I’ve spent the last two decades teaching martial arts to children. There have been many days when I got in my car after class, and said to myself, “I don’t think I reached anybody today”. Other days I drove home with a beaming smile on my face, knowing I made a big impact that day on the life of a child or two. Luckily those kind of days outnumber the others. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about teaching martial arts to kids.
All kids learn at a different pace.
Some students pick up the technique the first time you show it to them. Other students might require you to explain it ten times before they understand. This does not make them stupid. People just differ in the way they process information. I am a slow learner, for example, but once it is in my “hard drive”, I very seldom forget it. Many fast learners I know are not able to retain information like I do. We all have our gifts.
All kids learn in a different way.
In a class of twenty children, most will learn visually. That is, by watching. You show them a move, they watch, and they learn best that way.
Another group, usually a smaller number, will hear instructions and pick it up that way. They are audio-inclined, and learn best by sound.
Still another group will have a difficult time with visual and audio instructions. They are tactile-oriented. If you lift their foot and place it in the proper position for a kick, and actually take them through the motion of the move, they will pick it up.
A good instructor will be sensitive to the different ways in which children learn. If you are having difficulty reaching a particular child, often times their mother or father can shed some light on the best way to reach them.
There are many ways of doing the same technique.
There is no wrong or right in many cases. For example, there are two ways of throwing an axe kick. It might be done straight up and down, which is the traditional way. It may come up in an arcing motion, like a crescent kick. The way in which the student feels the most natural is the correct way for them. There is no black or white in this area, unless the student is doing a move in an unsafe way.
If you are patient enough, every child will get it.
Never give up on your students. As we saw above, students learn at a different pace. You must encourage them until they understand the movements of any particular technique or kata. If you give up on them, it sends a message that it is okay to give up. You must walk the walk if your students are to follow your example.
If a child is late to class, it is probably not their fault.
Children don’t drive cars. They have little control over when they get to class. I have heard stories about instructors making kids do push-ups for being late. That is just plain wrong. Just let them bow in and join the class. If you are doing something with fast moves, like high kicks or sparring, they should warm up first. Also please read my post on exercise as punishment.
Recognition and praise is the best motivator.
I have learned that praise and recognition is the most effective way to get results. Kids and adults respond best to recognition. Gifts or other material objects only produce very short-term results, and send the wrong message in many cases. We should strive to do what is right, not what will result in our obtaining a reward.
The sensei sets the tone for the entire club.
By treating people with kindness and respect, you will create a club that attracts people who value those qualities. By the same token, if you show no tolerance for lack of respect amongst your students, you will repel disrespectful people. I am okay with that.
What lessons have you learned about martial arts for kids?