Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Choosing Martial Arts for your Kids : A Primer for Parents

As summer dwindles to a close, many parents are considering just what after-school and extra-curricular activities their school-aged children should participate in this school year. Physical activities - like karate and organized team sports - are often at the top of many "Let's get Johnny and Suzy involved in something" lists, which can be a very good thing, indeed. But because it's important to know what you are getting yourself and your young ones into, there are a few important things you really need to consider before you go out and buy a gi and sparring equipment including:

1. Check out the school alone before you bring your child in for a look. Just like any facility your child will be spending time in, make sure it is clean, safe and generally comfortable. Walk through the changing area/dressing rooms and actually use the bathrooms. Look around/listen to how instructors are speaking to the students and each other. Are the classes chaotic and unorganized or structured and informational? Are students encouraged to ask questions and participate by helping demonstrate techniques or expected to just do without explanation? Would you feel comfortable leaving your child there without you? If something feels off about the environment or the instruction, trust your gut. If you're fine with what you experience, stop in next time with your child.

2. Not every 10-year old is/Not every five year old isn't ready for a structured, physically challenging activity. Since you know your child better than her/his instructor does, you're probably the best judge of whether or not Junior is capable of following instructions in a group setting, sitting still/waiting his turn effectively and functioning without your hand-holding for a 30- to 45-minute class. If you aren't sure about your grade-schooler or if the instructor needs convincing about your pre-schooler, ask if your child can take a trial class to see if s/he can make it through comfortably. Many schools offer a week of or at least a few classes for free to help you figure out if the class works for your child and your family's lifestyle. Don't buy any equipment or sign any long-term agreements until you're sure the school/program is a good fit.

3. Learning any martial art is designed to take a long time. Really, the martial path is all about the journey, not the destination - and a fast trip is often not the generally recommended road. Any school or program promising to make your child into a black belt in X number of years is one you should probably run from as quickly as humanly possible. Also, let your child know that the martial path is all about delayed gratification and the Puritan Work Ethic. The hard work put in will certainly pay off, but that payoff isn't always immediately apparent - which is why is is so important that your child enjoy the time they spend in class. Children can get frustrated or "Are we there yet?" bored easily if they don't know what to expect.

4. Make sure your child is dressed appropriately for class. Whether or not instruction happens in a traditional setting with uniforms and belts/sashes or in a church basement with t-shirts and sweatpants, your child should have what s/he needs to actively participate. Watches, rings, metal headbands, jeans, pencil skirts, big belt buckles and the like can restrict movement or make for safety hazards on the mat. Also, don't rely on the instructor to keep tabs on necklaces and bracelets during the class. The best rule of thumb is to not wear any accessory not used on the mat to the training hall in the first place. 

5. Be mindful of after-school programs that offer a martial arts component where everyone must participate. Again, if your child isn't really feeling martial arts, any session where they must participate will not be pleasant for them at all, which will make for a bad experience for them, their dojo/dojang mates and their instructor. You know that feeling you get before heading into a mandatory work-related meeting that you really don't want to go to in the first place? They'll feel the same way every time Karate Day approaches if they don't want to be there. If your child has tried the class a few times and it really isn't his/her thing, talk to the program director about finding an alternate activity.

6. This is your child's activity, not yours. Just because you always wanted to study martial arts doesn't mean your child does. Sure, the discipline and character-building that martial arts instruction provides is great, but it doesn't necessarily mean your child will be as anxious to learn to do new stuff like punch/kick things and scream like a banshee as you might have been. If Suzy shows a genuine interest in joining a class, great! But if she tells you that she's not sure once she gets there AND really seems out of sorts during class AND keeps expressing to you that she doesn't want to go back AND you are more enthusiastic about going than she is, it might be time for you to sign up for class and find another activity for her.

7. Remember: It's supposed to be fun. Martial arts instruction has some built-in stressors - like the pressure of learning forms, understanding bunkai, promotions and remembering dojo etiquette - but it still should be enjoyable to the folks participating, whether they are 5 or 55. Generally speaking, participating in class and other martial arts-related activities (tournaments, seminars and/or visiting other schools) should be something your child looks forward to. When it isn't a happy experience anymore - and not just because the expectations are higher or the curriculum challenges are getting tougher - it may be time to think about exploring new activities.

Not an exhaustive list by any means, but this is enough to get you started on deciding if martial arts is right for your child. If you have any questions or are a martial artist or parent who has tips for those trying to decide if martial arts instruction is right for their child, feel free to add them in the comment section below.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Wow - Didn't See That One Coming...

Last week, Training Partner Ed gave me a call. We usually teach together at the dojo at least once (and sometimes twice) a week and since we try to train together at least one other day each week, I thought he was calling to see what my schedule was so we could do some kata and/or bunkai drills.

Training Partner Ed and me right before
the sparring portion of our shodan grading
(May 2009)
Imagine my surprise when he told me he had decided to put his house on the market and move his family to South Carolina where he owns property. "The cost of living is much cheaper there," he said. "What's the point of having land when we're not even using it?"

As a mom in the homestretch of paying college tuition, I can totally relate to the cost of living thing. Although his oldest son just started middle school and his youngest is only in grade school, they will be flipping their tassels and moving into some institution of higher learning's dormitory before you know it. The sooner the savings starts, the easier it will be when it comes time to register for classes. It sucks to work just to pay bills, it really does. I'm happy that he and his family have found a solution for life's treadmill, I really am.

Doesn't mean I won't miss him, though.

Ed and I met at the local YWCA where I'd gone to train one day because their huge aerobics rooms had mirrors that my dojo didn't to help me be truer to my angles when learning kata Saifa. He was on the treadmill next to his wife when I walked into the weight room with a Goju t-shirt on. I'd only worn the shirt once before (it was a gift) and Ed, who had just moved to our little hamlet from New York City, nearly broke his neck getting off the treadmill to ask me where I trained. That was 2007. He started coming to my dojo shortly after and we've been friends ever since, training almost daily together in the year leading up to our shodan test, which we made it through side-by-side in 2009. We eventually left that school together and open another two years after that.

Ed with gifts from his wife
 just after his shodan grading. Notice the
big smile and the shiny new black belt
around his waist :-)
When I say he is my dojo brother, I mean it in every sense of the word. He's pushed me hard on the mat, made me want to be better at this martial thing and made me want to slug him a few times, too. I can definitely say I really am a better martial artist for having met and trained with him - but I'm also a better person.

So, yeah, waving from the curb as he and his family drive away from it for the last time won't be easy. Part of me hopes his house stays on the marketfor a minute and he'll be stuck in the frigid cold of the great State of New York for at lest another year (or two, or 10), but that's, of course, just selfish me thinking out loud.

In reality, I wish him the best: a happy, healthy life full of all the things he and his family deserve. It's kinda sad that has to be done 800 miles away, but that's what martial life encourages you to do, really, doesn't it - broaden your horizons and think outside of any given box, right?

He better write/email/text/send training videos/visit/invite me to his kids' graduations and weddings, daggone it. Plus he promised to lead the "Dance Felicia's urn around the church" brigade if I check out before he does, so he better not forget how to get back up here, LOL...

The thought of him not being just down the road makes me more than a little sad. Hopefully I'll have another few months or so to get use to the idea, at least.

Doesn't mean I have to like it, though (insert pouty emoji here)...