I was introduced to teaching children in what I'd now call a corporate school. Just like any corporate version of something awesome it can be a bit plastic, mass produced, and well not as good as the real thing. The martial arts industry is so closed off it's hard to determine a big chain school since they aren't part of the mainstream media culture like McDonalds or Wal-Mart. Not to say these establishments don't have their place or that they don't serve up a quality service to the average American interested in martial arts for their child. I've seen first hand how this training can change lives and be extremely positive for young children.
So back to my pondering on lessons I learned, or in a way how they were short changed. For the most part in schools like this, money being the top priority, everything needs to be compartmentalized. It needs to be set up so every student is equal. Everyone progresses together. Say you start the same day as someone, if everything goes right you'll be taking your black belt test next to them just as you started. Never mind that he's a bumbling idiot who couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag and you have trained hard and proven yourself against the toughest standards set fourth. The two of you were on the same rotating schedule. It's all predetermined. But guess what? Not everyone is the same. Not every kid can excel physically at the same pace. There are some who have some sort of crazy natural ability to move their body and understand it's dynamics. Other kids need a bit longer. Maybe some special attention or the instructor needs to crack what's holding the student up and address the issue in an effective manner. When everyone progresses together the natural athletes get bored and the slow goers never get it.
I was once told literally that children cannot truly learn the art. That their existence in the school was merely to keep the bills paid. I took that as a challenge and always strove to do my best to have higher expectations for all the children. You see these little shaolin kids and their amazing abilities and wonder -- I thought kids couldn't do this? Now that is an extreme example being that most of their training would be child abuse here in the states, but still. Kids can learn the real deal just like adults. Actually they can learn better, faster, and with deeper understanding. Why do you think in China they aspire to start students as young as possible? If you can walk you can practice Kung Fu, but the trick is, you as the teacher must actually care as well as understand what it is your really trying to teach. Parents expect discipline -- don't be afraid to hand it out. They choose martial arts for a reason. Thing is they don't know anymore than the next person how it works or what to expect, so they will mostly go with anything that happens good or bad. They hired professionals, right? They trust you as an instructor who knows what your doing and parents will rarely question your methods.
When the kids are seen as just decorations for marketing and guaranteed tuition payments it's hard to imagine how they would ever be properly trained. They will go through the system being awarded for their time spent rather than their understanding of the training. How is this right? What if they had to use that 15 years of training in their 20's. Yea they may have an advantage. They could probably throw a kick or a punch, maybe see an opportunity to run or escape. But what if that doesn't work?? Their sparring skills do nothing. Oh no, there is no judge awarding a point for my wuss punch to their shoulder. Oh no, 15 years, 2-3 black belts and the student has learned nothing about self defense. This exact scenario is what I use to motivate me when a child seems helpless trying to get this stuff. I see them in 20 years. I'm inspired to dig deeper and expect only the best from every student. Every reward, rank, or high five they receive will be hard earned and in the end. My vision of them in 20 years is like a Jet Li movie.
To the kids. They are the future of martial arts because it's they who will pass it down to the next generation. Let's make sure they pass the right lessons down. That when it's all boiled down, actual practical street self defense that works is the goal. All the attributes: discipline, character, honesty, respect, etc etc are bi-products of that goal. To understand the internal and external training, to be a steward of the arts, it's history, and it's training in the purest form. This path will get your child no trophies or medals. It will get them no tangible things to latch on to. Many will not be able to handle the training due to it's need for focus, hard work, and true dedication to the art. But when they do persevere these attributes are in a sense molded in naturally, rather than instilled through repetitive creeds and affirmations designed to essentially brainwash students into buying in to the business plan rather than embark on the journey of traditional martial arts.