So you're ready to sign your child up for martial arts classes. Fantastic! With a martial arts school on practically every street corner (well, at least here in Los Angeles) it can be a daunting task shopping around for the best fit, especially if you have little or no actual training yourself. How do you know which school is the right school? Which martial art system should you choose? The easiest way to find the right school is to first determine which benefits are most important for your child to get from their training. The goals you and your child have will help determine which school and which system to choose.
1) Life skills. If the main reason you are enrolling your child is so they can practice life skills such as focus, respect, discipline, confidence, teamwork, etc., then any reputable martial arts school should be able to deliver on those lessons. Life skills training is an integral part of the kids program at any credible school. The actual art form: Taekwondo, Karate, Judo, Kung Fu, etc. doesn't really matter. Have your child try classes at several different schools until you find one that fits in terms of instructor personalities, teaching styles, class size, budget, etc.
2) Fitness. If the main reason you are enrolling your child is so that they can improve basic fitness and athletic skills such as balance, coordination, and flexibility then any reputable martial arts school, offering any traditional martial arts system, should help your child achieve those goals. Look for a challenging but achievable warm-up portion of each class as well as a stretching component. However, if you are looking for classes that will challenge your young athlete to improve advanced fitness skills such as speed, agility, strength, and power, or you are looking for an opportunity for your child to cross-train in something different from their competitive sport, then your search will be trickier. The majority of traditional martial arts classes will not be physically challenging enough for an athlete. If these are the main goals in signing your child up, I recommend trying several different schools to see if you can find a program that fits. Systems that include aerial maneuvers and tumbling, such as XMA (a hybrid between gymnastics and martial arts) tend to be more physically challenging than the average Karate or Jiu-Jitsu class. But again, different schools offer different types of classes, so shop around!
3) Competition. If your child is interested in the sport of martial arts, and would like to attend competitions, any reputable martial arts school with a competition team should work for your child. The actual system is less important unless you know your child would enjoy a kicking-dominated sport (such as Taekwondo), a wrestling dominated sport (such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), or a tripping and throwing dominated sport (such as Judo). Make sure you ask plenty of questions such as: how often does the team compete, where does the team compete, can all students participate if they wish to or are there "try-outs" and "cuts," how well does the team usually do in competitions, how quickly can your child begin to compete, etc. Once those questions are answered satisfactorily, your choice comes down once again to class, instructor, and teaching style compatibility.
4) Fun. If you are and your child are simply looking for a fun extracurricular activity then the specifics of the art form are of very little importance. Go dojo shopping! Have your child try many different classes to see which one is the most fun for him or her.
5) Self-Defense. Martial arts and self-defense systems are not the same thing. Traditional martial arts are not self-defense systems. While they can be used in a self-defense context, martial arts are an art form that practices martial movements. You can think of traditional martial arts (Karate, Kung Fu, Jiu-Jitsu, Taekwondo, etc.) as choreographed chains of movement, such as dance. Will your child learn how to punch, elbow, kick, and knee? Yes. Will those moves work on the "street" if your child must defend themselves? Maybe. But maybe not. Will those movements give your child the BEST opportunity to successfully and realistically defend themselves in a time of need. No. If you want your child to learn realistic, effective self-defense first and foremost you will need to find a reality based self-defense school, and not a traditional martial arts school. So how do you know if the school that advertises their superior self-defense system will truly equip your child with effective techniques? There are many factors that go into making a self-defense system effective and most of them are easy to look for. I'll go further into depth with these points in a later blog post (in the interest of keeping this one shorter than a novel), but here are the basics to look for out of a credible self-defense school: curriculum covers how to fight standing and how to fight from the ground, there should NOT be an emphasis on trips, throws, or pressure points, techniques should be simple and straightforward, aggressive and powerful striking should be emphasized, techniques should work regardless of size, strength, or gender of the defender and attacker, classes should utilize higher intensity training drills, role-playing, and reality-based scenario training.
I hope this brief overview of how to shop for the best program for your child has been helpful. All schools offer at least one trail class, so be sure to shop around for the best fit for your child. If you have any questions at all about choosing the right school please feel free to email me at: Jarrett@JarrettArthur.com