In many senses I have been a pioneer for training youth. This is a general observation from those times not specific toward any particular style.
When I began many program taught kids, but they were mixed into adult classes. Often they were the children or siblings of the instructors. Many times they learned karate at a very skilled level.
But generally most of the instructors I knew thought I was daft. Real karate was something you did with adults.
All I had was the Isshinryu I had studied, and all I did was teach karate, not play. My wife was a physical education teacher, and she taught me a great deal about understanding the pace of instruction for youth. The ages were between 7 and 21, all working together. Which coincided with the ages for membership in the Boys Club and Boys and Girls Club.
Age is not a restriction to learning, nor are any other factors, in time everyone gets better, in time. That is different for different people. Many of them who have the most difficulty in the beginning become the better students over time.
Often hearing I will have trouble with ‘that’ one, I simply pay no attention to that, and just teach, Being at the Club has an advantage, I do not have to punish them. If a handful of pushups doesn’t settle them down, we just dismiss them from the class, and send them downstairs, to play or whatever. No one has the right to disrupt others who are training. And this happens extremely rarely, as they know we will do this.
As I am focused on their becoming skilled in the next 7 to 9 years, there is plenty of time to get them perfect. Less than skilled performance at earlier ranks is not the purpose of training. By the time they are preparing for their Sho Dan examination, we have addressed their earlier imperfections.
Now times have changed. Many schools are using the income for teaching the young as their primary income flow. There are very few programs which have remained adult only programs. Many schools also have ‘kinder kids’ programs, of differing sorts. Programs that are not karate. Change is the world.
I am not referring to those who have to stop for medical reasons, or events outside of their control. But for most people (and regardless of age) when they chose to set training aside, they have chosen to do that forever. There are reasons for that, but that is not what I am addressing now.
I became more interested in having that experience be something that could be useful to them. And in doing this I was just going to use karate instruction as designed to teach them something of value.
What karate means to me as that we accept that our own efforts give us additional abilities. Ones we did not have before we began training.
Each student learns themselves that their efforts affect their ability. They see new students starting and they can do things the new student can’t do. They learn how their choices to learn increase their ability. Then we do reference this is not true just in karate, but in everything they learn Linking it back to their studies in school, for one thing.
So when they choose to move away from karate training, that is also a choice that they make. All life is making choices. Being able to choose what is necessary for yourself is an important part of growing up. That their training helps them make such a choice, is something to be proud of. Regardless of what stage they make the decision.
When I was a boy, many adults ran programs for the young around town. Summer Park programs, Youth fellowship programs, Youth center programs, choirs, little league and etc. They were not for themselves but for the greater good of the youth of the town. I realized that what I was doing was for much the same reason.
No I do not consider what youth (or beginners of any age) doing karate, rather preparing to learn karate, which by the time they reach Sho Dan.
That does not mean they are not learning real karate, for they are. Rather until they have prepared their body and mind for it. They are in formative stages.
While I do like karate, it is not the only to train the young.
IMO parents, school teachers, ministers all have far greater importance in the long run.
Of course part of my program is to move forward in my own Isshinryu. Those that participate in that are on a different track.
At that time I suggested dance class. The parents looked terrified.
Karate tends to be a one shot experience for most people. If they start younger there is less chance they will continue with it. Then the experience is past.
On the other hand I am convinced there are other activities that offer more for the young. Those who share other activities, have influence in that activity and share an impact in time, but are hardly the only influence in kids lives.
When my son was young (5) we enrolled him in dance class along with his sister (4). Dance is great movement education for the young. When I was young I too was in dance class for a few years. Finding the best movement education for the young means more in the long run.
Another superior activity for the young is youth soccer. Everyone is getting stronger by running. Swimming and pre-gymnastice also come to mind for the complete body workout they provide.
IMO, there is no right age to begin, Of course as a rule students tend to learn faster if they are around 11, but I have seen plenty of exceptions to that too. As karate tends to be a one shot experience, and I do like karate for youth, having them begin older makes them appreciate what they are learning IMO more.
A more complex idea than many think of, instruction of the young, and also real karate.