Teaching children is the backbone of most successful commercial martial arts studios. This is a great thing because, through martial arts training under the right instructor and in the right environment, children can excel. They can build confidence, stay active and healthy, learn life skills and learn to appreciate other cultures. Also martial arts training usually instills discipline and self-control in most students. Martial arts training as a whole is very positive for most children.
Despite all these benefits, there is one problem that can be quite common in many martial arts dojos. This is giving children a false sense of their ability to defend themselves against an adult.
Too many instructors never actually tell children that their training will not in any way make them capable of beating an adult. They let the student come to their own conclusion and never bring this up.
Or even worse, a few martial arts instructors tell students that size doesn’t matter and let them believe their techniques will overcome any and all opponents.
While this may be great for Hollywood action movies and comedies, it simply isn’t true in real life. Small children lack the physical strength to overcome even a small adult through punching and kicking.
No matter how skilled they are, a small child could not knock down most adults or even do much more than annoy them with strikes. The idea of a 60-pound child out-grappling a full-grown man is ridiculous.
If an instructor’s goal is to keep children safe, he or she has to do more than simply teach children fighting skills.
For self-defence children first of all need to understand healthy boundaries between them and adults; this includes touching and personal space. Knowing how to walk across the street and to be aware of traffic is not enough, a self-defence coach will teach children to be alert to potential dangers.
Children of all ages need to know that, if something does happen, being loud and attracting attention is their best defence. They need to be taught to shout the right things such as “Help he’s not my dad! Help, Stranger!”
Teaching children that the best thing is to get other adults’ attention to a bad situation is way more important than being able to land a mean spinning crescent kick.
Teaching boundaries and personal space may not be the subject for general martial arts classes but special programs should be offered for parents who are interested in enrolling their children. Teaching about the dangers of secret-keeping and encouraging them to speak out if someone is making them uncomfortable with how they are treating them is also very important in a children’s safety program.
Also, instructors should talk about who is in the child’s inner circle and who is someone who is an acquaintance. “Who do you know and who do you kind of know?” is how it can be explained. These are the real skills that help keep children safe from real danger. A good jab cross is great for a child dealing with a school yard bully but keeping kids safe from adults requires a completely different mindset.
Don’t get me wrong — there are more than a few occasions a child has used a surprise punch or kick to break away from a bad guy and get safe. The physical should not be ignored but the reality of the physical differences from a child and a man also should not be ignored.
Also when it comes to getting physical, teach children to make it hard to be forced into a vehicle. Teach them to rake and scratch the eyes, to bite as hard as they can, to make as much noise as they can and to grab on to any object that will make it harder for a perpetrator to get them to another location.
It is great to teach children martial arts and create healthier, happier and more confident children. However don’t lie to them about their physical capabilities by telling them that they are capable of fighting an adult. If you are going to enroll your children in a martial arts program make sure the instructor is honest and teaches them martial arts with proper caveats and guidelines. That way the instructor is not setting them up to think they can stand and fight a bad guy instead of doing the smart thing and escaping and getting to another adult.
Martial arts can truly enrich the lives of those who practice it, especially children. However false security and a false sense of fighting ability can get any martial artist in trouble, not just children. Seek honest instructors and if you want your child to learn self-defence make sure you find a program that is designed for the reality of protecting children not something that is designed for an adult.
Joel Huncar is the chief instructor of Huncar’s Warrior Arts which has its home in the Rocky Mountain Martial Arts Family Centre in Cranbrook