How early should you start your child in the martial arts?

While the martial arts are an enjoyable and very worthwhile activity for children, it should be recognized that progress will take consistent class attendance, some practice and support from the family (kids can’t drive themselves to class).

How early to start a child depends on the individual child and their level of interest and maturity. Many professional schools have age specific classes and curriculum programs for children as young four, five or six years old. These programs are very popular and can be a great way for a child to learn concentration, self-control and start to develop more coordination.

Programs for children of this age usually are less demanding than mainstream martial arts programs and bypass much of the serious self-defence training in favour of more age appropriate and fun activities.

What Martial Arts style should I choose?

The only style that matters is the teaching style of the instructor. Yes, styles vary and you may prefer one style over another, but style should be a secondary consideration. The priority is finding an instructor that you feel comfortable with and who can motivate you to come to class twice a week.

All styles have their strengths and weaknesses. While it would be nice to say that your body type or flexibility should match up with a certain style, it’s more important to match up with the right instructor and school.

What kind of facility should I look for?

Here it’s important to trust your first impressions. The modern martial arts school is clean, well lit, spacious and has good family atmosphere. The mirrors are polished; the floor is clean and the dressing rooms are in good order. On the wall, you might see photographs of recent school events and outings and there should be an area for parents or family to sit and wait comfortably for their children.

Trust your instincts, martial arts should promote emotional well being and development.  This will be picked up in any good professional academy.

What should I do if my child wants to quit?

There will come a time when your child says, “I’m too tired to go to class today.” This is a critical point in a child’s training. This is when you help teach them about follow through and the never-quit attitude.

Don’t be concerned about “pushing it on your child.” This is hogwash. Children wouldn’t go to school, brush their teeth or clean their room if you didn’t “push it on them.” There’s a big difference between helping a child follow through on a goal they agreed to and force-feeding something on a child.

When you begin, the classes agree with your child on some short-term goals such as green belt or brown belt with the understanding that there will be no quitting until the goal is achieved. The real goal in the training should be black belt, but until you’ve had a chance to understand what it takes to earn a black belt, it’s best to set a more reachable initial goal. Once you’ve determined that black belt is your goal, commit to it with full enthusiasm.

However, it’s unrealistic to expect a child not to, at some point, rebel against the effort. This is natural and should not lead to quitting. Quitting can quickly become a bad habit. Facing these types of challenges is part of the training inherent in the martial arts.

How can I motivate my child to continue?

Staying with a goal without quitting is an integral skill that must be instilled by the parent. This is the very foundation of goalsetting and achievement. Quitting is the very foundation of under-performance and failure. The world is full of great starters. Teach your child that its the ability to set goals and see them through to their completion that’s most important.

Help re-motivate the child into getting to class by reminding them of how much they enjoy the last class and that they can look forward to seeing their friends in class. Work with the instructor always share your concerns.

How much do martial arts lessons cost?

While the actual cost per month will vary widely from market to market, this question must be approached from a slightly different perspective than money alone. In seminars around the country, we ask a simple question, “If I could give you £10,000, would you be willing to sell me back your black belt and the impact that martial arts has had on your life? Would you be willing to erase your martial arts experience from your life for £10,000? For £20,000? How about £50,000?”

In speaking before hundreds of black belts, never has someone offered to accept my hypothetical offer. The point is that whether your classes are £40, £70 or £100 a month, the value of earning a black belt far exceeds the investment. What is it worth to walk out to your car with a loved one late at night after a show and know that if something happens, you have the skill to deal with it? What is it worth to a parent to know that their child is developing the self-pride and inner confidence to avoid negative peer pressures? What is it worth to any of us in today’s violent world to empower ourselves or our children with the skills to handle a confrontation?

It’s worth a lot more than it costs to gain the knowledge. With the huge variance in the instructors, facility, and atmosphere of one school to the next, you should never shop for the martial arts based upon price. Schools tend to charge what they think they are worth. If a school is charging £30 per month, there is a reason it’s so cheap. If a school is charging £75 per month, there is usually a reason the instructor feels it is worth more.

What’s interesting is that, in most cases, the schools that charge a little more for the quality of their instruction tend to be bigger and have many more students than the bargain-basement schools that charge apologetically.

Most good schools will charge anywhere from £55 per month and up with a small registration of about £99/£150. This registration might include your membership in the National Association of Professional Martial Artists, your first month dues and, possibly, a club uniform.

Do I have to sign a contract?

This depends on the school and your situation. Many schools do not require any contract or agreement. However, signing a contract for lessons is not always a bad idea. One advantage to signing a contract is that you are locking in the tuition at the current rate and can avoid increases. The key is to not sign for more than you’re confident you can follow through on. Since earning a black belt should take three to four years, you should avoid any kind of long term agreements over four or five years.

However, if you know you want to earn a black belt, it makes perfect sense to lock in the lowest tuition possible for that time period.

It’s perfectly reasonable for a school to employ a tuition billing company to process your payments. This is very different from selling them your contract. In this case, the third-party billing company simply accepts your payments, keeps a percentage as a fee and then sends the school the remainder. Martial artists don’t always have the time for book keeping so it’s a good idea for them to hire the processing and posting of payments to an expert.

What if I like the school, but the school insists on having me sign a contract?

If you are uncomfortable signing a contract for yourself or your child, tell the school that you’re uncomfortable and seek out an alternate arrangement. Most schools will work with a student to provide the training. However, other schools will turn the student away if he is not willing to commit to training more than a month at a time.

What if the instructor wants me to pay in advance for lessons?

There is a big difference between being offered the option to pay for, say a year in advance for a discount, and being told that advance payments are the only option. If a school insists that you must pay for more than 30 days in advance, do not enrol. This is a school, usually, that has a very high drop-out rate and they know you may not stick around for long so they are going to try get as much money as possible from you before you leave.

Most schools have a standard payment plan and then a small discount of 15% – 20% if you want to pay the amount in full in advance. This is a reasonable option, simply that, an option. Many people prefer to pay in advance and that option should be available.

However, if you decide to pay in advance, make sure you have a written agreement that’s signed by the instructor as to what is being paid for and what would constitute cause for a refund. This is an example where signing a contract may be in your best interest.

What are grading / testing fees?

Some schools charge an additional fee when you take an exam to move to another belt. These fees can run as high as £15 – £100.

The only test fee that virtually all schools do charge for is a black belt test. A black belt test is a much more involved exam and often has several expenses tied to it for the school. For that reason, you can expect to pay £100 – 300 for a black belt exam. This money offsets the additional preparation the school has to make in order to promote someone to black belt and is a fair charge.

What belt rank should my instructor be?

In most styles of martial arts, there are ten degrees of black belt. A new black belt earns a first degree and then it works up from there to tenth. The problem is that with the lack standardisation in the arts, what defines a fifth-degree black belt or a seventh-degree black belt varies so drastically, that the rank doesn’t really convey a meaning to the general public.

There is a saying by Joe Lewis, one of the legends of American martial arts. Lewis, when asked what degree black belt he was, would answer, “There are two types of black belts. Good ones and bad ones. I’m one of the good ones.” The point of the statement is that beyond earning a black belt, rank has little if anything to do with quality of instruction.

This is a critical point to understand. Just because someone has received a high rank within an art doesn’t make them a good teacher. Indeed, sometimes the opposite is true. Some black belts are more focused on their own achievements instead of helping the student achieve.

It’s very hard to say what rank beyond black belt a professional martial artist should be. Clearly, a school owner or chief instructor should be a black belt or the equivalent depending on the art. Also, if your goal is to earn a black belt, then you must have an instructor that is at least a second or third degree, so they promote you to first-degree black belt. A first-degree black belt cannot promote someone to first degree black belt. In most systems, you have to be one or two degrees higher to promote someone. For instance, an instructor would have to be a third degree or fourth degree to promote a student to second-degree black belt.

Beyond that, the rank of the instructor will actually mean very little to your classroom experience or the quality of your classes. In fact, when choosing a school, you should probably avoid schools that use their ads to tell you all about the ranks the instructor has. What he has accomplished is not as important as what he can do for you, so don’t be misled by claims of grand master or 10th degree black belt. That’s not as important as finding an instructor who cares about his students and makes that his focus instead of seeking all the attention himself.

Should I find a “champion” instructor?

Looking at the phone-book ads, it’s almost impossible not to find a champion. It seems harder to find an instructor that doesn’t claim to be a champion of some sort. Like rank, tournament titles mean very little if anything to your experience. Just because someone has won an event, doesn’t mean they can teach you or your child.

In fact, the hard-core competitor often has a difficult time toning the training down for the novice or for kids. For instance, John McEnroe is a great tennis champion, but I don’t know if I would want him as my child’s tennis coach. That’s not to say titles are a bad thing. It’s just not an important aspect to look for or be concerned with. Since just about everyone in the phone book is a champion of some sort, simply ignore the claims and focus on what they can do for you.

How often should I go to class?

For the first few months, resist the urge to go more than two times a week. Most professional schools will restrict your attendance in these early stages to twice a week while you evaluate your training. Then, after you’ve trained for a few months, they may make more classes available for you as part of a special program such as the National Black Belt Club.

This is a good method for both the student and the instructor. The student is prevented from overdoing it at first and helps him to avoid injuries and burnout from an over-enthused start. Then, as the student gets in better shape and understands the training, the instructor can better determine if the student should be given the opportunity for additional training. This is usually a privilege reserved for students who have made the commitment to earning a black belt.

Since a new student couldn’t be expected to understand what it takes to earn a black belt, the early restrictions on attendance serve to slowly indoctrinate the student in the martial arts and to evaluate its potential benefits before setting a goal of black belt.

How long are classes?

This usually will depend on the age of the class. For most classes targeting 4-6-year-olds, the class should run 30-45 minutes at the most. For classes targeting 7-12-year-olds, 45 minutes is usually about right with a one hour class for the brown- and black-belt children. Adult beginners classes can be 45 minutes with an increase to an hour upon graduating to the next belt level.

School that are still running two-hour classes tend to burn their students out very quickly. In today’s world, it’s just very difficult to devote more than an hour to an activity for any length of time and studies on attention spans have shown that 30-60 minutes is about the max for most people depending on their age.

How risky is martial arts?

Past insurance ratings ranked martial arts over golf in the number of injury claims. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to get sore or occasionally bruised, it just means that serious injuries are not very common in the martial arts in most schools. This is particularly true for schools belonging to a professional organisation.
Most schools are very safe and go to extreme lengths to insure the safety of its classes. Other, schools are rougher and can have a military-like atmosphere where only the strong survive. These schools can be recognised by an almost exclusively adult male student body and a gym-like atmosphere.

Any school you attend should have age-specific classes and utilize all possible safety equipment when sparring. The striking pads should be new and in good shape and the instructors should belong to an organisation like CMAA to insure they are receiving ongoing information in the latest methods of teaching.

While claims against schools are very rare because the training is very safe, many schools are not insured, which is a mistake. Make sure your school is insured and the instructors are attending seminars and workshops on teaching.

What can I expect to learn?

This is an exciting question. Contrary to the media’s image of a tough drill sergeant-like martial arts instructor, todays professional is well schooled in positive motivation, modern training methods and character development.

The schools will have special programs built into the curriculum on goal setting, self-confidence, how to avoid violent confrontation and other personal development goals.

This emphasis on personal responsibility and successful attitudes was introduced into the martial arts classroom in the mid-1980’s and has come as a pleasant surprise to many students who feared that martial arts would be an “only the strong survive” experience.

Students of all ages and athletic ability are now able to train in the martial arts without the fear of injury and humiliation associated with the so-called “dungeon” schools of the past.

What kind of physical training does the martial arts teach?

In terms of the physical aspects, there are two primary areas of physical training in the martial arts. First is the traditional arts and techniques of the style taught at the school. This is known as the “Do” or “The Way.” These techniques and forms are not made up by the school, but are passed down from instructor to student through the years. Students honour the art by adhering to its traditional principles.

Traditional training is the most difficult to understand and to execute. However, the process of traditional training develops outstanding discipline, self-control and coordination. The other aspect to physical training is a more modern, practical science of self-defence. Here the focus is less on adhering to an ancient art than practicing what works and discarding what may not work as much.

There is tremendous scientific data that comes to us at a phenomenal rate these days, which continually improves our understanding of how the human body works. And with that understanding of how the body works comes a better philosophy and, hopefully, better practices about how to condition the body so that you’re not hurting it. This is the basis of the modern method of martial arts training.

What is better training? The modern or the traditional method?

Modern training is much more adaptable to an individual’s needs since the training can serve the student rather than the student serving a particular style. While this may sound more appealing, many of these schools are more gym-like than school-like. With the lack of traditional ideals, there can be a lack of decorum within the school. While this is certainly not always the case, respect, courtesy and discipline are important elements of the martial arts experience.

Most professional schools have a very effective mix of the traditional arts and modern applications. The school’s exams and lesson plans will be balanced between the traditional forms and basics and the more modern self-defence and fighting applications. The atmosphere is warm and family oriented with a strong sense of courtesy and respect throughout the student body.
So, you can look forward to learning the foundation techniques of a traditional style, the practical applications of the modern strategies, and the personal development skills of self-discipline that work as the glue that holds it all together and makes a black belt.