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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Primer for Martial Arts student *parents*

We've all heard of "Soccer moms" or "Little League Dads".....but how about "Martial arts Parents"?

My previous blog posts addressed tips for the "martial arts newbie" and "New martial arts instructors", then I realized.....what tips would I give to parents of kids that are in martial arts? Well, here you go.....what to look for in a martial arts school for your child, tips, etc. Also, I've included honest points of view from a teacher's perspective.

  • Take some time to choose a good school for your child:  Whether the class is held in a community center or a commercial space, take the time to do a little research on the schools in your area. Don't just enroll your child in a class only because "its close to you". While convenience is nice, the closest martial arts school may not be the school your child is attracted to. Remember, these classes are for the *child*....the child should have some say in what style or method they'd like to try out. Call around and ask if you can observe a class, and ask if the school has an "introductory program", a "trial lesson",  or something similar where the child can try out the class with no obligation to join.
  • There are many benefits to martial arts....teamwork, self discipline, critical thinking, fitness, cultural knowledge....the list is almost endless. While many sports are just as fun, there's something about martial arts that only a martial arts practitioner can describe as being "different" than other sports. For me personally, I've formed lifelong bonds with people that have trained alongside me,...that have been through grueling workouts, frustrations, pulled muscles, and self doubts right alongside me....they "understand" me and other martial artists. Granted, these things are possible in other sports....I just can't put into words how  the benefits of martial arts has shaped my life....not just my skill set, but my life.
  • Know that not all schools are the same: While many of the techniques in martial arts are "universal", the teaching methods and the styles themselves are not all similar. Kids gravitate to certain styles based on their personalities and interests....take this into consideration when looking for a school. Again, try not to get your child to join a school just because it is close to your home.....the class should be a match to you *child*, not necessarily to your proximity to your home.
  • Ask if there are different tuition rates based on the number of classes your child attends per week, or if there are cross training discounts if your child studies at different subjects at the school. Some schools will offer different rates based on if your child attends once a week, twice a week, or three times a week, while others may charge a flat fee regardless of how many times the child attends. Some schools offer more than one subject...for example, a school might offer Karate on certain days and grappling on other days. Most schools will offer a discounted tuition price for the second subject if your child chooses to take on a second subject.
  • How are the instructors at teaching those with special needs? If your child has special needs, ask if the school has taught students with similar needs or if they can modify movements to fit your child's needs. Obviously, a kicking movement in a Karate or Kung fu routine may not be possible for a child in a wheelchair, so if the staff can attend to modifying routines and self defense maneuvers to highlight your child's strengths instead of focusing on what the child "can't" do, then that would be a great school for your child.
  • If your child does participate in an introductory session, do realize that the teacher or staff will speak to you about the possibility of your child enrolling as a regular student. I'll be honest, and say that we as martial arts instructors, if we have a commercial space, we run a business as well, and hope to gain clients as much as any other business. However, good schools will not pull a "hard sell" on you.....after all, we're talking about the best interests of your child in these classes, and we're not selling a used car. Have questions or concern ready for the instructor or staff, and don't feel self conscious about asking the questions you might have. The instructor or staff will gladly address your questions or concerns.
  • Month to month, contracts, sliding scale, etc: Some schools will charge their tuition fees on a month to month basis, where you can quit at any time. Some schools will use contracts that may range anywhere from 3 months to a year. Keep in mind that with contracts, you are responsible for paying the balance of the contract, even when your child does not attend. Again, I'll be honest....tuition for a martial arts school is sort of like college pay tuition, but its up to the student to attend classes. In college, if a student skips out on class or doesn't attend class for a week, the college is not liable to refund a day's worth or week's worth of tuition. If money is indeed an issue, ask if the school has sliding scale fees.....many schools do have sliding fees for low-income families. (At my school, we offer pro-rated tuition *only if* a student misses more than 2 classes a month if attending once a week, or will miss more than 4 classes in a month if attending 2 or 3 times per week. We give no refunds for missing class one or two nights due to a cold, school concert, football game, etc.)
  • Pay tuition on time: Its the parent's responsibility to know when tuition is due, not the child's responsibility. Many schools have a late fee for tuition paid after the due date, please respect that. Please don't back date a check when you put remit it late.....schools will generally post a tuition payment based on the date received, not when the check is dated. Usually, schools will give a few days leeway, but if you remit tuition 2 weeks late and back date the check, what example does that set for the child? The staff at martial arts schools will gladly take into consideration any financial difficulties you may have, so if you have an emergency expense or bill and can't pay tuition on time, let the staff know. I'm sure the staff will work something out with you (payment plan, etc), and sometimes even waiving the late fee.
  • Get to know your child's martial arts style and support your child's endeavors: You don't necessarily have to take classes, but at least know the basic information about your child's class. If your child is in a Judo class, please don't use the general term "Karate" for it. If your child's school has periodic "recitals", try to attend them. Watch a class periodically to show your child you support their progress. (of course, ask your child if you can watch. Some children prefer to have their class time as "their" time without parents watching. Respect that if that's what your child wishes). Or, on the ride home, ask something like "You said last week that Sensei might show you more moves of Pinan 4....did you learn new moves today? Can't wait to see the new moves if you want to show me and Dad....". Things like that, show your child you support them in what they do.
  • If your child chooses to quit martial arts classes due to loss of interest or chooses another activity, ask about what made them come to their decision and respect that decision. However, you should accompany your child to tell the teacher that he/she will not be attending classes anymore. This, while it may be sort of a nervous experience for the child, it will teach the child important lessons they can use in their adult life.....such as explaining why they're leaving/quitting a job, to take responsibility for his/her actions, to not just "skip out" and hope no one notices, etc. Support your child. Sometimes, children will lose interest because they feel they're not progressing as fast as they should, or maybe they're feeling awkward that they're not "getting" the moves as quickly as others, or that the class does the same stuff over and over. Discuss this with the instructor....many times, its not "loss of interest"...but instead something the child feels is "missing" from the class. If the instructor is able to take your child's goals into consideration, you might find your child's interest might pick up again. However, if the child chooses not to continue, support that decision and move on to the nest interest. 
  • Consider having your child "earn their keep" as "partial payment" toward their classes.  If your child already receives an allowance from you, you may decide to consider adding on extra chores or special around-the-house jobs once a month for the child to "earn" money to pay for the class. Until your child is old enough to get a part time job, it is you that pays for those classes. Not only does a child feel great about "earning" money for their own class, it teaches a sense of responsibility that they will carry on to adulthood.
  • Okay...the bane of martial arts teachers....Please don't coach from the sidelines: If you are watching a class, coaching from the sidelines. "Bobby! Your LEFT foot!", "Katie, your OTHER hand, no not that one, Sensei said the RIGHT hand!". The teacher and assistants have that covered, thank you. We as teachers understand that you want your child to do well, but if you're shouting at your 4 year old during class, you'll only confuse them. The child will wonder who the "real teacher" is, and it will distract them from fully putting attention on the teacher. I'll be honest and say what teachers sometimes want to say: "Your child's lack of knowing the difference of right and left, is NOT a reflection of you as a parent....its just their learning curve. Let them learn, and allow the teachers to teach." If you have previous martial arts experience, the rule of "no sideline coaching" applies as well.....let the school's staff teach that class, because your Karate experience might not apply to the school's Kung Fu lesson that particular day.
  • Don't be afraid to ask about your child's progress. Periodically ask the teacher how your child is doing. The teacher might suggest that the child take 5 or 10 minutes each day to practice a particular move, or might suggest a few private lessons to get him/her caught up on things needed for an upcoming rank exam. However, try not to dictate to the teacher how to teach your child. Please leave that up to the professional.
  • Address the teachers and assistants by their given titles.  When speaking about class with your child, try to use the titles that the teachers have....Sensei, Sifu, Mr. Smith, etc. This shows your child that you care about what the child is learning. I see parents in the grocery store frequently, and the smiles the kids give their parents when the parent says "Hey Joseph, look who I ran into! Sifu DeJesus!". Besides, it teaches the kids to respect earned titles such as "Doctor", etc. Some kids can actually become confused if a parent addresses the teacher by nickname or first name, and they wonder "Can I call Sensei that when I'm a grownup?"
Now , I'd like to talk about a subject that might not comfortable to talk about.....If you are sensitive to such matters, I suggest you stop reading, BUT I strongly suggest you read what I have to say.....
  • A subject that is not frequently addressed in martial arts books: What to do if you child mentions something about "inappropriate touching".  I know, its a hard subject to talk about. But I must address it  because it is a subject that most often is NOT talked about. 
    • First I'll talk to the teachers and staff: Remember, as a teacher, assistant, or staff member, you are an adult that has been put in a position of trust. You must not do or say anything that would compromise that position of trust! Plain and simple! If you can't handle that, then don't be a teacher!
    • For Parents: If your child mentions (heaven forbid) something about being touched inappropriately or verbally harassed by school staff or another student, please don't brush it off. Address the issue with the head teacher or school owner, and don't be afraid of looking like the "complaining parent".
      • Keep in mind, however, that some martial arts, such as Judo, JuJitsu, Aikido, etc, will have contact in close proximities between students and sometimes even between teacher and student. Those arts mentioned have techniques that only work in close proximity, such as throws, sweeps, pins, and "tap-out" submission maneuvers. However, martial arts schools teach these techniques appropriately, safely, and in a professional manner. Keep in mind that if your daughter is in a Judo school, that others will be in contact with her while learning to do a throw, sweep or tap-out technique. Your child, who is familiar with the art, *will* know what is appropriate and what is not, what speech is appropriate and what is not, and what situations are comfortable and what are not.
      • Address the complaint with the teacher or school owner  in a factual manner. Don't point fingers, but don't take excuses either......allow yourself to hear rebuttals (if any), then allow your intuition to tell you how to proceed, and face the issue with professionalism. If you feel you should take your child out of the class, then do so. If you feel that you should contact authorities to help you with this matter, then do so.
      • No adult in a position of authority or trust ever has the right to abuse that position of authority or trust. Let your child know that and let your child know that you are there for them should they have *any* concern. Of course, you don't want to scare your children from martial arts, sports or any other extracurricular activies, but that "talk" should be something that should be done anyway, as part of their growth process.
Whew, that was even uncomfortable for ME to talk about....but I have to put it out there.

I'd like to hear from other martial arts instructors, as to what tips you'd like to give to new, I mean, "Martial arts" Parents. And from parents, what questions do you have? Your comments are welcomed!

I highly recommend this book: "Parent's guide to martial arts" :

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