Wednesday, April 12, 2017

3 Tips For Parents to Choose a Martial Art

So you want your kid to try martial arts, but you don't have any clue of how to begin.

Well, my friend, your pal the Stick Chick is here to help you out.  Not only am I martial artist myself, but I run a martial arts program as an instructor as well as having two martial arts kids myself.

This post is more of a set of quick bullet points on choosing a martial arts school for your child. I wrote about this topic before, in A Parent's Guide to the Martial Arts, and please do read that one as it's a longer post and I go into a lot more detail.



So here's a few tips:

PROXIMITY, SCHEDULE AND PRICE

Honestly, it's most practical to choose a school close to your home.  With busy schedules and tight budgets, it's a practical and important consideration.  I can tell you from experience the most common reason I've seen parents drop out of our school is conflict with schedules and the difficulty, sometimes, of getting their kid to class around other activities.

Don't forget to include other sports or activities your child is interested in (such as baseball season or theater or band) in your consideration.  It is common for kids in sports and the martial arts to have to take a break during a season for a sport.  Understand that if you have to take that time off, it will delay you kid's progress in the martial arts (not a bad thing, necessarily, it's just a fact).  It may be possible to arrange training on a different schedule with the school (usually via private lessons), so don't forget to ask about that if you know a conflict will arise.

Most martial arts schools near you will have their class schedule posted online or you can get a handout at the school itself.

As for price... the most expensive school in your area is not necessarily the right one for your child.  The cheapest one is not always the best deal.  Decide what is "average" in your area (it can vary WIDELY from place to place) and when discussing the price, makes sure all the fees are disclosed up front.  Some common fees include testing and "belt" fees, uniform fees, and equipment fees.  Know what is optional and what is required to be purchased for study.

This is... bad.

Most martial arts schools have a trial period.  It's not always obvious if a school is a poor fit until you've been in it for a few weeks, so use that trial period well.

As for contracts - some schools use them, some don't.  I prefer shorter contracts, and beware any school that promises if you sign a long-term contact (several years) right now, they'll guarantee your kid will reach black belt in a given period of time. That's shady.

Unless you live in a very small town or in a very rural place, there is more than one martial arts school around, and comparison shop them ALL so you get an idea of what's available in your area.  Don't just sign up with the first school you visit.

BE SURE WHY YOU WANT YOU CHILD IN THE MARTIAL ARTS

The benefits of the martial arts for kids are varied.  Some of the benefits include learning personal discipline, getting good exercise, working on good hand/eye coordination (which carries over to other sports), improving social skills, building positive self-esteem, learning moral and ethical values, and bully prevention.

Not every school covers all of those topics, so it's important to decide what is important to you so you know what to ask about and look for in a school.  This is entirely subjective, and ignore what people say you should want for your child.  You know your kid.

You can determine if the school meets your needs by asking outright, by talking to other parents at the school, and by observing classes.

If the martial arts school isn't willing to give you references for other parents or allow you to observe classes, that's a huge red flag and I would cross that school off of my consideration list.

By the way, kids really can't learn the skills asked of them until they are about six years old, on average (some kids can learn younger, and some aren't ready until older - that's why I said "average").  Martial arts classes for kids as young as three exist, but think of them more like martial arts movement classes, versus actual "martial arts" classes.

Little kids can't focus very long, so usually those classes aimed at "Little Dragons", the three-to-five year old set, are about 1/2 hour long.  For older kids who are still pretty young (six-nine or so), class times are usually 45 minutes to an hour.

THE STYLE DOESN'T MATTER THAT MUCH

No, really, it doesn't, not for kids.  Every martial artist will insist that the style he studies is the BEST EVER and all of the rest are just a waste of time and money.  Unless those people are studying Arnis, well, they're completely wrong.

For a kid, the style and its "effectiveness on the street" isn't the most important consideration.  For a kid, being a combat effective street badass isn't really what you're looking for (and if you are... well... good luck with that).

No matter the style, it's easy to transition at an older age (if the kid continues to study - many don't) to the styles that are more self-defense and fighting oriented.

So don't overthink the style too much or worry about whether or not it's kung fu or jiu jitsu or karate.  Do the kids doing the style on the mat look like they're working hard and having fun?  Awesome, that's what's important for a child.

I truly believe that martial arts study is good for almost every child on earth.  Heck, while your kid is trying it out, why don't you try it too? All of the benefits that are there for kids are there for parents, and many schools have a family class where kids and parents can study together.

I hope this helps, and I invite experienced martial artists and instructors to chime in on this post and include their tips.

Have fun on the mats!