What Is the Best Martial Art for Kids?

Martial arts is a very helpful addition to a healthy lifestyle. The mental and physical training necessary to be successful in any martial art will give students helpful skills they can apply to a number of other facets of their lives. With so many martial arts schools in even the smallest cities it may be a overwhelming task for parents to evaluate them and figure out what is the best martial art for their kids. Although there’s no single martial art that is best suited specifically to all kids there are some which are more suitable than others. Some styles may focus more on the physical tournaments and preparing for them, while others may have an increased emphasis on character and self esteem developing. Furthermore two schools that provide the same style will teach that style distinctly, setting greater emphasis on different aspects of the style, for example mastering the formal movement patterns vs a focus on the sparring aspects. In this short article we hope to help you with some information regarding the best martial art for kids.

Firstly you being a parent have to be sure you understand the reason you are searching for a martial art for your kids. There are a number of skills to be acquired through martial arts, such as self-defence, fitness improvements, teaching self-confidence, or training to compete in competitive events.

While most if not all martial arts are in some ways acceptable for kids, the same can’t be said for all schools or coaches. That is the reason why the initial step when choosing a martial art for your kids should be to determine which of the martial arts styles offered in your area are most suited for your kids, and then assess the schools within driving distance, the instructors in those schools and then the type of training they provide to both students and to instructors.

Begin by exploring several of the schools found in your community to determine what their primary styles are. The World Wide Web is an excellent resource for this as you can get a quick summary of the tenets, history and styles involved with each individual martial art. Consider not only your goals for your kids, more self-confidence or building physical strength for instance, but also the skills of your child when deciding which martial arts may be best suited for them. Judo and mixed martial arts both have some focus on grappling, which is locking or pinning opponents down. So these may not be the best martial arts for kids which are claustrophobic. On the other hand these styles will probably be great at helping your child build their physical strength and stamina.

Once you’ve a list of styles that could be right for your kids, start calling the schools in your neighborhood that instruct those styles. The research should match up with the details that the school supplies. For example, Taekwondo has only two recognized branches, the Kukkiwon/World Taekwondo Federation branch and the International Taekwon-Do Federation branch. If a Taekwondo school can’t verify that they are associated with one of these organizations then their training, and the belts they grant to students, may not be valid or authentic. Inquire if they have programs created specifically for children, or if the children are grouped into a general class. If your kids are intimidated when in a group of older kids, teens or adults then perhaps a general class may not be best suited for them. Find out how many students and instructors are in each class, as a high student to teacher ratio will reduce the amount of time your kids will have with the instructor for one on one training. Ask if the instructors have certifications in first-aid or child education. Find out if the schools have formal training classes for their coaches, to train them the way to teach. Keep in mind that being a champion at a sport doesn’t mean that a person can teach well; consider the number of great hockey and football players have experienced stunningly poor coaching careers. Find out how much experience the master or senior teacher has with kids. Get an idea of what ongoing costs should be to go to the school, which includes items such as promotion testing fees, uniforms, and additional equipment needs like arm and shin guards for fighting practices. Find out just how long the school has been in business, how long it’s been at its existing location and whether the school gives back to its neighborhood through fundraising events or group volunteer activities. These things are important indications of the commitment level that the instructors and masters have to the school.

Now that you’ve found a school you have to inspect the physical location itself. The physical location of the school or the equipment the school uses may not be tolerable to you once you actually see it. More than likely you are going to want to visit the school without your children, in the event that they may be anxious to begin training there and you determine that you are not comfortable with the school. A number of schools will allow you to view or even participate in a free class, to help you get a better appreciation of the teaching style and use of the facilities. Introducing your kids to the school should be done only after you are satisfied with the school, the style and the level of instruction that your kids will receive.

Other Tips:

Children can be more committed to the martial arts training if it becomes a family activity. To help your kids be more dedicated to physical activity outside of school you could consider signing yourself up for family martial arts classes.

Many schools emphasize discipline and respect for parents, instructors and elders. Practicing this respect at home may require your reinforcing its importance away from the school.

The history of the martial art and/or the club itself, the grand-master or the organizations the club is part of may be required learning at the school that your kids go to. Be sure to help your kids with some research into these aspects.

Paul Thibault is a fifth Dan Master in World Taekwondo Federation Taekwondo

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Beginning A Martial Art – Part 1

So you have made the big decision to join a martial arts school. you paid your membership fee, received your white belt & uniform and now you are ready to enter into a whole new world. This world is one where you are usually known by just your first name and for the most part the relationships you make in the dojo usually stay there. For your information the name “dojo” stands for and means the training facility.

It is a fact that the strange thing about many of your fellow students is that they aren’t even recognizable on the street with their regular street clothes and out of the dojo. Another thing that I found and it might just be me but when I have encountered many of the present or past fellow students on the street the conversations seemed short and strained a bit.

Why, I don’t know but it may have to do with the environment that you both know each other in and once out of it there may be a little to talk about when you encounter each other in the real world.

The very first thing you need to do before you train is “leave your ego at the door”. It has no place in the dojo and it will definitely hamper your overall development. That being said you will also need to know the rules of the dojo, basic dojo etiquette, history of the martial art you are studying and have an open mind which is sometimes called the beginners mind.

Usually a senior student will be assigned to you to teach you how to tie your belt, bowing in & off the mat, bowing to your fellow students when training and also bowing in & out of class in a kneeling position. There are various differences in each school and in each particular style of martial art.

Some of the more formal classical styles will have a little more elaborate ceremony or rituals of sorts and I have even been to a school where Zen like statements began and ended the class. Interesting I must say!

Pay attention to what is being taught in the beginning because it is not too difficult to learn but does require that you stay focused which will help you throughout your training. The strange rituals that you initially learn will become so normal after a while it won’t even register that this may be pretty strange after all.

Basically all the bowing is a show of respect to the particular founder, the sensei, the school and to your fellow students. There are variations to bowing and what the hands are doing when bowing in different styles but whatever style the meaning is still the same, respect!

Obviously the gi or uniform that you wear is important since naked martial arts aren’t really too popular so keep it clean and wash it frequently. The first belt you receive will usually be a white belt so you’ll need to learn how to tie it. Practice at home how to make the special knot you are taught so you are not fumbling before class begins and after a short while it will become automatic.

An important point is to be punctual. If class starts at let’s say 7 PM then make it a your business to get there at least fifteen minutes early so that you can change into your gi and warm up on your own. It is disrespectful to come to the class late because it disrupts the rest of the class that is already in progress.

Occasionally it will happen and when it does you should kneel at the edge of the mat until the sensei acknowledges your presence and invites you onto the mat. Oh, I hope everyone knows to never walk onto the mat with street shoes on! This is a big no-no.

A word of advise is; supplement your martial arts classes with other strength, aerobic and cardio workouts such as weight training, running, swimming and anything else that fits this criteria. Even though many of the martial arts that you will train in gives you a great workout you will be able to do more, go longer and not be exhausted and avoid needless injuries if you add other workouts to your weekly schedule.

When you build up you muscles and your cardio you will also increase your enjoyment on the mat and be less prone to injuries. This is a result of building up your muscles so there will be less chance of strains and sprains that can result from sparring and grappling.

I have seen countless people over the years maybe come once a week, give a half ass-ed effort and constantly struggle to keep up with the rest of the class. Their workouts and classes would be so much easier and more enjoyable if they would take physical fitness more seriously and workout on their own.

This may sound a bit over the top but I feel that it takes at least five years of regular training to get a more than basic understanding of the martial art you are studying. This understanding also involves the muscle memory, knowledge of the katas, names of the techniques, the ability to perform the techniques on command and the development of awareness both on and off the mat. There are no shortcuts to true knowledge!

Of course it is possible to absorb this type of understanding in a shorter time period but it would require more classes per week, extra practice at home, possibly private lessons and a a total dedication to the martial art that you are studying. This dedication also involves the mental aspect of learning your martial art.

This is like homework but more enjoyable! Take notes and review the notes and the techniques that are described hopefully in detail if of course you can read your own handwriting. If you are or were a good student and note taker the transition will not be overwhelming and you’ll have lot of reference material. Only one technique is recommended to go over in your mind at a time so you won’t get confused and mix up different techniques.

You can even do the techniques by yourself to practice the body movements and where the hands and feet should be relative to the imaginary opponent. It does take patience and dedication but the rewards are amazing in terms of progress. So take notes, review notes and practice what is in the notes on a regular basis.

Only 20 minutes a day is all you need!

The ranking system is now pretty uniform across the board in the many different martial arts & styles that exist today. Prior to the beginning of Judo as a sport there were really no belt rankings. Way back when there were many different martial arts schools the advanced students did not need a colored belt to indicate to the others how proficient he was. The particular ryu or school was usually very closed to the general public so those who were students knew who was the beginner & who was the expert.

With the advent of Judo by Professor Kano the belt rankings became a standard indication of the students proficiency. Professor Kano was a very skilled jujitsu practitioner along with being an educator. His goal was to incorporate a system of martial arts that builds the body & strengthens the character of the students.

The reason for the belts I believe was the visual reinforcement of where the student stood in relation to the rest of the class. This prompted the student to try to attain a higher rank which would be evident by the color of the belt. Also, this distinguished the beginners from the advanced students so everyone knew who’s who so in competition and the same belt ranked students would fight each other.

Now just about every martial art has belt ranking even the the criteria is different for each type & different styles. My opinion of the belt rankings is rather complicated. On one hand I think it is necessary to separate the beginners from the more advanced students in an open dojo environment where anyone can join. The most obvious way to do it is to have a colored belt that indicates your rank & experience.

The mystique of a black belt still permeates the public consciousness as being the pinnacle of martial arts. The reality is quite different though and can hamper your individual development as a martial artist. We’ll explore this concept in another article in the future.

When there are belts in a dojo what does happen is a class separation even though it is unspoken and the focus sometimes can be on the belt itself and not the individual or the martial art. Different schools, different sensei’s and the individual students will affect this perception of the belts real value in relation to the the experience level & dedication of the students.

The basic truth is a belt is just a belt regardless of the martial art with no mystical properties as is portrayed in the movies. This also pertains to the red belt which signifies the the “master” or “grand master” of a martial art and this is supposed to be the ultimate ranking that can be attained.

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