What are the pros and cons of enrolling young children in a martial arts program? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Let me go through the "cons" first.
Con #1. Kids may get a false sense of security, because they can throw a punch, hurl a kick, or show their colored belts.
This is one of the biggest "con" when I considered enrolling my kid in a martial arts program.
I have done martial arts in the past, and at one school, all of us beginners were lumped together – including little girls and boys. Please understand: I'm not denigrating teenagers as "little girls and boys", I'm talking about LITTLE girls and boys that are in elementary school, earning the same belts I'm earning as an adult.
Seriously? A 10 year old with a black belt? I am not saying that young kids cannot earn colored belts. I'm saying there are too many martial arts schools that hand out black belts and whatever penultimate belt color (brown or red-with-double-black-stripes) too readily to young children. Having a false sense of security may cause a kid to make a riskier choice that the kid otherwise will not make without a martial arts "background". That said: a related "pro" is that the program may instill enough confidence for the kid to stand up to a bully and loudly shout, "Stop It!'".
This is why, when I was scouting out martial art programs for kids, my husband and I looked at how belts are awarded. We also looked at the caliber of kids and the colors of belts they had. Since I have had some martial arts familiarity/training (Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, and Kung Fu), I have some level of discernment of skill set.
The school we ultimately chose was one where belts were awarded with stringent criteria. The highest belt level we saw for youth (not kids, the youth class were tweens and teens) was a brown belt, and those who wear a brown belt, have the skill set of the brown belt. In the kids classes, the kids who wore green and blue belts (considered intermediate) are easily discerned in skills from kids who had yellow and orange belts.
Con #2. You may get a lousy instructor that scares the love of any martial art from a kid who otherwise could have benefited from martial arts.
I see, and hear about this a lot. The atmosphere of "discipline" in martial arts is set by the head of the school, and reinforced by the senior and assistant instructors.
If you have a dick of a teacher who thinks discipline means yelling drill-sergeant style in kids' faces, you may have a few kids who can handle it, but most of the younger kids especially those new to martial arts will be scared out of their minds. Some instructors think teaching by shaming or humiliation builds character, I think that's ridiculous (and I come from a culture of shaming and humiliation #tigermoms).
So you have to really do your homework and visit the martial arts school, and observe one or two classes (because instructors may be different), and pay special attention to how they address kids who may appear distracted or lacking discipline. This tells you more about how those instructors are trained, and about the philosophy / approach of the school, than whatever reviews/brochures you may read.
Con#3. It gets expensive.
There is usually a commitment where you are billed monthly or twice a month. Our first sign-in is 6 months, after which we become monthly members (i.e. we can quit any time after those 6 months). However, if we decide to have our kid participate in a belt promotional test, that's a new 6 month commitment.
Think: Average 50perpromotion,about150-200/monthmembership,150 cost of equipment (more if you need to replace lost equipment, or want to buy new equipment for example if your kid starts a weapons class), cost of transportation… this easily adds up to 200−300/month on average, on top of other extracurricular activities you may want to enroll your kids in. If you have more than 1 kid, you're doubling or tripling that unless the school offers you a discount. (Fortunately, my kid's other sport is rock climbing and we have an amazing sweet deal for our climbing gym on top of "Climbing as a Family" tradition; we are still within budget.)
Costs involved include cost of equipment and uniform, monthly membership cost, promotional cost, cost of transportation (unless you live down the street and you can walk there; we have to drive), cost of time I spend waiting for my kid (although I've started to use this hour more effectively by jogging on the nature trail near the school).
All right, now the pros. I'll make these specific to our situation.
Pro #1. Kid gets comfortable with on-the-ground, close-quarter contact.
Before my kid started Jujitsu, he had not done any martial arts. The martial arts program afforded him peer-to-peer "wrestling time" (very different from play wrestle with adults) that he otherwise didn't get as an only child. Since Jujitsu is very contact-oriented, my kid got more used to this type of close quarter contact with other kids.
We parents specifically wanted "on-the-ground" contact, and the school we enrolled him in is a mixed martial arts program that does Jujitsu (the youth program starts getting into Krav Maga). If I had found an Aikido or Judo (even wrestling) program closer to us, I'd have looked at those programs for specific training on "how to fall safely" plus close-quarter contact.
Reason why we want on the ground close quarter contact is because this is how we have observed most "fights" in young kids end: on the ground and up close. We want our kid to know what to do if another kid pushes him on the ground and sits on his chest*, and at least have some experience knowing how to defend himself in the typical conflict configurations. Even learning how to fall safely is a big plus.
*This actually happened to my kid when he was much younger, around 5ish when he was playing with a band of (3) brothers he just met at the park. Somehow the brothers decided they were hunters and he was prey (for some reason I see a lot of spontaneous "gang up and chase 1 person" type of play among little boys; primal instinct maybe?). At one point they cornered him near a slide, pushed him to the ground as the youngest brother yanked my kid's sunglasses off his face. My husband had been watching all the while and that was when he stepped in. This was one of the reasons why we wanted a specific type of martial arts for our kid to learn. Once my son got older, he has gotten very good at asserting himself on the playground even when up against much older grade kids.
Pro #2. Kid gets experience dealing with adversity.
When my kid first started, he had a lot of difficulty following along as a beginner. He couldn't make his limbs do as the instructor asked and lacked the coordination other kids who've been in the class longer have developed. Most of the time, I suspect he didn't understand what the instructor was asking because he was not familiar with the jargon. Even "sitting" has 3 different configurations ("Number 1 / 2 / 3 position")!
As a result, he got scared and did not want to return and he cried because he did not understand how to do what he was expected to do. I remember comforting him while tears rolled down his face, and I told him something like: "This is why you must go back. Tell the coach you don't understand and ask him for help. The more you practice, your body will learn what to do. Then you will feel less scared."
The coach of the school was great – he offered to work with my kid 20 minutes before the 2nd class and help 1 on 1 with some of the commands and moves. I kept driving my kid back to class, and over time he learned the basic moves, and soon he began enjoying the classes… and he improved a great deal.
Now I get to use this frame of reference, whenever my kid gets frustrated with a new undertaking that may appear overwhelming: "Remember when you first started jujitsu? How you got scared because you didn't know what to do? You went back and kept practicing and you got better and now you enjoy jujitsu. We don't quit because something is hard, we go back and practice."
Pro #3. Camaraderie and other "Feel Good Factors".
There is a very real sense of camaraderie between my kid and his classmates, which is cool to see. Can you imagine whenever you get into the office and your office mates shout your name and appear super-excited to see you? I'd want to go to work every day if I walk into that :) When my kid walks in his classmates shout out and appear genuinely excited to see him even though they just saw him 2 days ago… gotta love young kids' unbridled enthusiasm.
I love that many girls in the program have very good technique, and since they know to use their brain against brawn, they make good sparring partners for boys who need to learn to use more brain less brawn.
The instructor of the school really respects the kids and we parents see this. It comes across how he teaches the kids. He also takes the time to teach the philosophy (i.e. respect, self-defense) not just technique.
I like that part of belt promotion for older kids at this school is leadership, where they have to help the instructor work with the the younger kids. This way you have more experienced older kids helping the younger students, giving them 1 on 1 attention in addition to the class instructor.
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