is Philly Martial Arts Program An Answer To Violence?

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All my life, I’ve been fascinated by martial arts. I came up in the era where ninja movies weren’t comedies, by and large–at least, not intentionally–and everything martial arts was the norm. Everyone wanted to take karate or Tae kwon do or whatever. If it was a martial art, preferably from Japan, and involved punching and kicking, it was the rage.

While that interest died out in a lot of ways, my own fascination with it didn’t. These days, I study martial arts originating in Europe because it meshes more with my historical areas of interest (called HEMA, in case you’re interested), but I still have respect for Asian-focused martial arts.

In Philadelphia, a program used martial arts as the basis for a violence prevention program.

Now, some will likely look at this and think, “How does teaching people a fighting art prevent violence?” The thing is, there’s actually a reason this could work.

Beneath the hot summer sun, 30 kids in matching T-shirts practiced hammer punches and roundhouse kicks, as organizers and parents watched and snapped photos from the sideline of the Southwest Philadelphia recreation field.

By 3 p.m. Saturday, the free monthlong martial arts program — Kicks Up, Guns Down — would be over. But backers hope the lessons learned during the grant-funded effort carry forward and, most importantly, save lives.

Lessons like self-control and self-determination — and that there are better ways to handle conflict than picking up a gun and shooting someone.

“We may not catch the teens that’s out there doing it now, but at least we can make an impact on the next generation coming up,” said Jamila Ridley, one of the program’s organizers. “We don’t want the streets to get our kids.”

Many of the program’s participants are in elementary and middle school. Some haven’t even started kindergarten.

To Ridley, it’s never too early to teach children to find an adult if they come across a gun, in the house or elsewhere. Enough fatal accidents have happened, she said, including the 9-year-old girl who died in January after shooting herself in the head with a gun found inside her North Philadelphia home.

“We don’t want any kids out there to become a victim,” said Ridley.

Frankly, I like the concept.

However, I don’t know how much good it will do in the long term.

See, the issue isn’t with martial arts itself. They actually do teach lessons like self-control, self-determination, and self-discipline. Those lessons have helped millions of kids get their own crap straightened out. It’s a good thing.

The concern I have is whether a month is long enough to really engrain those lessons in these kids.

For right now, they probably have it. That’s a good thing, to be sure, but what about a year from now? Five years from now? Ten?

I don’t see it having that kind of a long-term impact because of the short duration. Maybe the answer is to bring in volunteer teachers who can work toward the same goal over a longer period of time, thus reinforcing those lessons.

Maybe then it can make a real, long-lasting difference.