So it’s almost the end of summer and from what I hear kids will have lots and lots of free time. Which also means that martial arts schools all over the country will have kids (with their parents) swarming to sign up their children to classes so that they may have something to do other than play video games in the living room for 3 months.
With that in mind I’d thought it’d be a good time to put down a train of thought that I’ve had for a couple of months now: a small list to guide parents on how to choose the appropriate martial arts for their kid(s). This comes from having been a children’s instructor since May of 2010. This also comes from my memories from taking Shaolin Kung Fu as a pre-teen. This list is by no means a “bible” on which is the “perfect fit” for your child, just some mannerisms from my personal observations.
1.) Instructors matter more than the art. For most kids they usually don’t stay in their first martial art. Although some arts are more geared toward self-defense rather than “classical” (i.e. MMA vs. Okinawan Karate), pay attention to how to the instructor teaches the kids. Teaching kids is an endeavor in itself and requires more than just patience. There’s something of a “magic” that’s required to teach kids and few instructors can reach kids in order to not only teach the art, but also teach the kids discipline, respect, attention skills, etc. I will say from my personal ongoing experience that it does require a “fun”mindset. So walk into the school and just observe the kids instructor(s). Ask yourself questions such as:
– How do they connect to the kids?
– What activities/exercises do they do?
– What style of teaching do they do? (rout memorizing vs. relaxed style or a mix of both, etc.)
– Is there even “play” time, to balance the time spent memorizing katas, practicing techniques, etc?
– What is the experience of the instructors? (be nice to us, some are still in training – myself included)
2.) Don’t get caught by McDojos! Watch out for schools that seem to ask for money upfront or lock you – the client – in a long term contract. Though the term “Mcdojo” has multiple meanings and does not have specific perimeters, read this article regarding this phenomena (go down to the last 1/4 of the article) and this article. The point that I’m trying to make is save your money! Be wary of schools which ask you to make a down payment of X amount in order to “lock in” your child for a certain amount of time. Personal example: I remember my dad mentioning to me way back that he had put a “down payment” of a NON refundable amount of over $3,500 for 3 years of instruction from the Shaolin school that I was attending then (doing the math that’s at least $97.20/month). Withholding my opinions, my current dojo’s rate for kids and teens is $60 and $70 respectively and are on a monthly basis only (we do accept donations however). Try and look for a school that does monthly – or at the most a bi monthly or tri-monthly plan. Ask yourself will your kids be training for a long time? Things come and go and change and life happens; your child might not like the place, you move, etc. You don’t want to make any unnecessary holes in your wallet, drama, or uneducated financial decisions.
3. Availability: Check and see if the main instructor of the school teaches the kids class and/or someone who works closely with the main instructor. A good sign would be that the they (the head instructor) would be present during the class even if they are in the office. This denotes that the head of the school cares enough about the people who are learning the martial art. A sign that a school is a “Mcdojo”? Usually the head instructors are not present at all and leave the kids (and some adult) classes to a 2nd or even their 3rd point person because they are too “busy” running the school.
4. Make sure the school has a policy that requires adults/guardians to be present during class. Cases of child abuse/molester relations in schools are the stuff of parents’ nightmares. I had walked in on a meeting of various heads of Aikido schools in my area and there is a policy that if there is a child that is under 16/17, they must be accompanied by a parent/guardian that is over 21 years of age. Ask if there is such a policy at the school that you want to enroll your child(ren) in. As a children’s instructor I’m actually comforted that there is such a policy like this in place.
5. What do you want for your child? Self-defense, a place for them to “exercise”, a potential passion, overcoming shyness, all of the above? Some kids really do gain confidence through martial arts, others not so much. Some kids really do learn how to keep themselves controlled, others will find it a little distracting. Are they getting bullied in school? Are they having confidence issues in general? For this question, I would go back to #1; it really depends on the teacher(s)/master(s). This sort of goes into the argument of traditional vs. modern/MMA. Personally I’d throw out that whole argument and just go for the school and people who are best for your Johnny or Jane. A Wing Chun Sifu could do wonders to one child whereas another could find the same result with the Brazilian JuJitsu master down the street. The Aikido Sensei in the apartment block in one corner could be perfect for the bullied kid whereas the shy girl could find her niche in the Capoeira Mestre (master) in the next.
6. Window shopping: Last but not least, don’t be afraid to shop around. As emphasized in #1 and #5, it’s mainly about what you want for your child and what your child is naturally drawn to. You might like a certain place for its X self defense skills yet if your child does nothing but scream and pander even after 6 months there might be a conflict of interest. Likewise a teacher who emphasizes self-defense for children yet teaches it with an iron fist might not be great for a shy child. As a side note, you’ll be amazed as to how little skill it takes for a child to throw a heavy punch!
Not a complete list by any means, but just some personal tips for you parents out there. Good luck and my hope is that these will come in handy at some point. Till next time ladies and gents!