What to Expect When Your Child Begins Martial Arts

by Sherry McGregor

When your child begins a new martial arts program, chances are good that you are hoping for certain changes to occur. We all want to see our children grow in maturity, strength, and spirit, and we want them to learn new skills and gain new confidence.

But what is the process, and how will you know if it’s working and how long does it take? Everyone is different of course, but I can explain some general expectations.

First of all, you should expect to be given a few clear-cut rules for getting along in the dojo. There are etiquette rules and rules for safety and for general behavior. It helps if you learn and follow these rules as an additional example to your child, and to show that you respect the dojo as much as your child does. As an example, your child will be expected to show respect, be courteous of the others they work out with and learn self-control and care for the safety of others. Students are allowed to ask questions but will most likely be directed to do so at an appropriate time as to not interrupt classes.

There may also be times your child seems unsure of trying new things, like rolling or falling for instance, as long as you feel the instructors supervise well and care about safety, allow the instructor work through the fear with your child. The best support you can offer is encouragement to keep trying and not to give up.

At the beginning there is usually lots of excitement about training. This is wonderful, but because there is a certain amount of repetition evolved to become proficient, most students may get bored or frustrated with training at some point. This is normal and is actually expected. This is a perfect time to teach your child patience and perseverance. Encourage your child, and remind her or him that to be good at anything you have to practice over and over until it becomes natural.

Some of the responsibility also lies with the instructors who should recognize that repetition is trying. Our instructors try to teach the same skill in many different ways to minimize routine. If your child complains of being bored, share this with your instructor and they should be able to help offer encouragement.

I recommend when starting any new endeavor with a child that you and the child make a contract with your child. Something like this: If you start this class (sport, project, etc.) then we agree that we will dedicate one year (or other reasonable time period) to it. There is no quitting until that time period is past. This is a commitment for both you and your child so be sure that you can set aside the time to get him/her to classes and activities. Let your child know that you will not discuss quitting until the end of the established contract. When your contract time is up, talk again about where we want to go from there.

This approach allows your child to begin to take the steps necessary to reach towards goals of responsibility, reliability and respect. Not allowing your child to quit when classes get boring, or tough teaches perseverance and strength of character.

You can also explain to your child that activities require investments. These investments include time, dedication and money. In order to gain on those investments, you have to work at them and care for them. Let your child in on what it costs to go to classes and buy equipment, perhaps even make an agreement that each new piece of equipment is purchased by the child through an extension of his/her contract with you.

Physically, your child may be sore at times from training muscles they are not used to using. This is not a reason to skip class, in fact, skipping class will make the soreness last longer and cause them to get sore over and over again when that group of muscles is used again. The best way to work out soreness is to keep working out.

Let me clarify that I am talking about muscle soreness not an injury. I have also seen times when there is a particular child that intimidates or hurts other children when they work together. If there is a child that your child has a problem working with or that intimidates your child then talk with your instructor. Many times the instructor is aware, but occasionally the intimidation is subtle or occurs outside of classes, so be certain that her/she is aware. This is something the two children should work through and the instructor can facilitate the process or take other actions as needed.

You should always be able make time to talk with your instructor about issues that come up during your training and life. If he/she’s not interested, find a new instructor!

Emotionally, your child will go through ups and downs. This can be tough and I can assure you that sometime during his/her training, he/she will want to quit. Martial arts training requires discipline and self control and getting there means wading through uncomfortable emotions. Frustration, anger and fear are experienced along the way to confidence, pride and accomplishment. Be prepared for a wide range of adjustments along the way. Instructors have the experience of going through all the same emotions and feelings and should respect the feelings of the students they teach and be able to help guide them through.

You can also help by continuing to be supportive and encouraging while not allowing your child to give up. Usually martial arts schools will be very supportive of school work and getting good grades, in fact some give patches or rewards academic achievements. They should also be supportive of extra curricular activities for school such as band, football, etc. During these seasons and times your child may not be able to be at martial arts training as much, but keep them coming as often as possible, this will help with the other activity they are doing and keeps them from going backwards in learning.

Martial arts training helps promote: focus, ability to memorize, problem solving, self-confidence, leadership skills, physical control, mental and emotional control, goal setting, persistence, ability to think quick on your feet, respect, ability to work with others, awareness. These skills will help your child in all they do in life, school, work, relationships, handling peer pressure, responsibility and making right decisions to mention a few. There is no price you can put on learning these skills.

The most important thing is not that your child can kick and punch; it is that these priceless values are learned and those ingrained values will keep them out of trouble and save their lives more often than a kick or punch ever will. Those values are actually more important to self-defense than physical techniques, and the lessons learned her will stay with your child throughout life.