For parents considering enrolling their child in karate, we believe this is an important topic. As Karate instructors, this is a topic that comes before us quite often. We are often asked if it’s good for kids to be in Karate? What is the best age for kids to join a Dojo? What training methods are applied to teaching Karate to kids? What benefits will my child derive from Martial Arts training? Different parents, same questions.
If you take the time to look at the many, many dojos on the web with regards to kids in the martial arts, you will see them highlight such terms as; Honor, respect, focus, goal setting, self-discipline, self control, self improvement, self esteem, physical fitness, flexibility, improved communications, awareness, anti-bullying, confidence, better health, and on and on. What do all these wonderful promises really mean?
Well, first let me say very honestly: kids are difficult to train! Their attention spans are short, and the only true knowledge of martial art they may have is what they have seen in the movies, TV or video games they play. Personally, if I had suitable options, I would teach only adults. But that’s just me. And, that said, we have an excellent kids program regardless of my personal thoughts on this.
The promises made in today’s karate kids programs are mostly intended to get your interest and get kids into the dojo. Not to say that some of those promises may not be met, but each child is different. On the positive side, a good school will indeed focus on the honor, respect, discipline as outlined above because that’s part of the general training method. Most true ‘traditional’ martial arts styles have a long heritage of those attributes within the dojo and it should be a very obvious way of life in the school.
When you consider taking a four year old to train in martial arts, consider that less than three years ago they were just testing out their walking skills, and now you’re asking for them to be taught to kick and punch. Both fairly complicated skills for most toddlers. Not to mention, the very limited attention span we mentioned earlier. A funny story; the other day we were at class and one of the kids started crying…for no apparent reason. Just moments before, he was laughing and carrying on with his fellow dojo mates. When I asked him what was the matter he sobbed and said his mom had just left the dojo and she had left him there alone. He wouldn’t stop crying, so we had to stop class and walk him to the parent waiting area to show him that mom had just stepped into the ladies room. The crying stopped and we resumed class. And this was a 5 year old, and this was not an extraordinary event when teaching kids.
We recently lowered our training ‘start’ age to 4 years old to accommodate the many calls we have received for this age group. We even get calls from parents for three year olds, claiming that their child is much advanced for his/her age. Unfortunately, this is mostly pride on the part of the ill advised parent. Karate training for kids less than 6 years of age is mostly an expensive form of babysitting, while wearing a karate Gi.
In my opinion, a better way to spend the time with your 3, 4 or 5 year old, is to take them on nature walks or do something else together. Then when they are 6, find a school where you can both train. That would be excellent for the child and parent. After all, you have to be there anyway, so why not reward yourself and your body with an excellent workout at the same time? You will both enjoy the experience and the long term benefits.
However, if you insist on starting a toddler early in the martial arts, understand that they are probably not going to be the next Bruce Lee. Don’t anticipate more than that they will hopefully be able to retain and do some skills after 6 months or so and the spinning wheel kicks as seen on TV and the big screen are light years away. If they are just enjoying being with the other kids and are comfortable with the routines of the dojo, then you’re way ahead of the pack.
A word about what to watch for regarding Instructors: Instructors should conduct and present themselves as such; just simply and humbly, as an instructor. Instructors are not Gods or super heroes. They should be neat, clean and obviously capable. Their concerns should be about the students under their supervision, not how good they are or were as advanced Black Belts. A flashy Gi, jewelry, multi colored belt, patches all over their Gi, etc. just says – ‘Hey, look at me”! Take a look at any photo of any of the ‘Father’s’ of our sport, and what do you see? Just mature instructors wearing a simple white Gi and a black belt, nothing more. Only their actions and way of life spoke for them.
If you have any questions about this point, look at the Jim Carey video we have provided for you and imagine leaving your child…or you, under his care. If you see behavior like that at your prospective dojo…run quickly, don’t look back.
So what is the bottom line? When considering Karate for your child, ask yourself honestly what you want him or her to take away from the training. If you just want a place where they can spend an hour at a time and have a good time with other kids, then there are many schools out there that will provide that. If a child is mature enough (5-6 years old) and really has an interest in martial arts, then look around at the many schools and styles available out there and find one that suits your child the best. Some kids love the flashiness of an eclectic school that focuses on competition and athletics in their training methods. Others are more comfortable with the less flashy traditional style training that focuses on basic principles and competition is an option, not goal of the school.
Either way, you as the parents have to put a bit of time and effort into the final choice. Once that choice is made, then be prepared and committed to spend the time with your child at the school, showing interest in their training and providing encouragement. If you have any questions regarding the various styles you may encounter, drop us a comment and we’ll do the best to answer your question.