Kids who have attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder find focusing on a challenging task difficult. They're easily distracted and often fidget. While children with ADD or ADHD should seek medical attention and potentially take medication, learning martial arts can support the work their doctors do.
The study of martial arts
Because martial arts training is steeped in thousands of years of tradition, it's often associated with certain rituals, like bowing, performing katas, counting in a foreign language or shouting when delivering an attack. From the outside, it may all seem very formal, but this structure can have benefits for kids with ADD or ADHD.
In class, students have to participate in the formal rituals in addition to concentrating on learning new moves. Children must see how their instructor performed the move and try to mimic it, a task that requires precision, observation and practice. The same goes for sparring. Students will get knocked down if they aren't focused on the fight.
For this reason, many people with ADD or ADHD report improvements in their symptoms after training in martial arts for some time.
''I talk about this all the time because I think it's a huge intervention,'' Dr. John Ratey, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Harvard Medical School, told The New York Times. ''It's becoming very popular as a means of treatment.''
Helpful, but not a cure
It's important to note that while many people experience benefits from training in martial arts, attending classes is not a replacement for medical treatment for ADD and ADHD. Think of it this way: Therapy with a doctor and medicine treat the mental and chemical issues caused by these disorders. Martial arts provide an outlet for kids who have excess energy they don't know how to spend. They can channel their ADD and ADHD through martial arts techniques to learn to get a better handle on their disorders, a skill they'll need beyond the dojo.
''Conceptually it makes sense to me, and I've seen it work clinically, but the martial arts are not a substitute for behavioral therapy or medication,'' Dr. Peter Jaksa, the president of the National Attention Deficit Disorder Association, told The Times.
Mastering a martial art requires intense concentration and discipline, and because classes are fun for kids, they are more motivated to put in the effort to learn those skills. For children with ADD or ADHD, that may mean developing methods for dealing with symptoms, getting out aggression and finding calm. And when kids combine those lessons with their normal, prescribed treatments, they could find balance.