A children’s martial arts class is a interesting case study in psychology. With most kids, you can see and feel the joy of learning in their frantic, sometimes awkward, movements. For some, you can see the frustration—of not attaining perfection immediately. Sadly, many of these children give up martial arts. They feel that if they can’t do it perfectly, they won’t do it at all.
Why are some children perfectly happy with small steps of progress, while others hate seeing themselves as weak, clumsy, or stupid? I tell my students that perfection is never possible, but striving for it builds their character. I also tell them to be patient with their progress, expect to make mistakes, and do not plan on becoming an expert overnight.
Our society expects achievement from everyone, including kids. They come into my children’s martial arts classes expecting to excel right off the bat. They don’t understand that you have to learn martial arts in small steps. You don’t just go from step number one to step number twenty in a day. Some of this pressure comes from parents, who mean well, but expect their kids to be the best in the class. This is not always realistic. In many cases, the pressure to achieve comes from the child himself. Children can be very hard on themselves. I have seen boys and girls cry in class as their frustration sets in, when doing a complex move or kata. They get very angry at themselves. You have to pull them aside and say, “you are doing fine–relax”. It doesn’t always work.
Children need to understand that mistakes are a healthy part of learning. Sometimes I’ll do a kata and throw in a mistake on purpose. I do this for two reasons. I want to see if anyone can catch it, and most importantly, to show them that we all make mistakes—even the sensei. Learn to embrace the fact that you are a beginner, when everything is fresh and new–you are laying the foundation for excellence with each step, as awkward as it may feel. Everyone makes mistakes—it is more important to do the best you can. Have fun and relax!
Children’s Martial Arts: Don’t Expect Perfection is an original article by Sensei Matt Klein.