Your children may watch Jackie Chan movies, marveling at the actor's skills in the martial arts. No one gets past Jackie and his fast kicks and lightening jabs.
But, experts say, studying the martial arts has very little to do with the Jackie Chan fantasy and a lot to do with discipline, coordination, concentration, respect, and developing self-esteem.
Additionally, enthusiasts say, because marital arts are taught year 'round, if your child develops an passion for the discipline, he can study 12 months a year, rather than be restricted to a sport's season.
Which Martial Art?
Nowadays there are numerous forms of martial arts taught across the United States. These include karate, aikido, judo, kendo, and tae kwon do, to name some of the most popular. Deciding which to study depends on the schools in your area and your child's interests. It also may depend on where her friends are studying.
All martial arts are based in Eastern cultures and consequently appeal to parents and children seeking an alternative or addition to traditional, Western-style team sports. Learning karate or tae kwon do for example, provides balance in a child's physical and mental life.
When Should Children Begin?
Some schools have classes for children as young as four or five. Others prefer to start when kids are a little older. If your very young child is eager to try, look for a caring, nurturing school that works with his age group.
It's never too late to start. Teens can gain a lot from the discipline in a short amount of time and progress rapidly with steady attendance and work.
How to Find a School
There are a number of ways to locate a dojo, or school. Look online and in the Yellow Pages, ask friends and classmates, take note of signs as you drive through town, and read bulletin boards at community centers and municipal recreation departments.
Visit the school and observe a few classes. If the school discourages this, walk out!
The classes should be well organized and planned. The school should be clean and inviting and the classroom space large enough for easy movement.
Take note of how the children are treated. Positive encouragement is crucial. If the instructors appear to belittle the children or speak sharply to them, they are not well trained and should not teach your child.
Martial arts instructors should have years of training and even more years of study. Ask the school's director about the instructors' qualifications.
All martial arts are based on respecting your body, its capabilities, and respecting your opponent. Instructors should treat all students respectfully -- even four and five year olds!
All students and teachers should be cooperative and polite at all times. Avoid schools that appear undisciplined or tolerate sloppy and unruly kids.
Instructors should not favor star pupils but give all an equal chance. Watch for this when selecting a school.
Once your child signs up for a program, keep a close eye on his progress and enthusiasm. If he resists going to class repeatedly, consider changing dojos before giving up completely on martial arts.
How Important is Competition?
Many schools that teach martial arts to youngsters participate in competitions with other schools and students. These are a lot of fun for the children and, for the most part, engender healthy competition.
The competitions should be well run, spirited, and fun. All participants, from students to judges, should behave respectfully and politely.
Competition is not absolutely necessary for students to progress in their discipline, but it makes it more challenging for certain kids. If your son or daughter balks at the idea of competing, look for a school that accommodates. Some may not compete at all, or only compete with kids who want to.
Your child may not grow up to star in movies as the next Jackie Chan, but he may gain a good deal of confidence, grace, and concentration if he studies a martial art.