Martial Arts can be an incredible force in the life of a young person. It can provide focus, structure, culture, problem solving capabilities and solid strategies to deal with bullying and other various challenges that life will throw at them. But it's not for everyone, and for some kids it's important to consider the type of training they may need before throwing them into a martial arts programme.
Will Martial Arts help my child's behaviour problem?
Perhaps. But it's important to keep in mind that most martial arts instructors are not child psychologists nor behavioural specialists. Most martial arts instructors who teach kids are passionate about their art to the degree that they are willing to often donate their time in order to pass on what they have learned. Many have the best intentions about helping kids develop key life skills as well as specialist martial arts skills - but in a group lesson they are rarely prepared for kids who need special one-on-one attention. Private lessons are better for that purpose.
Without a doubt, a good kids martial arts program will involve an ongoing discussion about the traditional principles that underpin things like Bushido and Samurai philosohy; values like honesty, respect, courage, and service. But studies show that by the time a child has reached the age in which they can effectively learn martial arts, the larger part of their character has already formed. Martial arts cannot rewire the mind of a young person to understand and uphold these principles if they are not present in some way already. At the end of the day, if these things aren't present at home, they won't be possible at the dojo. In traditional martial arts, people who aren't vetted and assured of certain behavioural traits are not even permitted to train.
It seems that many parents are under the impression that children's bad behaviour will be solved by their martial arts instructor. The truth is that behaviour problems cannot be addressed in a one or two hour training session once or twice a week. Chances are that if there are behaviour problems with young kids there is a high possibility that they need to be dealt with first by the parents - and discussing a consistent approach with your child's martial arts instructor could certainly help. But sending a child with a behaviour problem to a martial arts class and avoiding the discussion with the instructor will almost always create more frustration on everyone's part.
Should I watch my child during the martial arts class?
While we understand that, as parents, everyone wants to ensure the safety and good experience for their kids, we have found that parents in close proximity to the training area are only a distraction to the kids - who should be concentrating on something which is quite difficult to grasp at times. Wouldn't it be great if you could watch the kids while at the same time they could still concentrate on learning the key martial arts concepts they are training without being distracted? How often are parents encouraged to hang out at primary school while classes are being conducted? Hopefully there will be times where parents are invited and encouraged to watch their kids perform the martial skills they have learned, but during the course of regular training the kids are best left under the supervision and instruction of their teacher.
How old should a child be to start martial arts?
This question is asked quite frequently. Largely it depends on the child, the teacher, and the art being practiced. For less contact oriented martial arts, where students practice "forms" on their own with a teacher correcting things like thier position, angles, foot placement etc, 5 years old is certainly within this cognitive capability. But for more contact oriented martial arts like Wrestling, Krav Maga, Judo or Jiujitsu, because there is often a competitive / combative element to the training, it is often too challenging for kids under the age of 7 to start putting all these things together at once. Often when young kids are placed in an environment like this, the injury rates are higher. And kids should learn that martial arts is a place where they learn how not to get hurt.
How will I know if martial arts is right for my child?
Just like anything it needs to be given a fair go. There are many different types of kids martial arts, teachers and philosophies.
A friend in the USA sent his young daughter to a martial arts class for 7 years - and within that time she received an advanced rank by the time she was 12 years old, whereuopn she started teaching other kids. Even though she did extremely well in tournaments and gradings, could do double-spinning-back kicks over the heads of most people, one day she was presented with a dangerous situation and did not know what to do. This element had been left out of her training. She eventually got discouraged, lost faith in the system and gave up completely, virtually turning her back on years of work and achievement.
How should kids get started in martial arts?
Most good children's martial arts classes will have a trial period which should be used as an evaluation of how well the arrangement is working - both from your child's and the dojo's perspectives. You may find it is exactly what you are looking for. Perhaps there may be an interest there but your child is not at a dojo that works for their personality. Talk to the teachers. Observe a class first before bringing your child. What are the qualifications of the instructors and what kind of vibe do you get from them? What are the kids doing and are they gaining any skills or is it more of an advanced form of child care? What is actually being taught - and is it relevant to the things you believe are important for your child?
Martial arts can be the cornerstone of a child's development if all these (and other) factors are a good fit. In some cases, it can provide a personal system for your child that can be applied to everything in life as they grow and mature; helping them deal with challenges of all kinds, think quickly on their feet, and build a cultural connection that will give them a true appreciation and love for life. Or not. As parents, we have to do our homework too.