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Friday, December 20, 2013

Choosing A Martial Arts School, 4.0: Thinking of the Children

Choosing a martial arts school for your child is a big decision. In some ways, it is a bigger decision than choosing a martial art for yourself. You are not just looking for someone to teach a skill; you are looking for a place where you can confidently leave your child and know that s/he will be properly supervised and instructed in some potentially dangerous skills.

Much of the process of choosing a school for a child will look like the process of choosing one for an adult: what do you want your child to get from her martial arts practice? Fitness? Self-defense? Sport? Values? Some combination of all of those? Much of the advice in the linked articles applies to choosing a school for your child, but there are other factors as well.

What Do Each of You Want?

Your child must have some input about the kind of martial arts they do, and their own goals. The martial arts are no different from any other sport, in that there are children who are forced into participating as a way for their parents to fulfill their own desires or fantasies. If your child is not enjoying her martial arts training, then let her leave it, or find another form that she prefers.
Wherever you live, choosing a martial art for your child is going to involve a lot of effort. Visit schools. Talk to instructors. Talk to parents whose opinion you trust. Talk to school administrators. And whatever you do, don't sign up for the first thing you find.

Is It Really Martial Arts That You Want?

There's no really nice way to say this, so I won't try: some kid's martial arts programs are garbage as far as the martial content of their teaching. They are essentially glorified gymnastics classes with a lot more organized yelling and funny uniforms (okay, DIFFERENT funny uniforms).

If all you want is someone to babysit your kids and have them run around for a couple of hours, consider that martial arts may not be the place for them. The world is full of activities for kids. Find one that suits your child.

Values Only Work If Reinforced

I addressed this in one of the other chapters above, but not specifically to kids.

Look. Martial arts will not magically make Johnny a good student if he was a bad one before. If the only place Johnny gets discipline is in his martial arts class, he may just decide to stop going. The values he learns need to be reinforced at home (assuming the goal is to learn values at all).

It May Not Last 

This is true of adults too, but I think it's sufficiently important to highlight with kids. Kids change activities, often. Recognize right now that no matter how much your child swears that this will be his/her lifelong passion, they may look up in six months and decide that they would rather be skateboarding. Or whatever. Just accept it. It's okay for your kid not to earn a black belt. Really.

Choose The Coach CAREFULLY
Evaluate your child's potential instructor very carefully. Talk to them. Watch them teach. Do you like the way they interact with their students? With you? Do they seem genuinely interested in helping the children in their charge, or are they glorified babysitters in funny pajamas? Would you want your child to emulate them? Do you feel safe leaving your child in their care? If the answer to either of these questions is "no", then find another school.
Evaluate not only the instructor, but the school. What are the people there like? Are they the sort of people you want your kid hanging around? Are they the kind of person you want your child to grow up to be like? 

Remember that these people will serve as mentors, guides, and coaches for your child. Children will learn a lot about the kind of person they think a martial artist should be from their instructor and the other members of their school. Many adult martial artists speak fondly about the transformative effects that their own instructors had on them. But while the heartwarming stories are common, there are the heartbreaking ones as well.

Choose wisely.

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