In the Dojo office I often get parents asking “What is the appropriate age my child can start martial arts?” and my answer is always “It depends!”. Sure, I do understand that parents want a simple answer so they can finish the conversation and go on with their day but the answer is unfortunately not as simple as they might think.
The answer depends on three variables:
1-Type of the martial art itself
On the other hand Krav Maga schools don’t accept children until the age of 15, some of them until the age of 18. This is due to the fact that Krav Maga is a military self-defense discipline developed by the Israeli army.
2-Developement stage of the child
Children don’t grow at the same rate, some of them develop very rapidly, others are late bloomers, there is nothing wrong with that (Daniel J. Siegel explained it best in his parenting book No-Drama Discipline). Globally, children can start a martial arts class when they:
- Can differentiate between right and left
- Have developed sustained effort and attention span enough to attend a full class of 45 minutes.
- Understand constructive remarks from their Sensei and have evolved from “No I don’t want to hear you, I’m angry!” to “Now I understand how to perform this technique better”
- Has developed motor skills to perform hook kicks, roundhouse kicks and different variations of kicks.
- Has developed social skills like receptive (understanding) language, the ability to change their behaviour depending on the situation in a socially acceptable manner.
Signs that it is still early for your kid to start a martial art if he or she:
- Suddenly skips from one activity to the next without having any reason.
- Has no basic understanding of the consequences of his or her behaviour.
- Looks unconscious of the surrounding and fails to understand other children’s feelings.
3-The Dojo & Sensei
If your child meets the requirements above then it is time for them to start a martial arts class. But the importance of the martial art does not rise to the level of the importance of the dojo and the Sensei. Some martial arts schools are simply not fit to teach children and don’t have the pedagogy and the teaching sauce to make educational classes for children.
These are good signs that a martial arts school is good for your child:
- Your child feels comfortable in the dojo. Great martial arts schools have a very friendly and supportive community.
- The instructor is gentle and works with children on an individual level instead of using a cookie cutter method.
- In the class the instructor groups children according to their rankings, this way your child will be challenged at his or her own level. Grouping children regardless of their progress level can cause slow learning.
- You can tell a caring Sensei from one who doesn’t care just by seeing if he’s calling the students by their own name.
- The purpose of every move is plainly understood by every child, not because “that’s the way we do it in this dojo”.
- A dojo where kids are taught that their ranks are not as important as their effort
- The sensei makes children play funny and competitive games, sometimes even letting adults play too so the children can see them looking ridiculous.
- The instructor gives every child the same amount of attention not just the talented ones
- The sensei trains the children mentally too by doing visualization and easy meditation.
And finally If the dojo tries to lock you up in a contract without even allowing a trial session or period then this is a good sign that they are offering a lower quality teachings of martial arts and they know that students don’t stick for long.