Through martial arts, Pittsburgh kids gain skills that last a lifetime

After-school activities can help kids develop in many important ways. Martial arts is no exception: Young people learn impressive physical skills in martial arts classes in Pittsburgh, but it’s the skills you can’t see that will last a lifetime.

Josh Ryer is the owner and lead instructor of Ryer Martial Arts Academy in Shadyside. “Really we’re using the art as a vehicle to teach them how to listen, how to focus, empathy, work ethic and responsibility,” Ryer said.

While you may think of martial arts as fighting, the kids actually learn just the opposite. Student Samya Lebel says, “Emotionally, it helps me by helping me calm myself down and know how to react.” Student Michael Frappier said, “It makes me calm and less stressed.”

Student Kiaan Biswas adds, “It taught me how to keep my cool whenever situations get heated. I calm down, take some deep breaths.” And Oliver Jacobs says, “I also learned how, if someone’s teasing you, not to get super upset about it.”

Martial Arts instructor Master Jason Purcell wrote a book for young people about the power of martial arts, basing it on his own students and school in Seattle. He says martial arts teaches commitment and confidence through the stripe and belt system.

There’s the commitment to improve and confidence when new levels are reached, using short-term goals to motivate the kids. Purcell said, “One of the sayings we have at our martial arts school is, ‘I do not train to be better than my neighbor. I train to be better than myself from yesterday.’”

“Mat checks”, where students sit on the mats for discussions, are standard in most martial arts schools. They’re a time to talk about skills like listening, leadership, respect and focus.

Purcell says focusing begins as soon as kids enter the studio: “The first thing you do is you bow in, and the reason we bow in is it’s whatever you just did that day, we’re now here to train. So whatever happened, that stuff’s in the past.”

Focus is critical for safety. And respect and leadership come not by learning to fight, but by using other means to solve a problem first. Student Elliot Smith said of her training, “I think it gives you more courage. It gives me more courage.” Biswas added, “It taught me how to make friends. I would be the quiet kid in the corner of the room if I hadn’t joined martial arts.”