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As a child, did you have the awesome experience of going through the ranks, competing at tournaments, and learning from a wise Sensei (or Sifu)? When I was 7, I started to take karate classes, because I thought my dad looked like a real warrior when he trained. He was already a brown belt at that point in time, and I remember seeing him take on one or two guys at a time at his belt tests. At one test, he was even beat out the door by his sparring partner. It was the real deal.
My classes were physically challenging, sometimes painful, but always rewarding. I knew that my belt was truly earned when I wore it around my waist. It became apparent pretty quickly that martial arts training gave me some athletic advantages in other sports and in fitness tests at school. In the yearly elementary school “Presidential” fitness tests, I always did more crunches, pull ups, and ran a faster mile than the other students. I also felt like I could control my temper and mind pretty well, which allowed me to make better grades and get in trouble less. As the shortest and one of the smallest-framed kids, martial arts gave me more confidence, and made me less of a would-be target for bullies. I remember having to hold my own when some of the big kids would put me in head locks, or wrestle around trying to show off.
Maybe you had a similar experience with martial arts training? Whether you started BJJ in high school, or did Taekwondo at an olympic level, or just enjoyed watching Bruce Lee – you’ve known for a long time that there is something mysterious and powerful to martial artists. Something that goes above and beyond just fighting. That something is called self-mastery.
The first question I often receive is “how young should you start your child?” After teaching kids martial arts classes for the last 14 years, I have seen a wide variety of mental aptitudes, physical characteristics, and behavior patterns. To gain the most out of the time spent training, I recommend waiting until your child is at least 5 years old. This can vary child by child. Some kids can be mentally ready at around 4 or 4.5 (6 months is a huge difference when you are talking about these early ages). Whereas some might need to wait until 6 or even 7. The child should be able to focus intently on the activity for at least 20-30 minutes straight while applying a high level of effort the entire time.
If there is a high quality, qualified, and professional martial arts academy near your home, then by all means, this should be your first option. Nothing can compare to learning from a great teacher, that actually gives you the attention and time you need to progress. However, especially with some larger, more commercialized martial arts school these days, this is not always the case. Here is how to go about selecting a local school:
There are plenty of situations where a local school will not work out for you. If you find yourself in one of these, then teaching your child at home (with the help of a quality online program or home study course), makes more sense:
Now that you’ve decided on teaching your child at home, you need to get prepared. A teacher is only as good as their current knowledge and tools, so hopefully you are already a 9th degree black belt Grandmaster, or you are seeking out quality at-home training programs.
When you are teaching your child, be more of a coach. Encourage, motivate, point out mistakes (with a positive tone), give high fives, and push your child to do better. Your child should actually feel like you switched gears, and you are now Coach Daddy, not just Daddy for example. This has helped me when I teach/train my own three kids. If I stay in daddy mode (or, Papí mode, as that is what my kids call me), then they have less respect and seriousness around the martial arts practice. Not that they don’t respect me as their father, but there is just a difference between learning something from a coach or teacher, compared to your parents. So, in some ways, you want to differentiate your attitude, while still maintaining that positive love and support for your child. This is one of the challenges of teaching your child at home. But, if you are a homeschool parent already, then this would be nothing new to you.
It will all be worth it. Your kids will have so much fun bonding with you. They will look forward to every kick, punch, block, kata, push up, choke defense, nunchaku spin, and bo staff strike. Teaching your kids martial arts will make you a better martial artist, teacher, and parent. You’ve got this!
About the Author
Michael Hodge is the founder of Black Belt at Home. He has been teaching martial arts classes for the last 14 years. Michael teaches online students from around the world in the Global Martial Arts University and runs a local kids-only private academy. He has three young kids, who are homeschooled at their house on the prairie.