Through the years of teaching children the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I have found that the very essence of body contact involved in BJJ helps students with attention difficulties (whether it has been labeled ADD, ADHD, or Autism) develop their attention skills.
You may ask, what does body contact have to do with attentive abilities?. Let me explain.
First of all, I am no specialist in child development or psychology. I am a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Instructor with a growing student base of kids with diverse special needs. I have had to experiment and adapt my teaching methods to encompass a wide range of abilities, skills, and development. What works to engage those who have attention disabilities is the body-interaction through physical contact with others as they practice the many drills, activities, and games of a BJJ class. The kids get very involved in this dynamic because it is fun and full of action.
Close contact with training partners is a huge part of what class- time is filled with, being a ground grappling sport (different from striking martial arts,there is no punching or kicking in BJJ). The constant tactile stimulation of body contact, as students develop their awareness of balance and leverage, demands a childs full attention as she trains to defend herself. Participating in this form of physical interaction helps a student feel more connected and grounded to his present activity and not get lost in watching the butterfly outside the window.
Even though it may be difficult to pay attention to verbal instructions, the strong emotional drive of wanting to participate with others motivates children with attention difficulties to focus on what is being demonstrated in order to be a part of the interactive training. All of these variables working together strengthen a childs focus and attention skills through continuous participation. However, a partnership between the instructor and parents is vital to being successful. Without this partnership very little can be accomplished when there are special needs involved with a students participation.
I have learned that in some circles body contact of any kind is automatically considered a negative thing that encourages violence. My experience has shown me that it actually promotes body awareness and self confidence that diminishes the need for violent action. Students of all ages learn to train carefully and consciously. Body contact can be a very important learning tool.