Recently, I was asked in an email about children in Martial Arts. Iíve been asked this same question from various parents in my new neighborhood. As a parent, I know this is a question on many peopleís minds so I put together a quick few answers to the most common questions I get.
When can my child start Martial Arts?
Iíd be lying if I said there was a set age in which children could start Martial Arts. As with everything, it depends a lot on the childís development. Generally, youíll find most schools wonít take children younger than five years of age. This is because the younger the child, the harder it is for a child to follow commands and stay focused on one activity for extended periods of time.
The litmus test you can use is:
Which style should I choose for my child?
There are some styles which you will naturally NOT want to start younger children under. A good example of this is Wing Chun, which can be quite violent depending on the teacher and lineage.
Ability-wise, children can do almost any style out there. Sometimes it amazes me just what the child can do! The more common the style though is probably the more appealing for them at this beginning age. I would look for schools that fall under the big banners. Those being Kung Fu, Karate, or TaeKwonDo. That will give you child a good basis to start from
As the child gets older, if he or she is still interested in Martial Arts, you both have more experience and can explore other arts or specific variations available. This could be as simple as learning another discipline under your current teacher or trying a whole new style based on what youíve seen from various competitions and outings.
How do I know if a school is any good?
Without having attended a school, it would be hard to tell if it is any good. Like anything else, you can go on referrals from other parents as a start but make sure to listen to what your child thinks.
A good place to start is some of the basics I outlined in an earlier article Find a Martial Arts School.
Because this is a child, pay particular attention to how he or she reacts to the teachers. Training children is not a gift all teachers are born with. Trust me. I've seen the best and worst at it. (I personally fall somewhere in between, if anyone is curious.)
The key is to observe them with children.
Most people can't handle more than 10 children alone at a time. In my teacherís school in Pennsylvania, we would regularly have 3 instructors on the floor for children's class just to make sure each child got proper attention.
Other things to watch out for is how the children who are already attending react towards others. I'm a believer that martial arts is more than just movements, punches, and kicks. It's a way of life and a mentality. A good Martial Arts teacher will train the student not only how to defend themselves but how to respect those around them and how not to get into problems. I'm always leery when I hear of children using their martial arts in schools for fights and whatnot.
What can you expect as a parent?
Financially investing in Martial Arts is no different from any other art forms out there like music and dance or sports like football or baseball.
You must be willing to purchase the necessary equipment. For some schools thatís just the required uniforms. However, be prepared for and open to the idea of purchasing other items such as books or training material for your child. These are very helpful in their development as a Martial Artists. Also, if the particular style you have chosen includes sparring or weapons, you may be required as some point to purchase this equipment. Some schools also participate in tournaments and various conferences that your child may want to attend.
A lot of schools and teachers are aware that money is almost always tight and do try to help the parents through scheduled payments or fundraisers or the like. Its nothing to be ashamed about and something most teachers are willing to figure out how to make it work for you and your child.
As a parent, you'll want to be involved and be both comfortable in leaving your child there with the teachers as well as feel invited to participate. Your child, as they go through Martial Arts will ask you questions and want to "show you" things they were taught. The most successful children martial artists I've seen normally have parents who are heavily involved in what they do. And I canít tell you how many times Iíve seen a child loose interest because the parent has no interest in what he or she is doing.
Some schools will allow you to sit in on classes and help take notes for your children. If the style is "big enough" there is probably a book out there with some of the basics that you could pick up to help read about what your child is learning and help him in his training.
Many parents eventually choose to learn Martial Arts along with their children. Itís a great tool to spending time with your little ones and something that will not only benefit them but you as well.
Know when to keep going
Be ready to assess where your child stands. As with any activity, children go through periods where their interests wane. Sometimes this is temporary, sometimes this is a reaction to something that happened, sometimes they really just donít have an interest in this area. Itís always tough to gauge this and important to listen to whatís going on.
Watch out for fights
Hopefully this never happens.
But itís hard to tell and sometime it has nothing to do with the school or the teacher. Fights happen. Itís a part of growing up. Children can be vicious sometimes. I donít think I need to explain that to any parent. Your child may be teased for whatever reason. You will have to help reinforce that they have been trained in an art that is deadly and to not use it to start fights.
Hopefully you find this article helpful. If you have other questions or more specific thoughts or advise, please feel free to post them in the forum or email them to me directly.