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Your Child and The Martial Arts, My Thoughts.

People come to the martial arts for a wide variety of reasons, especially children.  They see them in a movie or on TV, like the Ninja Turtles, or maybe a video game they play and they actually want to be able to do those moves themselves, or they may wish to compete and win trophies.  Maybe they are small in stature and lack confidence in public or they are being bullied and want to know what to do.  They ask their parents to be put in karate lessons and away they go!

Maybe it’s the parent that wishes to enroll their son or daughter so they can learn to defend themselves and bully proof them. They could be a behavioral problem and they are hoping they learn discipline.

No matter which of these reasons they may start in the martial arts, nine times out of ten it isn’t why they stay.  All of these things are the “bling” of the martial arts, the reasons they give you in all of the ads and commercials.  They are not the deeper reasons kids, and even adults, stay in the arts.

What They Are…..And Aren’t

Most of the time, neither parents or kids take the martial arts seriously.  Here in the United States it is looked at as a recreational activity, much like soccer or baseball.  If they don’t do karate, they’ll try Tae Kwon Do, if not that then they’ll try skateboarding.  I was trained in South Korea, and the way martial arts are looked at there and in other Eastern countries such as Japan and China, is that of an educational process.   The teaching method used in the martial arts is highly regarded and taken just as seriously as education in school and at home.

It is a place of respect, courtesy, cooperation and learning.  It is training in methods of fighting, but not so we learn to fight and overpower others, but so we learn not to fight and get along with others.  Sounds weird huh?  Through the training in traditional martial arts, the student learns how to defend themselves, but more importantly they learn about themselves and grow as individuals.  They learn what their current limits are and how to push past them, that failing is okay and that if they fall they get back up and keep fighting on.  They learn to work with their training partners, helping each other learn and grow together, rather than seeing them as an enemy to be defeated.

You Won’t Be A Turtle

You WON’T be Bruce Lee!

No, sorry…….training in the martial arts ( any art) will not make you a Ninja Turtle, Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, a Ninjago guy, or any other “hero” you may see in your favorite movie, show or video game.  Training in the martial arts does not make you invincible and guarantee you will win in a fight either.  Yes, I said it and it’s true!

Despite all of the ads you see promising to turn you or your child into a world-class fighter, master of mayhem or windmill of death, martial arts training only gives you a decided advantage in a self defense situation DEPENDING ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND THE INDIVIDUAL.  You will NOT be invincible!  In a real street fight situation there are way too many factors that come into play and variables that can change the outcome, all of them unknown.

No Turtles

You WILL NOT be one of these!

Many parents and kids have a false image of the martial arts and what they really are.  The reason, I believe, is that much of the information that adults and children receive about the martial arts is from movies and television.  Another reason is the martial arts community at large!  Tales and videos of so-called masters knocking people down or flying backward without ever touching them, or knocking them out with just the touch of a finger, is all a bunch of garbage!

Sadly, some instructors when asked about such feats, rather than admit the truth, will give a round about answer and say “Well there was this one time I……” or “I once saw a master do this….”.  These tales of super feats, promises of being a black belt in 12 months and other such things are meant to sell memberships and make money.  Unfortunately, many schools today sell belts and sell out the martial arts and what they were truly created to be.

The martial arts are full of tales and legends of some pretty crazy feats by some masters, that oddly have never been seen in the present day and are proven by science and medicine to be impossible.  There are however, highly skilled individuals who train extremely hard and are capable of some great things, but there is no mystery, magic or super powers involved.  So if you are considering getting your child into martial arts, realize that it is not what you see in Hollywood.  It is a method of instruction that has great physical, mental and emotional benefits for its students and must be taken seriously.  To get them involved thinking your child will be turned into a super fighter or what Hollywood would have you believe, would be a mistake.

The First Month

It’s Work!

Child hits a wall

They WILL get frustrated

My background is in Tang Soo Do, so that is the point of view I’ll be coming from, but having had kids programs and teaching ages 7 and up, there are three main things I see most students go through in the first month of classes, especially when they are young.  The very first thing is they realize karate is work, and can be a little boring!  Going over how to stand, bow, rules, stances, the basic punch and low block, then repeating them over and over. Push ups, sit ups, and jumping jacks!

“What is this? When are we going to do the jump, flying, spin, tornado, helicopter kick like in my video game?” “Why am I sweating?” The shock sinks in and they begin to question why they wanted to do this.

The Pack

The second thing that happens is that they begin to compare themselves to those around them.  As they are in shock throwing their punches, they look around, wondering if anyone else seems to think they entered the Twilight Zone.  Instead, they see others smartly executing hard, fast punches with focus, and maybe one or two that seem to be struggling, but are giving their best effort.  They begin to think “I’ll never be as good as that guy.” “Those guys look as good as me, but they seem to like it!”

The student starts to see where they fall in the pack.  If they are the newest kid in class, they may see themselves at the bottom, but every master started at the exact same point they are!

The Wall

The third thing some kids experience in their first days is hitting the wall.  It’s not IF you are going to hit the wall, it’s WHEN.  The Wall is that point in training where nothing sends to be sinking in, your body doesn’t cooperate, and you feel totally incompetent.  Hitting the wall is actually a good thing, because it keeps you realizing you still have much to learn.  Many students get frustrated, put themselves down and want to quit. The going just got tough and they doubt they can go on.

The Support of Parents

This is where the parent’s role in the martial arts learning process comes in. When the child starts to experience these things, the parent needs to encourage them in a positive manner, motivating them to continue and to keep trying.  It is important that the child does this on their own and that the parent doesn’t start making deals with them to get them to go to class.  “If you go to class we’ll stop for ice cream afterward!” or any other such promise or bribe is not going to help the child develop that drive to continue. What will eventually happen is the child will get accustomed to getting something just for showing up and that something will just get bigger and bigger as time goes by.  In these cases, the child ends up just showing up to get whatever was promised to them and does not put forth any real effort while in the class.

So instead of coaxing your child to go to class when they start hitting the wall with bribes, explain why they should go to class, remind them of their classmates who are looking forward to training with them, that technique they did so well last time or other such things.  And if your child is wore out from a long school day and is adamant about not going to class that day, then don’t force them.  It is a journey, not a race and missing one class is not going to effect anything.

No Audiences

Many schools today allow parents to sit in the class and watch or have them sit in a viewing room behind glass so they can watch their child.  I believe this is a mistake and do not allow parents to sit in the class and watch.  I know this may be a problem with some readers, but there is good reason for this.

The Parent/Coach

Parents try to coach out of love.

Many of us have seen on the news or YouTube of a youth football or baseball game that breaks out in a free for all brawl BETWEEN THE PARENTS.  These things happen because parents want their child to succeed, win, and be the best.  Sometimes the parent re-lives their glory days of playing sports through their kids and tries to coach them, tell them what to do and correct them, rather than allowing the coaches to do it.  There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for your child, wanting them to succeed, or win.  But if we are allowing them to play sports or get involved in a martial art, we are turning them over to the experienced coaches and/or instructors to teach them properly and help them grow as athletes, martial artists and individuals.  Let them do their job.

Encourage and cheer your child on at game time or when they do their demonstrations whether they win or lose, succeed or fail.  Do not coach them from the sidelines or place extra stress on them.

Approval Seeking

The other reason that I do not allow parents in the class is that many times the child will not or cannot be themselves under the watchful eye of their parent(s).  Either this, or during the class they are constantly looking over to their mom or dad to see if they saw their last punch or kick and are seeking approval.  This is totally understandable because they are kids, which is the whole point……….we want the kids to be relaxed and feel free to be kids while in class.

Karate class or any other martial arts class should be a place where children can grow in the martial arts without parental pressure.  Especially at the younger ages, Karate class is a place where they get to “play” with other kids.  Of course there are rules, safety guidelines and such, but it is a time that they should enjoy and be relaxed to be themselves.  Many parents worry about their child not behaving, but if or when those things happen in class, that is the child being themselves and they can be corrected.  Often times, they are corrected by themselves because the child will naturally want to fit in with the group if everyone else is listening and doing what they are supposed to.

Children naturally like to be praised and told they are doing a great job, and we are sure to do this constantly while making corrections when needed.  Because of this, if the parent is in the class observing, the child will be looking over at their parent for approval or disapproval and not be focusing on the instructor.   This is when injuries or accidents can happen.  We want the child’s journey in Karate to be a fun and enjoyable experience, but it also must be kept in mind that they are learning a method of fighting and safety must be observed at all times.  For this reason and for the child’s learning, they need to be totally focused on the instructor and what is going on in class.

The Only Exception

There is only one instance where I will allow a visitor to observe a class and even then it will be with clear guidelines, and that is if there is family visiting from out-of-town.  Many times a child’s grandparents, aunts or uncles or older siblings may live elsewhere and come home to visit and would like to see a class.  In these instances and if we know in advance, we will allow the family members to watch, but they must not have cell phones on, not be talking loudly or calling out to the child in class or disrupt the class in any way.  At the end of the class once they have finished, they can come out on the floor and interact with the child and instructor.

The child will be distracted enough just knowing they are there and that he/she gets to show their stuff.

Competition, Yes or No?

I have competed both overseas and in the U.S. and through my experiences I am not a fan of competition. I did okay and won my share, but in my opinion, competition does little to prepare someone for the street or life.  I think this especially true as it pertains to children.

It’s NOT Up To You

                         Do you want your child to fight?

If a student trains really hard for a competition, whether in fighting or forms, they have very little control over the outcome.  In fighting, unless you knock someone out, whether you score a point or not depends on what the judges saw….or didn’t see.  It’s all in the judges hands.  In forms this is even more true.  A student practices their form, their snap, precision and speed. They do their form and they feel it’s the best performance of their lives. Then, the other person goes and they do really well, but the student thinks they have it won.  Then the judges vote on which form the FEEL was best…..again, all in the judges hands, based on their opinion.  I’m not saying this is good or bad, it’s just how it is.  Adults even have a hard time accepting some of the decisions, let alone a child who worked so hard.  If the child didn’t win, they lost, and that is what they focus on.

It’s a Spectacle

To me, anyone who takes up the martial arts and sticks with it is a winner. It’s hard, takes discipline and heart, which can never be taken away from you. Many local dojo and open tournaments do not reflect the true martial arts, but a spectacle.  You will see students bouncing around, showboating after scoring a point and trash talking.  The uniforms are every color of the rainbow with twenty patches down each sleeve and pant leg.  This is not the intention of the martial arts or the type of attitudes we strive to create.

We Share Our Art

If a student wishes to compete in a tournament, I will help them compete in forms, but with the understanding not to focus on the outcome.  It should be an opportunity to share their hard work and art of karate with the public, and if they are recognized for their hard work by receiving a medal, it’s a bonus.  I take this approach myself, always trying to do my personal best and be the best representation of my Karate I can be.

If I do not win or place, and even if I do, I will talk with the judges to ask what they feel I need to improve on and getting a better idea of what they see.  This does not mean that I change how I do my forms and try to please the judges, because you never will.  The judges change and what they may like one day may not be what they like another.  Taking part in competition in the forms division can be a great learning and confidence building experience if done with the correct attitude and mindset.

I have competed in fighting in the past and done well, but we train for self defense and effectiveness on the street, and I believe training for fighting competition hinders that.  You do not score points on the street and the fight doesn’t stop when someone gets hit once.  For this and for the reasons stated earlier, I do not support competing in sport karate fighting.


One Art, Many Branches

I will close with this, that martial arts styles do not matter!  There is no best style for this or that, and no one style will prepare you for everything you may encounter.  There is a prevailing attitude in the martial arts that a student should stay with one art, one teacher, and often that their style is the best style.  Some styles expect blind obedience and critical thinking, questioning or seeking different ways is not permitted.  This is not the way the martial arts evolved.


In terms of Karate, when the art was developed in Okinawa the masters often travelled to Fujian province in China to study with kung fu masters.  Kung Fu masters settled in Okinawa and there were great exchanges of information and technique between all martial artists  there.  The focus was effectiveness against the most common attacks faced by a person on the street.  There were no tournaments and sport fighting……..and no rules.


The art of Karate was changed, simplified and altered by Master Anko Itosu to try to get it into the schools of the Japanese mainland and spread it’s popularity, which it did.  At the time this happened, Japan was in the process of building its nationalistic and military might and changed the art to be quickly and easily learned as well as having all students conform to a single way of doing things……without question.  These changes are still heavily practiced today, all these years later.  One can see the differences in the art of Karate as it is practiced in Okinawa and the Japanese mainland just by watching some video clips.

Different styles then developed base on the instructor’s preferences and insights and those were taught to his students.  There are thousands of Karate styles today, like the branches of a mighty tree, but the tree has the same roots and they run deep.  Karate’s roots go from Japan to Okinawa, to China and beyond.  The branches have spread across the globe to other countries such as Korea, Europe and the United States, all calling their particular branch something different, but they are still part of the Karate tree.  One branch may be bigger than the next, thinking themselves better, but they are still attached to the same tree, same trunk, same roots.

Choose Wisely

I encourage all parents to see Karate and other martial arts in the same way if you are serious about you and your child starting down this path.  When you go to check out a school, look past the ads, the trophies and medals, and any outrageous mystical claims or promises.  Know why you want your child to study the martial arts.  This is very important, because you would not place your child in my class if they were interested in competing in tournaments and winning medals.  On the other hand, if you want your child to learn self defense, the art and roots of the system they are studying and grow as a person during the process, then this is that is the type of class you should look for.

Starting your child in Karate or any other martial art can give them skills they will carry with them throughout their entire lives and that can be applied everywhere.  But you must look for a school based on reality, not Hollywood or TV, the instructor and the values they promote, and see the style as just a branch of one big tree.  Not better than any other branch, just different with the same roots.

I wish you and your children the best and blessings on your journey into the martial arts.



Kevin Putala is a blogger, martial arts student/instructor for 30+ years and a security officer. He created the Self Defense Home Academy for YOU.So that you and your loved ones can be safe at home and on the street.

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About the Author kwputala

Hello, I have been a student of the martial arts since 1985 and have studied various styles, always focusing on the self defense aspects of the arts. I have taught in the military, privately and publicly and have been a certified personal trainer. I believe that everyone should know how to defend themselves and that this can be learned from home through videos and written material. I am dedicated to you, the reader, in helping you learn self defense so that you are able to handle an attack on the street.

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