Cross Post – A Parent’s Guide to the Martial Arts by Jackie Bradbury

Last week I gave a nod to Jackie’s article.  This week, I’m cross-posting the article!  Thank you, Jackie, for cross-posting my article last week – I really appreciate it!

Jackie Bradbury publishes “The Stick Chick“. You can find Jackie on Google Plus (+Jackie Bradbury) Twitter (@JackieB23), Pinterest, Tumblr and on Facebook

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Parent’s Guide to the Martial Arts

Mommy’s Little Badass,
about six years old.

I’m a martial artist, but I’m also the parent of a martial artist.  In fact, I’ve been a martial arts mom far longer than I’ve been a martial artist myself, and I anticipate my younger child will be stepping onto a mat within a year or so.

I believe that most, if not all, children can benefit from studying a martial art. Which martial art – and which school – is highly variable, based upon the skill sets and temperament of your child.

If you are considering putting your child in a martial art, here’s some tips I’ve learned that I hope will help you.

First, read this excellent post written by +Jesse EnkampHow To Be A Good Karate Parent.

Make sure you have a good understanding of  your child’s emotional, physical, and mental abilities and temperament.

  • Is your child outgoing, or shy?
  • Is your child aggressive, or passive?
  • Is your child physically gifted or not so much?
  • Is your child able to pay attention for long periods of time (20 minutes or more) or not?
  • Is your child “high strung” and intense, or laid back and loose?
  • Is your child emotionally sensitive, or not?
  • Is your child a perfectionist who needs things “just so”, or she just “goes with the flow” of things?
  • Is your child goal oriented, or not?
  • Does your child have physical, emotional or mental special needs?
  • Is your child especially sensitive to people getting inside their personal space, or are they fine with touching and being touched by other people in a sporting/martial arts context?
  • How much empathy does your child have?

For example, if your child is passive or shy, it’s probably not going to be too much fun for him to enroll in a school that does a lot of tournament and demonstration stuff, but if your child is a competitive over-achiever, she may get bored quickly with schools that are more laid back and intellectual.

Next, make sure you understand why you’re signing up little Junior for martial arts classes. Why do you want your child to take the martial arts?  Reasons may include:

  • Physical fitness
  • Positive effects on self-esteem
  • Self discipline
  • Learning moral values such as courage, perseverance, fair play, etc.
  • Helping your child learn how to protect herself against bullies or other people who wish her harm (i.e., self defense, but what that means for a kid is different than what it means for an adult)

One major benefit to the martial arts is that it can help out with other sports. Many NFL teams have hired martial arts trainers and coaches.  Four time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro Outside Linebacker Tamba Hali for the Kansas City Chiefs is a Blue Belt in BJJ and studies with the Gracies.

One note about self defense:  I believe it is a bit irresponsible to teach young children self defense techniques that involve staying engaged with an attacker.  Kids that age should not exclusively be taught to trade blows and stay engaged in a fight.

I did not mention any specific art, as I don’t believe that the art itself is the primary reason you choose a school for your child.  Sure, we can debate grappling vs. stand up and all that stuff, and the utility of it all, but honestly, when you’re just starting out, make sure you pick the school that fits your child’s unique needs and your budget, not what somebody else insists is “the best” or right art.  Here’s a secret – each one of us is biased in favor of our own art, so take that into consideration.

When looking for a school, visit and watch the classes before you sign up for anything.  Talk to parents and see what they say they like and dislike about the school.  A good martial arts instructor will welcome this visit and examination.

Here are the big red flags to watch out for, in my opinion:

  • Very long contracts (more than 6 months). I am not
    Mommy’s Little Badass,
    age 13 and not far
    from her Black Belt.

    completely opposed to contracts on principle, but read the fine print VERY closely.  If they try to sell you some sort of big package immediately, and use high-pressure sales tactics, run away.

  • Hidden Fees.  These may include testing fees, belt fees (which are not unreasonable as long as they cover the cost of the belt), equipment fees, weapons fees, special uniforms, federation fees, and others.  Many of these are legitimate, but make sure they are being up front about it versus hiding or surprising you with it later.
  • Dirty or musty smelling training spaces in poor repair.  This school is either running out of money and will close soon, or they don’t care too much about the quality of what they teach.  A single broken mirror on the wall is not “poor repair” – they can be expensive and difficult to replace.  But falling down tiles, dirty mats, a bad smell are all hallmarks of a place you absolutely not allow your child to enter, much less train in.
  • Unprofessionalism.  Are teachers yelling at students, cursing, denigrating other arts or schools, treating parents with disrespect… basically engaging in any behavior that in any other context would be considered rude or poor customer service?  If so, run.
  • Flakiness.  When teacher doesn’t always show up or start class on time, where they don’t follow through on promises, where they don’t return phone calls and emails (it’s 2014 – YOU MUST USE EMAIL), where classes are run by very low level belts while the instructor talks on the phone or gossips with a parent on the sidelines, all that is being flaky. Avoid instructors like this, no matter how good a martial artist or nice person they are, as they will invariably disappoint you.
  • Poor teaching.  Just because one is an excellent martial artist, it does not necessarily equate to being a good teacher.  I am convinced there are more people teaching than really should be, because they think that you reach a certain rank and must strike out on your own and teach.  Hallmarks of poor teaching include no structure to class, no curriculum or clear process in which ones’ progress is measured and tested, and having high-level belts that still look clumsy and can’t move smoothly or with power.
Some final tips:
  • Don’t ignore Rec Center, Public Parks or YMCA martial arts programs, as they can actually be very good instruction, sometimes at a cheaper price than a stand-alone school.
  • Trust your gut.  If it feels wrong, it is wrong.
  • Do not allow your child to be alone with instructors without other trusted people around.  It’s unfortunate, but there are numerous reports of martial arts teachers abusing their students when they get them alone.  Also watch for inappropriate texts to your child’s phone.
  • It’s a good idea to survey prices for a variety of places to get an idea of “going rates” for martial arts in your area.  If a school you are considering is much more expensive or much less expensive than average, make sure you know why before you enroll your child there.
  • Research online reviews and check out Bullshido School Reviews.
  • YOU are the customer.
I hope this helps you pick a martial arts school and teacher for your child. Feel free to contact me [Jackie – not Joelle, LOL – info below] to ask questions!

 

Jackie Bradbury publishes “The Stick Chick“. You can find Jackie on Google Plus (+Jackie Bradbury) Twitter (@JackieB23), Pinterest, Tumblr and on Facebook

 

That Parent: The Coach

Inspired by the Stick Chick’s blog series “That Guy” Thank you, Jackie!!! Jackie Bradbury publishes “The Stick Chick“. You can find Jackie on Google Plus (+Jackie Bradbury) Twitter (@JackieB23), Pinterest, Tumblr and on Facebook

I’m not a perfect parent, never will be. Now that my older daughter has literally* kicked my butt in kumite I need to be even more careful. I’m not a perfect karate parent, either – I’ve made some mistakes, fortunately most of them were out of the dojo when we could talk at length and clear up any misunderstandings and work through our crazy emotions. In the dojo, our Senseis have jurisdiction so that means my daughter has to own her mistakes herself. It also means my daughter is free to achieve things without me clinging to her. She’s on the verge of adulthood, so it’s important that I loosen the leash!

I’ve taken my daughter to five tournaments, and I’m happy to say that out of the crowds of hundreds of parents, I’ve encountered only one parent who was a problem. That Parent: The Coach.

Lord knows I’ve done my share of sideline coaching when my daughter is sparring in tournament. But I do it quietly. I learned to shut the heck up the first tournament – I accidentally distracted my daughter. I still feel badly about that. There are loads of parents who do a fair bit of sideline coaching – mostly quietly and as an outlet for their own nerves. Occasionally one or two might shout encouragement, but usually it’s during a natural break in the action and the words are very generalized and positive (“Good job!”). Not The Coach. She screamed continually.

I don’t think The Coach understands it’s not about medals. My daughter didn’t come home with any medals. She was the only competitor in her beginner’s division, so she agreed to be in the group of girls who had more training. It’s happened before, and my daughter welcomes the challenge. She has always placed second or third. Not this tournament. She lost both fights. Her first fight she was conquered by someone who was expert in getting inside her reach. My daughter’s second fight was magnificent. She made a fantastic comeback after starting off behind 4 points, eventually tied 7 and 7 with a minute left to go. Fast and furious – and the match could’ve gone either way! The other girl reached eight points first, ending the fight. My daughter and I feel that even though she didn’t place, her second fight was her best tournament fight ever. I noticed she’s improved her skills since last tournament. This was a personal triumph. Frankly, I don’t even know where my daughter keeps her medals but I do know what my daughter achieved that day will stay with her. I don’t think The Coach sees anything but failure in the lack of a medal.

I’m not even sure The Coach is a good title. This lady probably has never trained in a martial art, so what credentials does she have to back up all the advice she screams? I’m betting zero. Nonetheless, The Coach had a lot to say, and boy did she say it loudly and continuously the entire match. I don’t think anyone within a thirty foot radius could’ve tuned it out. It’s a wonder the judges were able to concentrate. Her poor kid obviously couldn’t – I saw it in the child’s eyes as the child’s gaze was constantly drawn away from the opponent towards The Coach. “Catch the kicks and take your opponent down! Don’t let the opponent close in on you like that!” Of course the opponent could throw at least three techniques for every sentence, so the mother was mostly commenting on past actions. Did she honestly expect her kid to be able to internalize a comment about a kick that was thrown three seconds ago while blocking a jab to the face in the present moment? The screams went on and on. Right. in. my. ear.

I waited for the officials to call a halt and chuck The Coach out of the venue. They didn’t. Maybe they were waiting for me to deal with it because I was the only one sitting next to The Coach. But before I could think of something appropriate to say, I became aware of my younger daughter. I realized she was having a hard time. My younger daughter is the opposite of her sister – she shudders at fighting and so is not a karate-ka herself. She is autistic, so crowds and noise are difficult for her. Due to circumstances beyond our control, my younger daughter had to come with her big sister and I to the tournament. She coped with everything by reading her books and doing her best to ignore what she didn’t like. But The Coach’s constant screaming almost sent my autistic daughter over the edge. My younger daughter is bigger than her sister and I, so it’s best to be sensitive to her needs. I could see she was trying her best not to have a meltdown. Obviously The Coach had no clue about the effect her screaming was having on the people around her.

I no longer had a choice about waiting for the officials or saying something myself. My dear autistic daughter was tense – hugging herself and grimacing with fright. I led my younger daughter away so I could soothe and encourage her. As soon as we took our first steps away from The Coach, I could feel the tension leaving my dear, special child’s body. I didn’t see the end of that fight. I’m willing to bet that if The Coach’s kid didn’t place, it was The Coach’s fault. People with autism struggle with social situations, yet my autistic teenager showed far more self control than The Coach. I am immensely proud of my younger daughter for that. She triumphed over her impulses, which is an enormous achievement for someone under extreme stress. The Coach gave way to her impulses regardless of the consequences during what should have been a fun time for her and her child.

Of course The Coach didn’t stick around, so I didn’t have a chance to talk to her or encourage her child.

Next time I won’t wait for the officials. I finally figured out I could say, “Hey, relax – take a deep breath, your kid’s doing fine. Just trust your child and enjoy the moment.” The Coach might not appreciate this and might just might throw an amateurish haymaker at me, especially if I’m not wearing a gi – and I was in street clothes that day. If The Coach throws a punch or two at me, I’ll just start blocking and keep blocking until others come along to help. I know darn well that after a physical confrontation, one or more Senseis from my organization would debrief me to make sure everything I said and did was beyond reproach. This on top of whatever the police would want to know, and maybe even the court system. I’ll bet The Coach never considered I might lose my temper and pose a threat to her, and I’m sure she had no idea of all the things that were keeping her safe from me – my good upbringing (thanks, Mom & Dad), my faith, the Senseis who have talked with me at length about ethics, and the fact that I would be held accountable for my actions. I’ve heard of other parents who didn’t restrain themselves at their childrens’ special events, and the stories aren’t pretty.

Actions have consequences. We learn that in karate. We also learn to be good examples to others. The Coach’s constant, loud stream of advice was ludicrous and counterproductive. I don’t think The Coach had a clue that my autistic child was frightened by the screaming. Nor was The Coach being a good role model. I hope her child has other adults who are better role models. Most of all, I hope and pray The Coach’s child didn’t have to listen to an angry tirade on the way home.

Now, if you want to know how to be a good karate parent, I have an article for you by Jesse Enkamp
If you aren’t yet a karate parent but want to be one, definitely read this article by Jackie Bradbury

Thanks again to Jackie Bradbury for letting me play with her theme! A reminder – Jackie’s blog is Jackie Bradbury publishes “The Stick Chick“. You can find Jackie on Google Plus (+Jackie Bradbury) Twitter (@JackieB23), Pinterest, Tumblr and on Facebook

  • Here’s the story about my daughter literally kicking my butt. It was while we were doing two-against-one sparring. I was retreating from the other opponent’s attack. My daughter was behind me. She says she was aiming her kick higher and maintains that I blundered right into her kick before it was fully extended, thus, she concludes, I myself drove my posterior onto her foot. I have trouble believing she didn’t playfully tap me on the hiney just to be funny 🙂

Consequences

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(thanks to Sensei Andrea Harkins for this topic)

“Have you ever had to use karate against someone?”

Often people ask me this question because they hope I’ve never been in danger.  Sometimes they are just plain curious.  Every once in awhile when someone asks me this, the tone of voice, facial expression, and the body language indicate that what they’re really after is a cool story about how I beat up a serial rapist one night and sent him to the hospital with a few of his parts crushed into jelly.  Most of these people don’t understand that at my level of competence, I’d be lucky to create an opportunity that would allow me to run away.

Real fights aren’t glamorous and they have consequences.  I’ve only been in one fight myself. By Hollywood standards it really wasn’t much of a fight because I only used just enough force to make my point and walk away.  And yes, there were consequences for me even though I gained freedom from ongoing physical abuse.  As I’ve said before in another article, when we use force – even minimal force, against another human being there are consequences.  Outcomes can be either positive or negative.  One can see this principle played out in a variety of life situations.

In martial arts and many sports, two or more people mutually consent to engage in using force against each other.  One walks away with a medal, the other doesn’t.  Sometimes the consequences are greater – one team wins national honors, one team doesn’t.  Injuries of various severity happen.  These consequences are part and parcel for the activities, and hopefully everyone understands this beforehand!

Sometimes people use force against others to prevent greater harm.  For instance, someone might knock another person to the ground to save that person from being hit by a falling rock.  The consequences might be bruises and scrapes, but that’s better than being six feet under ground.  Usually there’s good feeling all around when someone is a hero.  In a more common scenario, a parent might snatch a curious toddler’s hand away from a burning candle.  The toddler might cry in vexation – that’s a consequence, but it’s one most parents can live with.  The child will eventually learn to leave candles alone.

Of course force is also used against people who are acting on bad choices.  It can be tough for us to deal with the consequences of harm we’ve inflicted even if it was only a little harm done for the right reasons against someone who deserved it.  We might doubt ourselves, and that self-doubt could last a very long time.  I’m told people sometimes get sued for harm they inflicted while defending themselves.

Before he passed away, I sometimes talked with my grandfather about his experiences as a soldier in Europe during World War II.  By the time he felt comfortable talking to me about the war, any PTSD he might have suffered was long since over. Nonetheless, he told me that killing others, watching friends die, and almost dying himself were things that had deeply affected his life.  He made it very clear that taking a human life is a very serious thing indeed.

I don’t want to write much about force that is used against people for the wrong reasons.  The consequences for child abusers, muggers, and murderers can range from jail sentences to the electric chair.  Enough said.

The challenge for me as I study karate is to learn to control my use of force so that I don’t use too much when it isn’t appropriate to do so.  I don’t sweat my way through drills and kumite so I can go to the worst part of town, pick a fight, then brag about it afterward.  Such behavior goes against everything Karate students are taught about humility and self control.  I am learning about what kind of force is appropriate for any given situation I might find myself in.  Should I ever have to use force against someone in the future, I will need to accept and deal with whatever consequences come afterward.  Hopefully I’ll have the strength of character to do that.

Choices – Part One

This article is a two-parter.  I spent about three or four years training in karate when I was in junior high and high school.  The two blogs are two stories from my past.  I hope they contrast the differences between how I feel about the events years later.  In one situation, I chose to fight.  In the other, I chose not to fight immediately and ended up not having to fight at all.  I think I made the right choices, and looking back, I’m amazed at how very young I was when I had to face those choices.


Part One – The Incident

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One day as my daughter and I checked in to the fitness center for water exercise class, the man working the front desk asked if we’d ever had to use our karate.  He was just being friendly, showing that he remembers what classes we take, and that’s fine.  I was less than truthful with my answer, “Good Heavens – no.”  As I gathered a clean towel from the counter, I wrongfully indulged in self-justification by telling myself the check-in line had to be kept moving so I didn’t have time to get into details.  I wish I hadn’t been so reluctant to talk.  It might have done the man good to hear, “No, my daughter has never had to use karate and I haven’t had to use karate since I resumed training almost three months ago.  I did use karate once a long time ago when I was a kid.  I don’ t like talking about it.”  That wouldn’t have taken long to say.

About half an hour later I had to confront memories of “The Incident” again from a different angle as we were doing a gentle exercise in the pool.  I was asked, “Why did you home school your kids?”  An innocent question, yet it triggered memories.  I simply gave the top two of my many reasons, but lurking in the back of my mind was “The Incident,” which is the number 3 reason I chose to home school.

The next day, I realized that if I was confronted with “The Incident” twice in the space of an hour, I can’t avoid it forever.  The visceral emotional reactions had to be dealt with.  I wrote out a narrative.  I analyzed.  I turned it around.  I have five positives that I can tell myself and others.  Five positives to help me take the deep breaths that will overcome the nausea and tightness in my throat when I think about “The Incident.”

1) I got myself out of ongoing physical abuse that nobody was willing to help me with.   And I mean nobody – I asked.

2) Nobody laid a finger on me ever again.

3) I used only the force needed to make the point that I could take care of myself.  No one was seriously hurt, and that was by my design.

4) Given my very young age at the time, I made the best choices I could have made before, during, and after the incident.

5) I’d really rather talk about the time when I made the choice not to fight and therefore avoided the possibility of an international incident between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. near the end of the Cold War.  OK, maybe I’m exaggerating my own importance, but it does make a great teaser!  It’s a fun story, although at the time I was literally running scared.  Stay tuned for Part Two!

I guess I’m starting to get the picture that there’s a lot more to karate than all the cool stuff we do in class.

Click here for Choices Part 2