Now I am not against teaching children nor am I saying martial arts for children is a bad thing. In my case, the other boy was bigger then me and had the teachers been more concerned with telling me to let go rather then freaking out and trying to force me to break the hold, I'd have let go. You see my teachers didn't do a good job in maintaining discipline and, discipline is a corner stone for teaching children. Martial arts for children teaches confidence and self-discipline. Self-Discipline has another term Personal Responsibility, being responsible for yourself and your choices. My teachers were many times racist, clannish, and played to their favorites.
Most often the Doctors and Lawyers kids who could freely bully other kids and be excused for doing so while those who defended themselves were often labeled trouble makers. Of course some teachers were known to grab and pull kid's hair, grab & pull their ears and yell at and belittle those same kids. Years after I left that school my younger cousin who attended that same school told me the same teachers where still acting like bullies and tyrants. They didn't inspire trust and didn't maintain discipline, in fact when the teachers let the bullies be bullies, many kids (myself especially) used more force to defend ourselves then required. When parents became involved and the school was looking at being sued, discipline broke down due to the school board becoming involved. Because the draconian tactics used unnecessarily to maintain order, could no longer be used. Perhaps this is a microcosm for our national debate on police brutality, police militarization, race and civil rights... or perhaps that is just over reading into the situation.
Understanding this environment is critical to why I thought choking someone out and actually tightening the hold on the Hadaka-Shime (Rear Naked Choke in Judo and Jujitsu) when my teacher tried to break the hold, I was afraid that once I let go the bully the would be permitted to attack me. So I tightened my hold on a person who was unconscious, I could have killed someone. Many times parents use martial arts or public school as a surrogate for teaching self-discipline. The fact is that martial arts can teach discipline in the Dojo but, parents need to teach discipline at home. Disciplining a child is the foundation to the child learning to discipline themselves, to take personal responsibility for their actions. For a child to study martial arts, and learn discipline for a few hours a week in the Dojo, they are more likely to only learn to fight and to discipline themselves or to learn only "selective discipline."
In fact, my suspension for fighting and having to face the school board for the unbroken RNC resulted with me showing several letters of complaints from other students' parents. This is what caused the school board to become involved, because I wasn't alone in my complaints about the school's staff. However, that doesn't excuse the fact someone could have been seriously hurt or killed. I took responsibility for not breaking the hold & this highlights how teaching dangerous techniques to children can be a danger in itself.
Many martial arts styles are intended to be taught to children, daycare in a gi. Others have a more combative feel, are designed for self-defense and not appropriate for children. Some martial arts are designed for sports only were as others are a mix of all those elements. Some traditional arts try to teach "warriorship" which can be a very dangerous idea for a developing child, it is certainly a dangerous idea for some adults (I'll have to do a whole new blog on "Warriorship" to address this issue). Some schools exist to teach "cultural understanding" which serve to force Eastern Religion and Philosophy onto it's students. Selecting a martial arts school for children is very important and very difficult unless the parent has a good understanding of what the school teaches, why and how.
I consider boxing a martial art and several martial artists I've met and trained with over the years also boxed, this is true of those mainly dedicated striking arts like Karate & Tae Kwon Do or Hapkido. Basic principles and techniques for a cross are the same as for reverse punch, a jab as for a straight punch and the foot work is pretty much the same. Sure all three use open hand strikes and self-defense techniques like kicking, throws and joint-locks that boxing doesn't. Boxing teaches combinations, distance, timing and "slipping the punch" that those arts don't and it transitions well into self-defense and sparring. Boxing has a clear focus as a competition sport, which is excellent for fitness and exercise as well... I recommend boxing as a starter art for younger children. Many, early Self-Defense systems were a blending a Boxing and Judo.
What I suggest is Child Appropriate:
When I say child appropriate I am stating between the ages of 5 and 12 years old...
- Make sure the school does not teach a philosophy or religious ideas that is counter-productive to beliefs and philosophy you are trying to build in your child or children. I dropped out of an Aikido school after only 2 weeks (free lessons) because the instructor kept trying to force his ideology on me, this was considerably more then just studying Eastern Philosophy or cultural traditions. Discipline begins at home so, don't cause a breakdown in the discipline you're teaching your child by paying someone to teach them opposing philosophies to your own. They get enough of that in public schools already. Be weary of schools talking about anything "spiritual" as part of the training.
- The amount of physical contact with your child is also important, I know some people who won't enroll their kids in Brazilian Jiujutsu because the guard looks like the missionary position. Both you and your child have to be comfortable with the physical contact used in the class, this includes your child's acceptance of being hit during sparring. I can't tell you what is acceptable for you and your child but this is something you need to observe and discuss with your child. As for the Brazilian Jiujutsu matter, if your child isn't thinking of sexual positions then there shouldn't be an issue and, if they are there is already an issue.
- Manner & attitude of the instructor. The last thing you want to do is leave your child in the hands someone who is "Toxic." I'm not talking about frauds, criminals and sex offenders but people who bully, insult and are generally a negative influence. Criminals have a record and sex offenders are on a registry but a "toxic personality" is like a bad relationship with a crazy person, everything starts off all good and goes bad from their as the crazy becomes more obvious.
- Set a goal for your child that is to be achieved through the martial arts. I'm not talking about reaching a belt rank but a goal of learning... This is why I think competition arts like Boxing, Kickboxing, Wrestling, Judo, Karate & Brazilian Jiujutsu are great for younger kids. Set goals like physical exercise/fitness, improved competition and building confidence.
When I say teenagers I mean 13 to 17 years old...
- Here is where a child will start gradually moving out into the world and things like self-defense starts becoming more useful in a child's life. Self-defense systems like World War II era Combatives & Krav Maga, become more appropriate.
- More so, some of those same martial arts styles like Karate, Hapkido, Jujutsu, Brazilian Jiujutsu, Judo can be treated more combatively depending on the age, physical ability and maturity of the child in question.
- Talk to the instructor...
- Observe at Least Five to Ten Classes, to see how & what the instructor teaches...
- Talk to the students and other parents, particularly away from the school. Remember these are customers at a business, they may feel required to speak well of the instructor or school in front of the instructor. So your best bet for getting accurate information is away from the school...
- Do your research but don't believe everything you hear. Martial arts is a business and it is largely unregulated. Many people in the business of selling martial arts training take to slandering others.
- Follow up with the instructor, address things you found out & made a judgment call on how he or she responds to your questions.
- Avoid "Hidden Marketing." It is perfectly acceptable to pay a monthly fee, testing fee & buy your uniform. It is "ok" to pay an organizational fee (provided being a member of the organization is an option, usually this is restricted to Black Belts & Instructors) but having to pay this added fee as a low ranking kyu grade is questionable. It is a "No-No" to add requiring a student to buy "Grandmaster So-&-So's" books and require "book reports" for cultural training at each grade. It is even "OK" to have to buy a student handbook, but this is often free with the beginning when you pay for your uniform, etc. Having to buy additional books and materials is a questionable practice.
- Remember you are buying what someone else is selling. Don't be surprised or feel insulted if an instructor doesn't want to "sell." I don't teach children, I refuse and I do so for a number of reasons the main one being that what I teach isn't often "age appropriate." Black Dragon Ninjitsu has been defined by an observer as a "Killing Style" and Street Focus Jujitsu is as named Focused on Street-Based Self-Defense. Either style can greatly enhance a person's odds of survival in a self-defense situation or they can be misused to make a very dangerous person. I often turn down teaching adults.