The issue with forcing children to do Karate or any form of martial arts depends entirely on your definition of the word force. We force children to do a majority of the things they do. Karate or another style is no different.
If the parent sees the physical, mental, social, and character building benefits of Karate, then it is no different than forcing them to go to school or eat their broccoli. This comes with a caveat however. Forcing attendance to a poorly run program with a sub par instructor could do more harm than good.
How can you as a parent ensure you are making the right decision in demanding attendance in a martial arts class. The name Karate or any other style for that matter, stamped on the name of a class does not ensure high standards. There are issues that need to be explored.
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Benefits of Requiring Karate Class Attendance
The full benefits of the martial arts are beyond the scope of this question. I will take this up in another post. But lets look at a few of the major ones that could help children that specifically harbor resistance to the idea.
Courage to Conquer Irrational Fear
There are many children that have a fear of the unknown. They may be scared of noise levels, large groups of kids they don’t know, or being under the charge of an unfamiliar adult. Though there are some instances where these could be normal, in a setting like a Karate class, this is an unreasonable fear. Forcing a child to attend a well run class, under a good instructor when these are some of their objections, could be very beneficial.
I have taught thousands of children over my thirty year career. One story comes to mind. Let’s call the little boy Jack. Tears rolled down Jacks face from nearly the instant he entered the class. His father was adamant that he take the class, but Jack was terrified. He literally cried on his father’s lap for five full classes before lining up with the other children on his own.
Does this seem like abuse to you? Well if it does, the story is not over. This little boy went on to stay with me for the next five years and became a bouncing, giggling, ultimate Karate fan. He loved him some Karate class. I received cards, gifts, hugs, and high fives from him all the time.
The point is, if it is fear of the unknown or some other irrational fear, then yes. Put the mommy or daddy foot down and bring them in. This is not soccer (football in Europe), baseball, etc. Though there are definite benefits to sports like this (I have played nearly all of them), the martial arts can teach something special in a way that team sports like these can’t touch. Individual Courage.
Kicking Laziness in the Backside
We all have busy schedules. Many times we don’t notice our kids falling into ruts of slothfulness. But it happens to the best of parents. In these types of situations, we can look to competent Karate instructors or martial arts teachers as an ally in fixing the problem. If you don’t know what to do or need a little help, they can be a great tool.
The instant endorphin rush and over stimulation that our kids face on a daily basis from schizophrenic cartoons, escapist video games, and inappropriate content at their fingertips is appalling. As a parent we are battling an uphill battle. Karate instructors are a symbol for making choices for delayed gratification, healthy living, and constructive pursuits.
To demand enrollment in a good Karate program, is to create an ally that dedicates specific time to helping your child get back onto a healthy track. It is a choice that not only bodes well for self-defense, confidence, and focus in the future, but can be a frontal assault on the hold complacency and laziness has over your child.
The discipline of Karate, the role models the instructors can give, and the goal setting would make a decision legitimate to require at least a minimal effort to learn a martial art.
Bolstering Self Esteem
There are some children that have a general sense of inadequacy and feel they can not accomplish what other kids can. Many times it is not strong enough of an issue that an underlying cause can or should be identified. In cases of extreme feelings of not measuring up, professional help should be sought. But in most cases simply proving to a child that they can do much more than they realized can be the answer.
Through reaching small manageable goals, children can slowly realize their potential. This can be a doorway to many of Karate’s other great virtues and character traits that they can explore and adopt. According to the Mayoclinic.org website, “Self-esteem affects virtually every facet of your life.”
There is a caution here as well. In the same article, the Mayo Clinic’s website cautions about what could appear to be a too high opinion of one’s self. When one boasts or puts down others around them, it is usually not a sign of a child viewing themselves too highly, but symptoms of feelings of inadequacy. An experienced Karate instructor can help redirect these feelings, and change the direction of a would be bully.
Low self esteem can also be another reason a parent might decide to seek the help of a martial arts teacher. Through mentoring, instruction, and helping the child reach goals, Karate could be the option a parent opts for when trying to change a child’s path.
Negatives of Demanding a Child Do Karate
Here we have to consider the intentions of the parent making the decision and the quality of the instructor that they have chosen for their child. If the intent is to make their son or daughter the best fighter in their preschool, or the instructor is their Uncle Rick who is teaching them choke holds he learned in the Marines, then we have a problem.
Techniques Inappropriate For the Age of the Child
With the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts and Cage Fighting events rising throughout the last few decades, I have heard and seen some disturbing things. Fathers have come to me wanting their 7 year old to train in MMA in order to fight in a No Holds Barred match within the year. Parents wanting their kids to be ‘tough’ on the streets of LA have wanted their young children to learn edged weapon systems (knives and machetes). No. Just, no.
There are reasons that quality Judo instructors going by acceptable guidelines of professional and martial arts associations will not teach submission holds to children until the teenage years. HapKiDo teachers regularly turn away younger children from their classes because of the dangerous nature of many of the core techniques they provide. Most edged weapon systems simply won’t teach minors, period.
A Flawed Intention On the Part Of The Parent
If the purpose of the directive is to make a child a good fighter, better at imposing their will on others, or to fulfill some hidden desire of a father that was too scared to actually train and compete for themselves, the answer should always be an emphatic, NO. I am not saying this is always the case, or even the majority of cases, but I can count way more times that this has happened than I wish to know.
There is nothing wrong with a mother wanting their son to be able to take care of themselves. That is the reason many children begin Karate or any martial art. There is nothing wrong with a father wanting his daughter to be able to fight off attackers or deviant boys wanting to cross lines. This is all normal and good parental behavior.
There is a difference though in wanting boys to be masculine and wanting to turn them into aggressive fighting machines. This happens, make no mistake. For little girls, this usually is not as much of a problem, but I have also seen cases of it as well. These things are a sad instance of a parent usually living vicariously through their kids.
Should you force your child to do Karate? Absolutely, if you have made an informed decision and are making sure the instructor is safe, competent, and caring. The benefits of Karate as well as many other martial art systems can’t be matched.
If you are careful with your expectations you will probably have the proper motivation in pushing your kids into training. Yet, if the decision is more about your opinions on the harshness of life and centered on yourself… Don’t do it. It is not going to accomplish what you think it will. Besides, they will remember what you did when they grow up, and you are gonna want to see those grandkids one day.