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Children in the Dojang

I have been inspired to write up a set of guidelines as to how a child relates to members of a martial arts community.  It's a general thing I wish that all parents would be able to see before sending their children off to train.  I've seen a lot of good kids enter our community, but after some bad kids (and parents) started entering the scene, some groups became skeptical of allowing children to train.  I don't think that the situation is nearly as bad as some believe, but I think that we do need to talk to children and their parents before they begin training.

Martial Arts for Children

As a high belt in a Martial Arts school, I’ve seen people come and go and while each person is individual, a fact remains: attitudes stay the same.  Children and their parents approach the Martial Arts with certain attitudes – for better or for worse – and I think it helps to have a little idea of what roles children should play in the dojang.

How early can a child start?

It’s a tough question that requires parents to take an objective look at their children.  While they may be ahead of their age, are they prepared to shoulder the responsibility of being a member?  I generally say that school-aged children are about as young as a child should be, but if your child shows great maturity and understanding, then use your best discretion.  The most important thing is to make sure that your child understands the work that’s involved in training.  Historical facts, simple Korean words, patterns, the list goes on – if s/he won’t be discouraged by all that, it might be time to enroll!

Attitude

Attitude is the biggest downfall in dojangs today.  Parents become angry about testing procedures and children take their new-found talents to the playground.  I’m going to have to be a bit stern about this, but that’s only because a few bad apples have gone and ruined the bunch.  Here are a few things to remember:

1.      We are not a behavior counseling center – our schools do instill a sense of discipline, but it only works if the student is willing to cooperate.  It’s the parents’ responsibility to deal with a sassy mouth at home and an unruly child is bad for both our community and the obedient children.

2.      The Martial Arts are for defense – we are given an unfair advantage in any fight and we find it irresponsible to run around boasting.  I’ve met “black belts” outside my school who thought that they were better than everyone; they clearly missed the boat. Please talk to your children about time and place: the time for martial arts is during practice and the place is the dojang or practicing at home.

3.      You are not the exception to the rule – instructors are very understanding of problems.  We all have physical difficulties (my back prevents me from many things!).  However, we can’t jeopardize the rest of our community.  For example, a child acting in a fit of rage in our dojang is dangerous.  Allowing a child to test for rank when he isn’t up to his best ability demeans the other students.  We just want to keep things fair.

The Benefits

I’m sorry for all the previous negativity, but it was the nitty-gritty that we should cover first.  Let’s switch to something a bit more positive: the benefits of training.

Allowing a young one to train reaps huge benefits, providing that the child is ready.  They have a sense of community early on and I find that they end up gaining maturity.  In fact, I met a 13 year old black belt (I was 19 and a red belt) who was a kind and understanding teacher.  He took his leadership responsibilities seriously and helped me accomplish a number of things.

I’ve also found that the children are the most welcoming members.  They will greet new members with a smile and a helping hand.  They respect everyone – a quality which lacks in all people (not just children) these days.  Children are not limited by their ages in the dojang: they’re just as expert as the rest of us.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that no one knows a child better than the parent.  When you think the child is ready, start investigating schools.  It’s tough going at first, but after plugging away, a child could develop a love for this life-long sport.

Coming up next: I’ll talk about how to find a good school.  This is another touchy topic, but I think that we can handle it.

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