Why do you want a Martial Arts School again?
Let’s review our reason for finding a martial arts school for your kid again:
X He needs to lose weight
X I need after school day care
X He needs more discipline
X I want my child to win a few UFCs
X My kid needs a Black Belt
–> Ding! Ding! We want to stop schoolyard bullying
Okay, so now that we remember why we were looking for a school for your kid, Ronald McSensei can save the sales pitch about his wonderful Black Belt in three years program, or Coach Beatemup Wannabe can save the talk about how Gracie used to pound on guys 50 lbs heavier with this art, and the “Program Director” can keep those fliers advertising their new Teenaged Minja minja Turtle classes. We want to stop your kid from getting hurt by names at school, or so that he can eat his lunch in peace for a change. The school must have something to address that. We’re not here so that your kid can make good grades. If his grades are slipping, Karate won’t help with that; take away his Playstation and close his Facebook account and put his butt in tutoring and make him do his homework.
Schools offer many things, and you want to find the one that has what you want. There is a certain atmosphere you need for your kid to have for the purpose of building his sense of self, self-worth, and the confidence that if another kid wanted to hurt him, he’s got the skills to ruin that kid’s day. It shouldn’t take a 12 month contract to assure him of those goals.
Choosing the Martial Arts School
The martial arts school is not a substitute for strong parenting, but it can help. The environment you want for your kids is not necessarily an intimidating one, but it should not be so friendly that he might as well be at a Cub Scout meeting. I may step on some toes with this one, but I don’t think you want to run down to the nicest gym with the mirrors and cartoon characters in the window. At the same time, you don’t have to join the school whose Sifu looks like he just got out of prison either. However, there are some benefits to all martial arts schools and instead of judging a school by its cover you might consider judging a school by its sales pitch.
The first thing you want to ask is how big the children’s class is, and if the ages are separated. An age-specific class will be more directed at your kid’s needs than one that just lumps all the children together. I believe that each age group should be dealing with the martial arts at its own rate. So the challenges that a 16 year old would face are going to be vastly different than those your 10 year old would face. The two are so different that if you addressed one in class, the other group will be wasting their time. In a school that is adult-oriented, there may not be enough children in the school for them to really having a good system of teaching kids. While their martial arts are valid, you cannot treat self-defense among 12 year olds the same way you would teach a grown man to defend himself. I would advise finding a school that specializes in teaching kids.
The environment should be one that is competitive, fast pace, somewhat aggressive, yet fun. Another reason I don’t recommend adult-oriented schools. I am an adult-oriented teacher, and I admit that although I consider my martial arts to be top notch–I suck at teaching kids. I lecture, I get mad, I don’t have much patience. One of the best business decisions I ever made was to hire a young teacher named Daniel Cook, who was not just a good martial artist, he was a master at teaching kids. He was stern, detailed, and tough. Yet he was also a fun teacher who made the kids laugh and enjoy coming to class. The fact that the kids would leave sore, but in a good mood, meant that they were coming back next week and getting in more training. The kids would get on the floor and bang, and when one got his pride hurt or got hit too hard–he was very good at toughening up the children to get up and keep at it. Kids aren’t like adults. They need the technical side of the art. But unlike adults, they must be entertained and the activity needs to be fun if they are to keep at it. The teacher must balance play with work, and this is how kids will learn their lessons–at an age-appropriate level.
I believe that a school should also have a good mixture of soft kids, and tough kids, kids from both sides of the train tracks, and kids of all physical sizes and abilities. I have seen schools where only white children were there, and schools with only black or only asian kids. This does not teach an important part of bullying–how to mingle with those unlike themselves. If you take two young kids–rich and poor, black and white, foreign and American–they will play as if there were no difference between them. But as they get older, they will notice things, like race, accents, etc., and who do they learn it from? Us. They will be taught all the little nasty things that grown ups say and think, and eventually, you get the discriminatory behavior and beliefs. And many of those things lead to social problems, including bullying. “Watch out for the Mexican kid, he might steal your stuff.” “That white kid thinks he’s better than us.” While we may live in segregated neighborhoods and communities and schools, the martial arts school is one place that your social status, your race, where you live–nothing matter. If the school has a familial environment, your kid who has never been around Black children will have good friends from that side of town. Your kid who has never experienced immigrants will have dojo brothers fresh over the border. Your kid who has only been around other upper-middle class kids will have friends from neighborhoods with gang bangers. And in the end, your children learn to be comfortable around everyone, even those who are unlike themselves. This comfort level will make your kid more relaxed all the time, and will become less of a wierdo to other children.
And adding to the idea of the martial arts school being a melting pot, kids at elementary school tend to hang around other kids like themselves. Athletes hang around athletes. Rich kids hang with rich kids. Etc. But in the dojo, everyone belongs to the same group, regardless of their background or interest, because the one interest they have in common–martial arts–binds them together. So in that group, you have the tough kid, the pencil neck kid, the athlete, the immigrant. They are learning social skills, and in an adversarial environment. So when they have had to spar a couple of bigger tougher boys, with martial arts training, the bigger boy at school with no martial arts training at all is going to be a cake walk.
Finally, I believe that the school should encourage some type of competition. Of course I am biased towards the karate tournament, but anything is good. There is a level of discomfort and anxiety you will experience in fighting competition that is unmatched by anything at high school, and when you are not just at ease with it–but unmoved by it–a fist fight at school is nothing. This is not to say that you won’t get good anti-bullying skills from a school that doesn’t compete. But your child will be more prepared for adversity when he has had about 15-20 fights under his belt. And not that I’m hoping that your kids will be challenging bullies to a fight! On the contrary, when your kid is more confident with fighting, he will find it easier to stand his ground and avoid a fight. Especially since most bullies don’t fight that often; they are masters at talking about beating people up. I have a student, Malik, who had been bullied a year earlier, approached in high school by the kid who use to taunt him in Middle school. Malik responded by promising to kick his butt afterschool for the fight they had a year earlier. Of course–being California–the school suspended him. But those boys never messed with him again because they realized that he was not the same kid. Bullies rarely want a fight. It is the threat of fighting–and the fear that it causes–that gives them their power. Being one of the kids who are not affected by it–whether because of a change of personality or fighting skills–will ensure that your child robs those bullies of that power.
And I am reminded of two sayings:
- don’t just speak loudly, carry a big stick
- don’t let your mouth write a check that your butt can’t cash
Bullies prey on the weak, those who refuse to fight back, and those who will accept bullying. It’s that simple.
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