Respect, one kick at a time for kids

Leadership. Confidence. Respect. Control.

These are some of the values that martial arts can give its students. They’re also the values that are considered lacking in the lives of the so called “at-risk” youth, values that one local martial arts program noticed as missing and decided to fill.

Ligo Dojo of Budo Karate, with locations in Durham and now in Chapel Hill, got money from Durham and Orange counties’ respective Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils, as well as the Governor’s Crime Commission, to help youths discover their potential and give them a constructive activity.

The juvenile justice system in this country is seriously flawed, so programs like this should be welcomed with open arms.

Nationwide, there is a culture of physical and sexual abuse, and many kids leave the system even more alienated from their families and society — and more dedicated to a life of crime than before.

The state has made a good-faith effort to combat this, even passing a statute “to develop community?based alternatives to youth development centers,” which have been shown, even with serious offenders, to be more effective.

That’s where programs like the Ligo Dojo come in.

As a second degree black belt in the American Taekwondo Association, I can speak to the good martial arts can do.

I achieved that rank a long time ago and unfortunately haven’t practiced in years. I haven’t been in a non-Taekwondo fight since a fourth grade playground scuffle and wouldn’t fare too well in one now.

But what I do still have from those years of training is the mental edge. I still remember the oath we took before every practice, promising respect for peers and loyalty to instructors.

I remember the self-control that we forced on ourselves, and the self-respect that we gained.

These are all sadly lacking in the lives of many in our society — youths and adults alike.

Instilling these values in adults is often a lost cause because of busy schedules and years of bad habits. They often end up raising children just like themselves.

It’s a vicious cycle, and to stop it we need to nip it in the bud. And although the needs of youths defined as at-risk are the most pressing, this doesn’t just apply to them.

All of us have had times when we wish we could’ve been more assertive, or when we realize we should’ve shown someone more respect.

Martial arts isn’t a panacea to our social ills, and it shouldn’t be treated as such.

But it can help.

The state also uses the Eckerd Wilderness Camps to help foster a sense of teamwork and family in youth offenders. The average child sent there in the 2009-10 fiscal year improved both his or her reading and writing skills by one grade level or more in less than a year at the camp.

Unfortunately, those camps have lost dozens of beds recently because of budget cuts.

That makes programs like Ligo Dojo all the more important as they pick up the slack and continue helping kids grow into better adults.

Thanks for reading.

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