Many parents think about putting their children in a martial arts program, but choosing the right one can be difficult. Are all of the martial arts the same? Is one better than another? What should a parent look for in a school or teacher? I hope that this answers the questions every parent has, and provides the information necessary for parents to make the right choice.

Why should a child study martial arts?

The martial arts are an independent activity. The student who practices a martial art should always strive to be better than they were. Within the context of the group, everyone is on their own path. Regardless of which tradition your child may choose to follow, there are important life lessons that they will learn and carry into adulthood.

What should you look for in a school?

Educate yourself about some of the branches of the martial arts and the subtle nuances between them. While that may be too time-consuming for some parents, I think the best way to find the appropriate school is to ask the question: Why do you want your child to study martial arts?

  • Do you want them to learn to defend themselves?
  • Is your child in need of some physical activity and they are not interested in ball sports?
  • Is your child in need of learning a disciplined approach towards their goals?

I think the answer to these questions will better steer you toward the best choice for their child. There are competitive and non-competitive arts, but there is no one art that is better than another. There are only arts that will better suit your goals and objectives.

If you are looking for something to prevent bullying, you may want to look at arts that don’t  strictly emphasize competition, but rather emphasize self-defense situations. These may include multiple opponent scenarios and defense against weapons. Arts like: Shou Shu, Krav Maga, and some styles of traditional Karate and Kung Fu may be a good fit.

There are more as well, but asking the teacher about their overall philosophy should narrow things down. Are they training for a national title, or to deal with three bullies in the hallway? Some may do both, but most specialize.

Most arts will answer the questions raised previously in different ways. More important than the art, is the teacher. The first thing to remember is that a good martial artist is not necessarily a good teacher.

Ultimately, parents are looking for a teacher that can convey knowledge. Can the teacher express their knowledge in a way that the student can understand it? A good teacher can explain the subtle nuances of how or why something works or doesn’t, as well as why the student should do it. They can provide drills and suggestions to improve specific problems that a student may need to progress.

It is important to meet the teacher and be sure that you express why you are thinking of having your child study martial arts. Tell the teacher what you want to achieve. In turn, the teacher should be able to articulate why or why they aren’t a good fit.

How will they meet your objectives? If your child has special needs. I would ask if they have ever worked with special needs students before. What is their approach? and what success have they had?  

I recommend watching a class as well as having your child participate in the class at least one time. Parents should concern themselves with the following:

Safety

Are the instructors attentive? Do they give clear directions? Are there a lot of injuries? Injuries can happen as they do in any sport, but excessive injuries can be a sign of a problem with the school or teacher.

Structure

Is the class organized? Does it seem like there is some kind of plan? Are the students learning a specific skill or technique? Is there order in the class? Who is in control, the teacher or the students?

Teacher’s Demeanor

Is the teacher like a drill instructor, doling out punishments, or a milquetoast that never raises their voice? Somewhere in between is best. A good teacher will be no-nonsense, but not cruel. They will maintain control without being petty or too permissive. They should know when to step on the gas or brake. It is not easy to skirt that line, but that is what you are paying for.

Fun

The students should be learning, following directions, and accomplishing tasks, but also having some fun. It shouldn’t be drudgery. There should be a good mixture of work, learning, and having fun. If your child learned something new and is sweaty with a smile on their face, that is probably a pretty good class.

Observe the class

Parents should observe the class at least a few times. This means you must actually observe the class. Far too many times, I have had parents observe my class, and they are on their device not even watching what is going on. Remember that you are assessing how the teacher is teaching and how your child is doing.

Many times I have had children do amazing things in their first lesson and looked up to see a parent with their eyes down scrolling through a screen. Parents must focus to make sure the class will deliver what they are looking for.

Parental Participation

Try to do the class yourself. I have had parents tell me that they didn’t think that their child was catching on after the first lesson! I always ask the parent, “Have you tried it?” I make it look easy. I have been doing martial arts for decades.

A new student will always have difficulty, so that is not how you evaluate the class or your child’s abilities. Achievement will come through hard work and focus. Don’t be fooled thinking that it should be easy.

Unlike soccer, baseball, basketball or football there is no team in martial arts. This means that success or failure is dependent upon the student alone. The student learns how to be self-reliant, how to succeed through self-discipline.

In order for a student to achieve their goal of a trophy in competition or their next belt rank, the student most focus on what needs to be done and do it. When they achieve their goal they will know that they did it themselves and that they are capable of anything. They will know that they can be successful in any pursuit that they put their energy into. I think that this is the best reason for everyone to study martial arts.