We’ve received questions from readers of our Choosing A Martial Art series wondering which art might be best for a child. After all, there are many good reasons for enrolling a youngster in some kind of fitness program. Early age obesity is on the rise, with so many kids consuming fats and sugars, combined with a sedentary lifestyle of too much TV and video games. There is also a social component that can help with a growing youth’s self-confidence and drive to succeed. So which martial art is best?
The answer is: all of them. Virtually any martial art — that contains a children’s program — will benefit your child. The considerations then become: How old should your child begin training? What is the potential teacher like, and how is the class conducted?
When searching for a good class for our son (he was four years old when we began; he’s six now, and doing well in his MMA class), I visited a lot of different schools in the Bay Area of California. I knew I wanted an Asian martial art for its formality and discipline, and was also hoping for a practical art that allowed him to learn to defend himself without causing undue damage to the other kid (liability is always on my mind!). Eventually, I settled on an MMA gym, mainly on the strength of its owner and teacher.
Sensei is great with kids. He has that perfect mixture of goofiness that makes the kids laugh, coupled with a stern attitude that makes them want to emulate him. He knows when to push, and when to ease off. What’s even better is that while his classes are grouped by age, students are welcome to participate in any class, as long as they are willing to help train.
I hadn’t initially considered any kind of competitive action, but after asking my son if he wanted to compete in his first jiu-jitsu tournament and receiving a whole-hearted yes, we signed him up. His first-ever tourney taught him some valuable lessons, like how to concentrate amid a crowd of cheering (screaming, really) parents, and how to lose with grace. His second tournament saw him walk away with a Silver medal in his division, which boosted his confidence and really set him on the road to a lifetime love affair with the sport.
Above all, your best gauge for choosing a good martial art for your child will be sitting in on a typical class and just being observant. Do the students treat each other with respect? How does the teacher command attention? Is it formal or casual? Is there a belt system? What are the facilities like? Nothing will take the place of your parental instincts. Martial arts training will definitely enrich your child’s life and reap vast rewards for both of you.