By Manny Cabrera III, Chief Instructor

Thomas Jefferson once said, “When angry, count to ten before you speak.  When very angry, a hundred.” If you’ve spent five minutes on the roads here in Tampa Bay, you know exactly they difficulty of and the need for controlling our anger.  This is why I think Anger Management, this month’s Black Belt Excellence Theme, is a particularly good one because it applies to both children as it does adults.

Let’s first start with adults.  By the time someone reaches adulthood, most people have a pretty good understanding and working knowledge as well as usage of other black belt ideals such as courtesy, integrity, and respect.

However, we always struggle with our anger.  In extreme examples, the inability to control our anger results in physical violence towards another person.  This is an unfortunate occurrence that is played out in homes all across America.

Most adults who have trouble managing their anger generally represent two groups.  The first is the one with short fuses.  You know who they are, they’re the ones who get mad and are honking the horn behind you when the light has just barely turned green.  They tend to yell at every opportunity or belittle the people behind the counter at Starbucks because their grande-double-shot-non-fat-soy latte wasn’t made right (don’t get any ideas about my coffee choices, I take my chai latte with no foam).  Their inability to control their rage and consequently let those around them know what ticks them off usually gives them the reputation of being someone to avoid and can often lead to being physically abusive.  You can picture these people with crazy eyes and steam coming out of their ears like they do in cartoons.

The second type of person represses their anger.  When something makes them angry they swallow it, letting it boil under the surface—each even that sparks their ire adds to that fire until it finally explodes, usually over something that is very small.  However, that explosion of anger and frustration usually was a long-time building.

Both forms of anger management have destructive consequences.  You see, when you go around getting riled up over the slightest things, your blood pressure begins to go up.  Over a long period of time, this can lead to other physical and emotional problems and in some cases heart attack or stroke.

Repressing anger also results in destructive consequences.  People who repress their anger avoid it by finding comfort in food, drugs, or other substances.  They may develop anxiety disorders, ulcers, eating disorders, or other physical maladies.

Most people go through short periods where we’ll repress anger or be short fused.  It’s normal and has a lot to do with stress and other environmental factors.  However the thing to understand is that without some way of channeling the anger into something constructive…it will get out of control.

And that’s why this is an important lesson to teach children, about how to manage their anger, early on.

The first thing to do is to tell them that it’s okay to be angry.  We are emotional creatures and anger is a healthy response when something violates our rules or offends or sense of morality.  It is not however, okay to be destructive with our anger.  Thomas Jefferson understood that.  He, along with the other founding fathers of our country, were so angry about the way the original 13 colonies were being treated by England that they went to war over it.  However, if you look at the long road that led to the American Revolution, it took nearly 15 years—long after any angry emotion wore off— before they wrote the declaration of independence and took that step towards war.

Allowing our anger to control ourselves can lead to snap judgments or decisions we’re likely to regret later.  So, the second thing to do is collect ourselves.  Jefferson suggested counting to ten.  Many people find that martial arts classes help relieve stress and thus a lot of anger, simply because physical movement helps us to “unclench” our emotional fists.  You could go for a walk to calm down.  However, in most situations an emotional response will do more harm than good from the simple fact that it’s hard to understand all sides of an argument when you’re angry.  We tell our students when they spar, that getting angry is the wrong response if they get hit.  This is because strategy and planning go out the door and all that’s left is raw fury that will no doubt wind up with the other guy winning.

Once you’ve calmed down, it’ll be easier to rectify whatever you’re angry about.  Or in the case of our sparer, win the match.

The most important thing to remember however, is that as a parent the way in which you respond to anger will be copied by your child.  So, if you want to raise black belts that have good anger management you first need to lead by example.  Together we can make a real difference in the way people manage anger.

About the author: Manny Cabrera III is an expert in self-protection, fitness, personal development, and is a life-long martial artist.  He serves as chief instructor at Sidekicks Family Martial Arts Centers and has written for multiple publications.  Mr. Cabrera resides in Brandon, FL with his wife Jessica, their twin sons, and an energetic Austrailian Cattle Dog.  Follow Mr. Cabrera on Twitter.

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