- A friend of mine (a mother of two) asked me the following question:
- "I had a question for you! I'd like to (eventually) put my son in martial arts. He is currently three. When do you think is an appropriate age to begin training? How would you go about picking a school for him? Any particular style? Also, my sister-in-law took her son out of martial arts because he started using it against his siblings. I'd really hate to stop training because of this but would love suggestions on how to deal with that in advance. Thoughts? He does have a 1-year-old sister and, to be honest, he can be a bit too aggressive though I'm told that comes with three year olds.
- I need to come clean here and admit that 1. i know nothing about martial arts so it will be hard for me to identify a good school vs. a bad one. 2. I've observed some people who claim to be really good at martial arts but seem to not have any practical skills nor any body connectivity so their training seems suspect to me. again, i don't know a thing about martial arts but i do know a bit about body mechanics. i'm not interested in collecting useless trophies in the house. i'd like him to really learn a useful skill and to learn how to use his body properly. if that makes sense."
Here was my reply:
- That makes sense. First, kids' martial arts classes are a whole different animal than adult classes. Teaching kids (especially really young ones) is a special talent that many otherwise good martial arts instructors lack. So, you need to ascertain if he/she is good with kids, and more especially, with your kids.
Me personally, I'm a terrible kids teacher. I tried it for about 3 years, and I simply don't have the skill set, patience, or desire to make a living teaching small children.
The main problem with kids classes is that a lot of kids don't want to be there, so in order to stop them from disrupting the rest of the class, you've got to change the format from strictly "learning martial arts" to "learning martial arts while catering to short attention spans + fun & games/babysitting for the rugrats who don't even care."
It probably sounds like I've got a bad attitude about kids classes, but don't get me wrong, I've met a few rare individuals who are not only competent martial artists, but also good kids' teachers, who actually enjoy doing it. They're probably the rarest kind, but they do exist.
- You'll want to educate yourself a little about martial arts. From my experience, the most practical are combat sports (competitive sports based on martial arts) such as boxing, wrestling, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, taekwondo, Muay Thai, kickboxing, MMA, etc... Sports that are practiced live and as close to full speed as possible, with regular competitions which give the students the opportunity to practice and hone real time skills that will exist in their muscle memory if they ever need to use them in real life.
The flip side of the coin would be martial arts schools that discourage competition, or practice techniques that are "too dangerous" to drill live. What that usually translates into is a room full of people playing dress-up and doing nothing but punching at the air and doing mystical looking forms or katas with dubious origins.
As far as knowing if what is being taught is practical, a lot of it comes down to common sense. Does it look practical? Would the technique work against a resisting opponent? Or is this the kind of school where they shoot invisible fireballs out of their hands and the students fall down on command?
Things to look for: focus on safety. Is the gym clean? Do they have mats? Do they clean the mats every day? If not, watch out for germs. Staph infections and ringworm are very common when training on dirty mats. Does the coach teach the kids how to avoid injuries? Does he teach them how to fall safely? If they spar, do they use mouth guards? (Pads are overrated in terms of the protection they offer, mouthguards are crucial)
Try out all the schools/gyms you can find. They should offer a free introductory lesson. If they allow it, try out the class with your kid, or take a few classes on your own. That way you'll be able to see the contrast of styles and make a more informed decision.
Location: Where are you located? Are you still in Utah? if so, Utah has a lot of great options for training (and some lousy ones) I could give you a number of great recommendations all over Utah and Salt Lake counties if you want.
Age: When to start training is relative. I've seen classes with 3 and 4 year olds. These are completely different from classes for 5-6 year olds. At that age, they'll be focusing more on gross motor skills and basic strength and flexibility than any practical fighting skills. You could say the same thing about any other physical culture discipline (dance, sports, etc...)
Kids using their new ninja skills for evil instead of for good? Whether or not that happens depends a lot of 2 things:
#1 How you raise your kids. Remember, it's the parents responsibility to teach their kids discipline, it's the martial arts teachers job to teach martial arts. Make sure your kid understands the boundaries, that it's not okay to start fights or hurt people- martial arts are for sport competitions and self defense, not for bullying. If they overstep those boundaries, that's when you step in with the discipline.
#2 The martial arts teacher also has a responsibility to teach these things to kids and to enforce those principles in class (emphasis on "in class" since the coach isn't the one living with and raising the kids) Basically, check out the gym. If the teacher acts like the evil Sensei from the old Karate Kid movie, then you should probably move on. If the coach teaches respect for others, that's a good thing.
You should also know that in the USA, martial arts teaching is not regulated by any governing body. You don't need a license, a certificate, or even any training or qualifications to open up a martial arts school, you just need the capital to start a business. As a result, there are probably more charlatans in the business of martial arts teaching than any other business in America. There is a lot of absolute garbage out there. So, if it seems like garbage, trust your gut, it probably is.
Ramsey "Danger" Dewey
Fighting & Fitness in China