“Do I have to train with the little kids? Don’t you have an adult class?”
Rumor has it that someone asked this question sometime in the past few months. Honestly, I can sympathize a little. All martial artists above the age of, oh, say, fourteen know that feeling. But there’s something that any prospective teen and adult student should know: You. Are. Needed. And, quite frankly, a beginner is a beginner is a beginner, so you might as well begin your journey alongside the kiddos.
I’m not a sensei (instructor) yet, but I have a good solid history of assisting and teaching starting from when I was a teenager. I’ve probably covered my background in previous posts, so I won’t go into detail about my exact qualifications. But rest assured, I’ve seen enough to where I’m confident in my authority in writing this post.
As a teenager I often taught new adult students. As an adult student, I have had and still have youngsters who are senior in rank (senpai) to me. I know from my own experience and from watching my young senpai(s) that teaching and having authority over an adult gives a youngster a huge boost in morale and confidence. You never know -maybe at school that young senpai feels isolated and disrespected. That certainly was my experience. So, older beginning student, you could be water in the desert for your young senpai. Of course young senpai(s) can and do enjoy teaching children, but being liked and respected by an adult student – oh I can’t even begin to describe the good it does for a young heart and soul!
A lack of teen and adult presence exacerbates the public’s perception that the class is just for children. All too often martial arts are treated like just another glorified babysitter. Of course, parents who just want their kids out of their hair for an hour can make the difference between a school paying its bills or being evicted, so I’m not bashing owners who allow such kids in their class. I also acknowledge that it’s possible for the goofiest kid in class to become your best student even though it originally wasn’t her idea to study a martial art. All that said, a dojo needs serious students because the presence of serious students (especially teens and adults) sets the tone for the class. The younger students will look up to their big peers and will make better progress simply because they see what hard work and good manners look like. The public will notice people of all ages learning together. This unusual sight will hopefully attract a wider variety of potential students.
OK, so much for the mental and social stuff – now let’s look at the physical side. Height and age are the only differences I’ll see while watching the performance of new beginners at the college class and at my “home” dojo. If I teach two days in a row at both places I will see a college student making the same mistakes as an elementary-school child. I guarantee it. I will be giving the same feedback to students in both classes. Yes, prospective teen or adult student, you need to swallow your pride because you absolutely cannot assume that you will learn any faster than any given child. Everyone is on their own timetable when it comes to learning a martial art.
I acknowledge that most days an adult or teen student will have to learn in a class that is, to some extent, pitched to the younger set. I have to admit I enjoy teaching the college class because of how I can present the material. I confess that I feel a tiny bit sorry for teens or adults who are thrown in with a bunch of goofy children. Accordingly, I take every opportunity to give those older beginners nuggets of information that the younger ones can’t grasp. If the host facility allows, I am more than happy to spend a little time before or after class with any serious student, regardless of age. Most martial arts instructors feel the same. This is an opportunity for adults to be taught as adults, even if it’s just for ten minutes!
Bottom line is we (your instructors and your senpai) want you to succeed. You’re not going to be treated like a two-year-old unless you act like one. If you feel like you’re ready for new material before the children in your new beginners’ class are ready, I encourage you to talk to your instructor. Be forewarned that instead of getting new material your instructor might instead show you ways to improve what you are currently working on and/or the instructor will give you a deeper understanding of the techniques. In other words, you probably won’t be given new material. That’s OK, we all go through those stages. Just start your journey – you’ll find that training with children is either OK or maybe even fun.