Modern children are typically pampered and sheltered from most of the harsher realities of life. This is a relatively good thing for infants, toddlers, and most kindergartners. But as a child grows older and more independent, he will spend more and more of his time outside of direct adult supervision. If he does not learn to develop situational awareness and how to protect himself as he gets older, he becomes a sitting duck for bullies, predators, spontaneous flash bashes, and accidentally stumbling into other bad situations.
What are the best martial arts to teach children in the beginning? In our opinion, Aikido, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, and fencing. Here are a few ideas for teaching martial arts to children:
I think if I were to teach a class of kids aikido, here’s some of what I’d do to avoid chokes, joint locks, and etc…
Ukemi – lots and lots of ukemi [ed: the art of falling safely and smoothly]
Evasion drills with partners
Brush-off and escape
Cool ki tricks (mind games, concentration, etc…)
Talk about how to deal with interpersonal conflict
Situational self defense
So, there’s still a lot of aikido and pre-aikido that we could do. Much of the pre-aikido stuff is identical to the pre-judo stuff we do in kiddie judo. _Aikido for kids
For a while, young kids should play a games-based judo approach. Fun preparations that build strength and coordination and familiarity with judo. But then at some point they have to move to “real judo.” I’m not talking about adult judo – we start kids in regular adult classes at about age 13, depending on their physical size and maturity. I’m talking about an intermediate level between games-based judo and actual judo technique.
One indicator that they are ready to step it up a level from games to real judo, is that they understand and can abide by the gentleman’s agreement at the heart of judo. I’ve mentioned this Judo gentleman’s rule before.
The most central rule to judo practice is that if I am going to allow you to use my body to learn to throw hard and fast then you must save me at the end. You can throw with force, but you must support me and help me get into the proper landing position.
Without people abiding by this rule, judo falls apart and cannot be practiced. When kids are progressively demonstrating that they can take better and better care of their ukes, they can be taught progressively more vigorous judo. _Judo for kids
After teaching my own children and many others basic self-defense, I realized that children should first concentrate on a safe foundation system of self-defense based solely on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Only given solid aptitude of this system, at an intermediate level, would I then teach the striking techniques of Thai Boxing. The rationale for this is manifold:
Only a more advanced student will learn techniques that are inherently more dangerous (striking). This way, I will assure that only children who are mature enough to understand the safety issues will learn the technique.
In a fight, position is more important than pure striking ability. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gives a greater ability to control the position of your opponent than Thai Boxing. So, I want the student to know how to control their opponent long before they learn how to punch, elbow, or kick them. With positional control, punching and kicking can happen with relative leisure!
Beginners may get confused if they have too many techniques to focus on. After they have the fundamentals of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu “wired in,” they won’t get their mind as cluttered with dramatically different techniques of Thai Boxing.
Understand the difference between causing pain and causing harm. Never attempt to harm a fellow student.
Avoid physical conflict.
Work out conflict with words. If you can escape a situation without physical harm to you or a family member, don’t fight.
Words are never a reason to fight. Children are rewarded for avoiding fights.
Because of legal and school disciplinary issues involved in fights, the children are taught that in a situation where a fight is unavoidable, the words spoken and attempts made to dispel and avoid the situation beforehand can make a great difference.
Challenge the student to work hard.
The only true rewards in life come from hard work, dedication, and consistent practice.
Fitness through aerobic conditioning
Self defense in realistic situations
Have fun, but be serious enough to make solid progress every class!
Share techniques and learning with fellow students only.
It is important that they understand that this is a fighting system that should not be casually shared or demonstrated anywhere but in class with the instructor, unless self-defense calls for it. In other words, it would be very bad if they demonstrated a choke on a friend at the playground or kicked the family dog!
Don’t advertise yourself as a martial arts expert! Many children take a few classes and think they are Bruce Lee reincarnated. A bigger bully will go out of his way to pick a fight with someone like this. Sun Tsu said, “All warfare is based on deception.” Don’t let them know what you know. More importantly, as a beginner, you don’t know much, so don’t pretend to know more than you do! _Jiu Jitsu for kids
Find a Team
Depending on your child’s age, there are several different options for the types of teams you want to sign him up with. The most popular choice for parents with children under the age of 10 is to start them in a freestyle/Greco-Roman wrestling club. These clubs typically practice folkstyle, the same style of wrestling contested in high schools and colleges across the United States.
Wrestling clubs are typically not affiliated with any specific school or organization. Rather, they are private organizations geared towards teaching children the sport of wrestling. However, many clubs may practice at a school and have the same coaching staff as a school’s regular team — but the club will not be related to the school in any other way.
Essentially, you want to look for a team that focuses on fitness and technical development, rather than competition. This is especially important for younger wrestlers. For more information on what to look for when choosing a wrestling club, check out iSport’s guide, _Wrestling for kids
Wrestling has traditionally been a male sport, but it is becoming more popular among females. It can be extremely strenuous, so children should have good health and fitness levels before beginning training. Most of all, choose a coach who is skilled, patient, a good teacher, and emotionally mature.
Martial arts training for children can be useful for many reasons, but the training needs to be age appropriate, and geared to the individual child’s needs and maturity level. Basic training to develop respect for instructors and classmates as well as disciplined habits of practise, should precede more difficult and complex skills training. Early training should focus on fitness, mobility, escape, releases, balance, situational awareness and response, and the mental aspects of physical training and confrontation.
Fencing for Children:
Dominion Fencing (my club) has experimented with programs for very young children…. We found that what worked best was a program of running, jumping, “gross motor skills” games, and playing games with foam swords. In short, we were charging parents to do what any kid is going to do on a playground when left to their own devices. I would be surprised if any club accepting children below the age of 8 is doing anything much different than we were.
To actually learn fencing as a sport takes a considerable amount of motor coordination, higher level reasoning functions, and the ability to understand some complex rules (rules many adults don’t ever understand) — which is why every expert in the field usually recommends taking up fencing between the ages of 8 and 10. _Fencing.net (forum)
Fencers learn good sportsmanship, self-discipline, gain quick reflexes and how to compete independently. They gain a sense of accomplishment when winning and learn to profit from their defeats. They learn to make complex decisions, analyze problems, and think fast on their feet. These ideals help children reach their potential in many areas other than fencing.
• They are active and doing something, not being
passive receptacles for programming beamed out from
• Fencing helps children get fit – you can’t “sword fight”
without a good bit of movement!
• Educators are discovering that fencing can enhance
• Fencing helps children learn to pay attention and to
develop their decision-making abilities.
• Fencing helps people with ADD and ADHD to focus.
• Because fencing is an individual sport, the fencer is
solely responsible for their success or failure, which
becomes a great lesson in responsibility. _Swordsmen101
Martial arts skills should be introduced in a graded fashion, as appropriate for the child’s age, level of physical and emotional maturity, and the ability of the child to progress and integrate new skills into the total skills set.
Most training in strikes, kicks, weapons, choke holds, joint locks, etc. should be withheld until the child is mature enough to learn and practise them with proper restraint and respect for classmates and instructors. This should usually only occur after significant time (years) in training, under close observation, and only with other students who are prepared for such training.
Every dangerous child should be able to sense potentially dangerous situations and avoid them when possible. But he should also be physically and mentally prepared to deal with situations which occur outside of his ability to predict or prevent.
Dangerous children are by definition not helpless. This should be true physically, mentally, emotionally, and in virtually every aspect of his life.
So ideally, martial arts training will be just one aspect of a dangerous child‘s training in not being helpless. This is a different attitude toward child raising than one typically finds, but it is necessary.
All aspects of childhood learning begin with play. Learning to fight is no exception. Begin early, with play fighting and wrestling on soft surfaces. Older children who are emotionally mature and competent in basic fighting skills make excellent instructors for children just learning the more disciplined forms of mock combat.
For grownups who want to learn situational awareness and various combat skills, consider beginning with “attack-proofing,” and branching out from there.
Life is dangerous. So should you be. It is never too late to have a dangerous childhood.