Monday, May 16, 2016

Thoughts on training the young

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.

I remember visiting some programs that had youth programs, and the instructor let them run around playing, actually functioning as a baby sitter.

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.

And as in every dojo I have known, students passed through the program, many not staying. Just a handful making the Black Belt. The average time for the young was 7 to 9 years, and then they left town to get on with life as young adults do.

Of course the longer I taught the more I wanted to have those who trained that distance to become qualified. I also wanted to make the program have more meaning for the rest of the students, the short timers.


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.

What has not changed is that entering a martial arts program is often a one time and out event. I have seen very few of those who chose to stop training ever successfully return to training.

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.

On the whole, students who remain a month tend to stay 2 or 3 years.

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.

But they are also learning how to make decisions. That to is part of what karate training makes one do. Decide to continue to train and learn new things. And in time, most will find something else is more important to them. Then they learn choices also have a consequence.

 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.

To me, this the most important lesson you can share with them. Of course when most make the choice, they could have gone on to be credible students. It is not for my satisfaction they should make their choice. But for their needs.

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.

And I often think that people do not realize the instructor is not the most important person in a youths life. First are the parents. Their getting them to class, and picking them up after class are more important. That they are spending time with their kids, has a far greater influence on them in the long run.

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.

Time has also brought about another change. Parents often see karate is an activity for their kids. I have had mothers and fathers approach me about their kids as young as 3 an 4, who are interested in them training.

 At that time I suggested dance class. The parents looked terrified.

But here is my logic.

 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.

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