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Anf
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Fueling a kid's interest in martial arts

My son started off making decent progress. Then his progress kind of faded to disinterest. It looks like laziness but there is a huge difference between laziness and disinterest. Actually scratch that. I think laziness is a symptom of disinterest.

Anyway one day recently my son turned to me and said, and I quote, 'we mostly just kick the air'.

He is right. And now I have a problem. As his dad, while I don't want to impose martial arts on him, I don't want him to think that's all there is. But to convince him to try other clubs is a challenge and a gamble because firstly, he thinks martial art is about kicking air and secondly because if I take him to other clubs, unless we strike gold on the first attempt, I'm just going to reinforce his belief.

So I thought about getting some basic equipment and practicing some basic stuff at home. No air kicking. Maybe a bit of pad work, maybe some break fall and rolls. But whatever I do, it has to be fun. And it has to break through his belief that it's all about fighting the breeze.

Any suggestions or tips?

Marc
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How old is he?  

Anf
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Marc wrote:
How old is he?

He is 9. Been training since he was 5. But he is disturbingly wise for his age. He has recently indicated that he only does it because he wants to do something with me, which is nice of course, but I can't take advantage of that feeling in order to make him go. If it doesn't interest him, it's not right for him. But I do want him to train in something, because I still believe that martial arts have a lot to offer.

Iain Abernethy
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At 9 he has loads of time ahead of him. If he finds playing at home with Dan fun, then I’d do that rather than impose a formal class on him that he’s not enjoying. It may well be that when as he gets older he will want to return to formal training. If he’s not finding that fun at the moment, I’d worry he may get sickened with training all together.

Anf wrote:
I thought about getting some basic equipment and practicing some basic stuff at home. No air kicking. Maybe a bit of pad work, maybe some break fall and rolls. But whatever I do, it has to be fun.

Sounds like a great idea to me. More importantly, it will be good father-son time too :-)

Becky (my partner) has trained in karate since childhood too and we’ve had early success with “play” with our two-year old.  She likes “pow, pow-ing” (hitting) the pads and “Kick!” is something she enjoys doing too (see video below). Martial play can definitely be a good option for youngsters if they have parents who are martial artists.

All the best,

Iain

PASmith
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I'm in a similar spot with my daughter (started at 6, she's now 9 (although seems nearer 19 some days!) and goes mainly because I go I think). She needs motivating to go training and try hard but is still going regularly. My son is 4 and has started a kids "ninja skills" class with an eye to moving into the bigger class in a few months.

IMHO managing kids in martial arts can be tricky. Unless they are mad keen themselves and self motivated it can be hard navigating the fine line between making them do something you know has value and allowing them to choose whether they do it or not. Push too hard and you put them off for good. Don't push enough and they can lose interest and drop out.

Some random thoughts....

One thing I've said is that my kids have to do "something" active every week. I don't much care what it is (but like that it's martial arts) but I want them to cultivate being active and set good habits for being adults first and foremost. They can't get away with doing "nothing" and school PE these days is not enough.

One thing I do with mine is play Gracie games from their bullyproof kids programme. It teaches the basics of positional grappling and ground fighting without being too formal. It's all done in play. Any time I kneel down at home I tend to end up with a kid taking my back, putting their hooks in, getting a seat belt grip and making me play "naughty horse" (crazy horse in Bullyproof). These sorts of games are great and my kids try and beat me or escape (in fun). Obviously I throw in plenty of tickles, kisses and cuddles too and my kids seem to like the bonding experience of it. "Roughhousing" with your kids in a gentle loving manner has, afaik, been shown to help kids grow up to be rounded and confident adults (although that may be nonsense). Although I mainly do it because it's fun. :)

A few things to look at would be trying to get him to make friends with other kids in the club. It can be more enjoyable if there are friends there. Especially if they are similar grades and can grade together. Gradings can be a double edged sword. On one hand they can be motivational for some but for other kids a source of stress or worry.

Definitely get the pads out. One thing I like about my TKD club is that the pads come out often and kids like hitting them. Make sure to add in fun stuff like flying side kicks even, as we know, they aren't practical as at this stage I think it's more about finding fun in movment and being physical.

Look into the work of Jamie Clubb as, IMHO, he's one of the best for kids martial arts around and woefully underused by martial arts organisations that should be using his ethos.

Get involved yourself. Take your son out on roadwork or sprint training at the park. Lead by example and hope that he follows you.

Marc
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Anf,

from what you say it sounds like the important thing for your son is to spend time with his dad. If his heart is not in the martial arts at the moment then maybe you two can find something else you can do together. Maybe try different kinds of sports, read books to one another, learn a language together, dig into physics/ancient egypt/cooking or whatever fascinates him.

After 4 years of training a foundation has been laid, and chances are he will return to that martial art or another later in his life.

From my experience with children's karate training the kids between 8 and 12 mostly enjoy learning and performing kata as well as what I call "school yard self-defense" (mostly evading and escaping grips, bear hugs, head locks and so on). Of course they also like the pads, because they're fun. Fair and safe grappling (standing and on the ground) is also good but it is not for everyone, because some kids are not so keen on the competative aspect of it.

As PASmith wrote, it is a great motivator to have friends to train with - not only for children but for us adults as well. And the closer the children get to puberty the more important it becomes to be with their peers - be it in the martial arts or elsewhere. If most of his friends have some other hobby, look into that. Maybe there's even a part for you as a dad to play there, too.

Jesse Enkamp has a nice article on how to be a good karate parent.

Are you the instructor of your son's martial arts class or are you also a student there. If you are the instructor, then that might be perfect or it might be counterproductive for the boding experience you both seek. I found this nice article on why not to teach your own children.

Anf wrote:
But whatever I do, it has to be fun.

I think that's essentially what I'm trying to say.

All the best,

Marc  

Anf
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Thanks all.

Picking up on a few points, I'm not the instructor. I'm a fellow student. But I have other martial arts experience plus a bit of real world experience and have in the past, as a younger man, combined the two. This doesn't qualify me to be an instructor but I think it does enable me to think up suitable fun and games that develop core skills.

Quality time together is key. We do other activities together and we're always looking for other things to do. But I do think some practical self defence ability is essential for kids. I know there's a huge difference between martial art and self defense but there is some overlap, and dedicated practical self defence classes are hard to find.

I'm sure we'll figure it out.

Iain Abernethy
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Anf wrote:
I'm not the instructor. I'm a fellow student.

The limits of my dad’s martial training was a little Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling as a boy. However, I can still vividly remember him taking the cushions off the sofa to use as mats so he could show me some throws. He'd then dramatically jump into the throw and I was super excited that I could throw my dad! I would be 5 or 6 years old and I remember boasting to my friends about it; who didn’t believe me :-) He’d also communicate serious stuff like how it was fine to bite and go for eyes if I was fighting someone his size (he’s of modest stature, but I was a little kid at the time), but I should never do that in school yard scraps or similar. My dad would also get me martial arts books from the library and I recall trying to do the moves. Long story short, my dad knows next to nothing about martial arts, but that play and advice definitely kindled the flame that would later become my all consuming passion. With your greater knowledge, I’m sure you’ll have little difficulty doing the same.

All the best,

Iain

Anf
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That's a nice story Iain. Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.