So you’re choosing a martial art for your child to get into. There’s loads of things to consider. Location, price, and the instructor’s reputation are biggies. If you’re lucky you might find a good match in all three of these areas. But there’s something more important that you should examine before you sign you child up.
Ask yourself, “What do you want?”
I understand the starry-eyed vision of your little darling wearing a black belt (I’m going to use “black belt” generically ’cause it’s easy for folks to understand – please note that many arts recognize high achievers differently). You want your child to achieve and that’s great. Chances are your child wants that black belt too, and that’s fantastic. So, which school is more attractive? School A warns that it will take 8-10 years to maybe be invited to test for Junior Black Belt, then test again at age 16. School B will get your child to black belt in 6 years. School C promises 4. Which do you choose?
You might think you want the fast track for your child. You might even think that four years is too long, and to a child yes, four years is four-ev-er. But stop and think. Do you want the black belt to be given to the child just to make him or her feel good, or do you want that black belt to really mean something? There are martial arts schools out there that will give you exactly what you want if you think the black belt is the end-all-and-be-all of martial arts. Are they worth the money?
Let’s get back to School A. The one that says it typically takes 8-10 years until your child might be invited to test for Junior black belt, then re-test at age 16. Chances are if you talk a little longer with the higher-ranked folks from School A they will tell you that learning doesn’t stop at black belt. Black belt is regarded as a new beginning, a sign that one has a good foundation and is ready to embark on a journey of even more and better learning.
If, while talking to folks from the school, you hear a passion for lifelong learning (thank you, Kai Morgan), high expectations, tough requirements, and personal development you’ve found a great school. If you hear a hesitation to award a black belt to a child after only 4-6 years, stop and listen to the reasons. Chances are the school expects a lot from their black belts. Children can achieve quite a lot physically, and often that is recognized with a junior black belt. But even just the physical abilities cannot be achieved without a lot of time, effort, practice, and a willingness to focus, learn, and commit to the art for a number of years.
I know by the time I might be invited to test for black I will have physical skills, yes, but I will also have been trained in how to teach and maybe even in dealing with a host facility. Hopefully I’ll have some idea of how to handle “That guy,” (borrowing from fellow blogger Jackie Bradbury). Examples of “that guy” would be someone with bad hygine, or maybe a know-it-all. Children can’t handle these responsibilities.
Every single belt I’ve earned has meant a lot to me. All my future belts will mean even more because I will have put in a lot more time and sweat into earning them. The tests I will take from here on out will be a lot harder than my previous tests. I will have gained a lot of physical skills in my art that one cannot gain without considerable effort and time. Have I mentioned other things I hope to gain along with my black belt? Ohhhh, yes I have. Here, here, here, and here. Chances are if you read any given post on my blog, you’ll see where I’m headed. This is what I want for myself. Do you want the same for your child?
You might want to look beyond the belt and how fast your child can get it. Some, not all, but some schools count on your fixation on the color of your child’s belt. In fact, some go so far as to charge outrageously high testing fees because they know parents will do almost anything to get bragging rights. Don’t be fooled. There’s a lot to be said for enjoying the journey and appreciating where one is at the moment. Certainly children can be guided into this if their parents aren’t fixated on the color of the belt and how fast it can be obtained. They will most likely perform better and stick with the art longer.
My Karate “childhood” is drawing to a close. Due to unforeseen circumstances I have been taking on responsibilities that are usually given to students who are a little more highly ranked than I am. In addition (again due to unforeseen circumstances) I have to do a lot of work on my own and seek out opportunities to learn at a higher level with higher ranked people. This is what black belts quite often need to do for themselves so this would have come sooner or later in my career. It just happened to come sooner than usual. I am blessed to have a good deal of support from many incredible people. But even though I’m embracing this new phase, this time of transition is quite challenging. Parents, please let your child have his or her martial arts “childhood” because that time is precious and vital.
I hope you understand that a black belt should be more than just a piece of cloth and a pat on the back. If you’re still not convinced, go ahead and get your child that black belt in four years. There’s room for just having fun, and heck, it’s a free country so anyone can wear any color belt they want especially if they pay money for it. Just don’t expect that the color of the belt will mean the same thing in every single martial arts school.
Wanna read more about choosing a school and being a martial arts parent? My online acquaintance, Jackie Bradbury has you covered. Check out her blog post “A Parent’s Guide to Martial Arts.”