I know teaching boys to fight is a controversial thing to do, what with most parents believing this will create abusive, violent monsters in adulthood and all. I, not surprisingly, have a very different take on it.

All boys fight. The only variables are why they fight, who they fight, and how they fight. I realized early on that my job as their father isn’t to stop the fighting, but to guide it. Give me a few minutes of your time to convince you that I might just be on to something here.

First, Let’s Clarify

Just so nobody gets the wrong idea, I don’t encourage my kids to hurt each other, other kids, or themselves. I prepare them for it should the need arise, and am quick to point out the need has never risen in my own life.

Also, understand this is not coming from some chauvinistic ex-athlete could-have-been who is living through his boy’s physical performance. I’m not training the next MMA superstar. I’m not raising modern day Spartans. In fact, I’d rather they spend their life using their minds than their bodies as a means of making a living and making a difference.

What I am doing is raising men. One day, these boys will have a wife and children to protect, and that’s no small thing. Teaching a boy to fight isn’t about teaching him 50 ways to kill a man, but that the people he cares about are worth fighting for, and one day he may be called upon to do just that. It’s about teaching him there are times his own safety may need to take a back seat to the well-being of others, even if that’s only on a four-year-old’s level. It’s about teaching self control and character. It’s about becoming a man.

Fighting: Defined

For this post, when I say fighting, I’m talking about physical contact that will hurt people, and not in a fun way. Wrestling and roughhousing are fine and dandy, but that’s not what I’m talking about today. A punch in the nose, an arm bar, a kick to the belly, etc. This is fighting. Fighting is violent. Fighting is a worst case scenario. Fighting is what happens when all else has failed. A real fight is avoided at all costs. However, in the real world, it’s not always avoidable.

For further clarification, I’m not talking about an out of control rage. That’s never encourage or allowed. You stole my toy, so I’m going to smash your face. In fact, that sort of thinking carries a harsh form of discipline in this house, but that’s for another post.

Fighting is done with a objective, through controlling one’s body, and ends with a clear resolution.

Fight Lesson 0: Anatomy

Little boys are naturally more aggressive than little girls, which will only become more substantial over time, and I think it’s important that boys understand this. Testosterone is a powerful little hormone, and I want them to understand and control those inevitable bursts of aggression now when they’re still little; long before that same hormone triples their muscle mass, and the damage their unchecked aggression will produce.

Fight Lesson 1: Why to Fight

My three year old son will walk up and show me his muscles from time to time. When he does, we repeat the same lesson.

“Those are some big muscles you have. What are those muscles for?”

“Protecting.”

I want my boys to know from day one that fighting is not done to impress people, make them feel good, or even for personal gain. I don’t want to develop a highly trained mugger! My aim is to sink this lesson so deep into their tiny little hearts they’ll never be able to forget that fighting is primarily for the protection of others.

I do think it’s fine and dandy to protect yourself also, but I’ve found boys view everything as self preservation when they know that’s a green light to fight. I figure self protection is something we can parse out when they’re a little older, wiser, and able to tell a threatening situation from a trivial one. For now, I like to keep it simple enough for a three year old to understand.

Fight Lesson 2: Who to Fight For

There are people to fight for, and there are people we shouldn’t fight for. The bully on the playground is not someone we’re going to fight for. The kid who is taunting the bully is not someone we’re going to fight for. Two groups of kids squaring off at the park don’t meet the criteria either.

We fight for family, and the helpless. That’s it. Again, that is a narrow and simplistic way to view it, which is fine, because they’re kids. That’s plenty for them to understand, fairly black and white, and doesn’t cloud the issue too much.

My boys know to protect each other, their sisters, and people who can’t protect themselves (like smaller kids). Sometimes, they even protect each other from each other, because they’re kids and fight for the wrong reasons sometimes.

If someone is being bullied and can’t get away, that’s someone who is helpless. I recall one day at the park when a little girl was getting sand kicked at her. It was like a scene out of movie, it was so cliche.

My oldest boy had seen it going on for a while before I had, and was wrestling with what to do. When I spotted it and was about to go ensure the bully went on his jolly way, my son got there first and with a squeaky voice and words so rushed I don’t think anyone but me could understand him, shouted, “Hey, why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”

I was fully expecting to have to step in and pull the bully off my boy as he got pummeled (my son isn’t particularly good at fighting, and that’s not the way he should have worded it to diffuse the situation, but his heart was in the right place). The kid just smirked and walked off. He wondered around the other side of the park for a few minutes before leaving completely.

Fight Lesson 3: Who to Fight Against

My boys are on the same side. They’re on a team. They want the same things, work for the same things, and fight for the same things. I tell them this all the time. They are not enemies, and they don’t get to treat each other like enemies. They only get to fight against people who are hurting others and refuse to stop. That’s it. Not people they think will hurt others. Not people who say they’ll hurt others. And not people they can get away from.

They also don’t get to fight people they haven’t first talked to. Many fights between my boys are simply from misunderstandings because they didn’t bother to talk to each other first. Diplomacy before war. Every single time.

Fight Lesson 4: How to Fight

My boys and I watch some MMA and practice simple maneuvers. We learn and study together, and they love that father/son time. They also learn on their own (usually to try new moves they don’t think I’ll see coming). In fact, they’ve just about worn out the pages of my copy of Tao of Jeet Kune Do, even though only half of them can read it.

We punch, kick, and grapple. It’s great fun, they learn a lot, and it gives them a positive way to get out some of that male aggression. They also know we have rules, and I’m constantly talking to them through it all. They know how to tap out, we don’t hit in the head, and the primary goal is always to disable the opponent. Anyone can swing a punch, but they’ll get a lot more positive reinforcement if they can slap their brother in an arm bar, slowly increase the pressure, and get a painless victory. Or throw dad in a choke hold and get him to tap out, which I’ll admit has happened from time to time.

No concussions. No broken bones. No more scrapes or bruises than they get playing soccer. Simply, “I beat you, good match, let’s go again.” It’s a clear minded exercise that is fun and has a lasting purpose.