Parents:Advise From a 4 Time Black Belt on Picking a Martial Arts School

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How do I pick a martial arts school for my child?

This is the most common question I get from parents.  Besides owning POW! MMA (over 10 years in the West Loop) and POW! Kids, I teach at the Montessori Academy of Chicago (MAC). My classes there are athletic driven and focus on developing children’s overall agility and coordination to learn sports.  I accomplish this with lots of martial arts. In fact, I developed a course specifically for the MAC community per the request of the owner Zia Fosca.  It is called Martial Movement.

This class has always been catered to developing athletic skills and balance through theme based martial arts lesson plans.  As a result, over the last 3 years, parents ask me which martial art is best for their child.  Since the parents do not all live in the West Loop – I offer them a few pieces of advise.

1.  Find 2 or 3 schools in your neighborhood.  Visit them and first watch how the instructor interacts with the children.  Assess their energy – is it negative or positive?  What techniques do they use to discipline the children. Is their tone demeaning or does it redirect the children’s focus in a positive way.

2.  When deciding between a couple schools – assuming distance and pricing are very similar and it is not an issue of inconvenience, also look at how the class is run.  Is there structure?  Does there seem to be a lesson plan.  Do they appear to have a specific set of goals in mind with the techniques or drills that are being taught.  You want to avoid an instructor that either has little experience with running a children’s class, in which case they should have a written lesson plan just like  a new school teacher who prepares the night before (which I have no problem with because it demonstrates preparation).  New teachers are cool – they just need to have focus and structure.  An experienced instructor could be easily distracted or uninterested.  So make sure the ones with the experience, that can shoot from the hip and create their class plan on the spot, are able to stay on course and maintain enthusiasm throughout class.

3.  Do the children take part in physical exercise as part of their training.  Avoid schools where the first thing they do is drop into splits.  This form of static stretching is not good for the muscles.  Children can suffer muscle injuries with poor training.  Although few martial arts instructors have extensive education in the fitness industry, the good ones without education and certifications are at least smart enough to be reading books on athletic training and therefore know how to properly condition the body for martial arts.  Push ups, sit ups and even splits are par for the course.  But it is how they are implemented into a martial arts class that make them a successful part of the overall program.  A proper warm up should be your child’s first activity to increase blood flow to the large muscle groups and get the joints prepared for their intense training.

4.  Get all the details of the payment options and monthly auto payments written down on paper before you leave.  Discuss the extra costs:  uniform, extra uniforms, sparring equipment, belt testing fees, how often are tests, tournament fees and are they required.  There is nothing wrong with these fees – every school has them.  You must have the uniform, proper sparring gear and understand how often your child will be taking a rank test.  All of these add up.  For many families unfamiliar with the martial arts system, beyond the monthly school tuition, it could sideswipe you and end up turning you off.  Martial arts school have light bills to pay too –   Is it better to know it all up front and be given an estimated time frame when the average child ends up at these growing stages so you can budget and assess if this hobby fits into your family budget.

As you can see I did not mention anything about a style of martial art.  I feel there are so many amazing styles.  I have trained in karate, tae kwon do, kung fu, wushu, boxing, jiu jitus, krav maga, jeet kun and several others.  I know that I had instructors that were better than others.  Some of them I would never send my kids to.   I believe my 4 black belts are all equal.  It is not fair to punish a style or art form.   Forms of these questions guide me in choosing nstructors for POW! and how I look at instructors in other hobbies for my children.  When all this assessing is over – you will realize which instructor you want to have influence over your child.  The role of a martial arts instructor is very powerful on a child.  They are no different than a school teacher and sometimes mean more to a child than their favorite school teacher.  The role model you choose to expose your child to the martial arts, needs to make you proud as well.


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  • My 5 year old son really wants to take karate. I visited a neighborhood studio and they wanted us to commit to twice a week for 2 years. Is this standard? Seems like a big commitment for a little kid.

    I think my son would benefit greatly from martial arts.

  • I think that 2 years up front is a school's goal. But you can absolutely tell them that you are not comfortable with that committment and that you want to give your child the choice of trying other things. I would ask for 6 months. Keep in mind, that they will charge a little more per month for a shorter contract. The system is built on setting many goals for the students- this provides job security and the investment is the reward an instructor wants- to see a student grow and improve.
    The 2 year point is usually the half way point to a black belt (or close to it).
    Karate is great and if you like the school and instructor(s) you will find many positive changes in your child. Let me know how it goes.

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