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Choosing a Self Defense / Martial Arts School: a Parent's Guide
by: Eric Gehler & Jim Johnson
"Daddy, I want to take Karate!"
"Mommy, Jimmy on the bus hit me again today"
There are many reasons why parents want to sign their children up for Self Defense or Martial Arts classes. Once you have made the decision, now you are faced with many different options and questions. What style? How much does it cost? Is my child to young?
Martial Arts and Self Defense Styles
There are as many different styles of Martial Arts as there are religions in the world. You have probably heard of Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Jujitsu, and even Aikido, but there are still numerous styles and offshoots of the Major styles.
So what Style is the Best and what style should I choose?
In reality, it is this author's opinion that the style of Martial Arts your child will learn is not that important. What is important is the method of teaching and training that your child will undergo. With Martial Arts training your child should learn self-discipline, self-respect, and self-esteem, along with the confidence and ability to defend themselves.
The Instructor, (or Sensei) is the key. I suggest that all parents visit several locations with their children to observe the Instructor at work. Make sure you visit a beginner's class as well as an upper level class. The beginner's class is where your child will start.
Does the instructor's personality and philosophy match your morals and ideals? Does the class participate in any "Eastern Religious" practice that doesn't match your faith? Do you want your child viewing this instructor as a role model? Most children will look up to their Martial Arts & Self Defense Instructors as role models and will be in awe of their skills and abilities. Make sure that this person who will be dealing with your children matches your values.
It is also important to view an upper level class. The beginner classes are usually very tame, and the teaching philosophy is tailored to a younger audience. However, the older the student is, the "real" teaching and training methods are put into effect. You may feel comfortable with how the instructor "teaches" the younger beginning students, but may not be comfortable with how they handle the older students.
The majority of Martial Arts & Self Defense Locations (or Dojo's) run their business on a membership basis. Customers must sign contracts, where they are obligated to pay for a certain time period to participate. The locations are run like a gym membership, you pay for a certain length of time and may participate as often as you desire.
Unfortunately, rarely are the "hidden costs" discussed when signing up for a class or membership. What are the hidden costs? The most over looked cost is the "testing fee". In Martial Arts there are numerous skill levels that are equated to a belt rank. After a certain period of time and training, the student is ready to advance to a new level or belt in their martial arts style, and a "belt test" will be performed. This "belt test" almost always required the student to pay a "belt-testing fee". I have seen fees from $50 up to $500 depending on the belt rank. Parents, make sure you inquire about these fees and are comfortable with them before you sign any contract.
Another hidden cost is required items to purchase. Some locations require that you purchase a uniform with the schools logo. The average cost of these uniforms range from $30-$50. As the child advances in rank, protective sparring gear is required. Now this is normally mandatory for the child's protection and safety, but can be expensive. Normal safety gear for Martial Arts consists of Foot Pads, Hand Pads, Head Gear, Mouth Piece, Groin Cup, and optional Spar Vest. Depending on the style and sizes all this gear together cost about $150 retail or higher.
So Parents, factor in the total cost of classes, testing fees, and required equipment when making your decisions.
At what age should my child begin Martial Arts or Self Defense? Now this is an often-debated issue. I have seen children as young as 4 years old participate in Martial Arts or Self Defense training. Some have been successful while others it was just to young. The age of which a child should start Martial Arts or Self Defense classes should be judged on an individual basis and be determined by the parents. Some key points to consider. Does the child have a good attention span? Has the child participated and flourished in other group activities? Is the child comfortable in larger group settings?
If the child is currently enrolled in grade school and has no problem adapting to those settings or conditions then they should be considered old enough to participate and benefit from Martial Arts or Self Defense instruction.