Help me martial my thoughts
August 16, 2021 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Paperkid wants to do a martial art. I know nothing about this. There was some interest in Krav Maga. There are few studios around here, we visited two and neither will work for us. I am trying to develop a mental model of how they work (we really have to go twice a week at the minimum??) and how they all are different and how to pick one to start. It feels like it isn't an activity you can dip into easily. I need help:

- How do I understand the different varieties and which would be a good fit?
- How do I find/evaluate/choose a studio?
- Is the expectation really that we have to do it twice a week?
- Are there online options? Does this even make sense for an elementary age kid?

And, in reviewing past questions on the topic, the question comes up, "What is Paperkid's goal?" The answer is vague, just that it seems like something fun to do. So, no help there.

If it helps, I'm in the US, in Massachusetts, in the Camberville/Arlington/Medford area.
posted by papergirl to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hey, I work in a friendly neighbourhood Martial Arts organization.


1) Different varieties - in a way it depends on what you want. Does your child know what they want out of it? Krav Maga sounds like self-defence is key and is a good choice for that. If they want to be able to kind of show off kicks quickly (or progress fast, and compete) taekwondo is good.

My own view, and I'm not really a technical martial arts geek, I'm more about the feelings and wellness aspects (although I have used my own in actual self-defence once), is that the best martial art is the one that makes you feel positive about doing it. Most studios around here offer trial classes at low or no cost and I'd recommend trying a couple.

My Grandmaster always says to parents the best Academy is the one you like coming into and that is close to you because if you have to travel a long way, you won't get to class and that's the #1 thing.

2) Evaluating a studio - again depends on what you want from the experience.

For my kids I wanted them to be in a positive, supportive environment with good, caring teachers, focused on self-development and not on competition. If you can follow up with your child's goals I can give you some specific things to look for if it's within my knowledge base. In general I'd say go during a beginner class time and see if the people coming out have the vibe you want.

For me the most important thing is the way the instructors interact with the kids, and the way the class runs. We only introduce actual sparring at green belt for kids, and for some people that's a deal breaker. For me personally when my kids were small, that was a relief.

3) We have an online option, due to Covid, and it's not bad but it's really not the same and I don't think it gives all the benefits, especially around self-confidence and also around power (it's hard to build a powerful kick or strike if you don't have an experienced person both holding the pad for you and giving you feedback.)

4) 2x per week - yup, extremely standard.

It's because moves are usually introduced in a weekly cycle and two classes gives each student a chance to learn the new strike/block/kick/pattern/takedown and then have at least one class to consolidate it (and practice everything else.) It's hard to learn at a decent pace at only once a week. It also helps with conditioning, to be sure that flexibility and strength are coming along with an understanding of how to use larger muscle groups for power - otherwise you can start to get injuries.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:32 PM on August 16, 2021 [9 favorites]

Oh, and for a fun thing ask if they have a weapons program, those are fun.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:35 PM on August 16, 2021

Best answer: I did some as a child, and my daughter tried Krav Maga briefly and has taken Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for a few years now. I am by no means an expert. As to which variety, I'd start with "striking vs grappling" - if they want striking, probably Karate or Taekwondo, if they want grappling I'd go with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It depends what they think of when they think of a martial art, and what interests them.

Striking arts are going to be mostly focused on...strikes. Taekwondo and Karate are very striking heavy - Taekwondo is almost all kicks, karate more of a mix. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is what my daughter does and is fully grappling - most of the work will be on the floor working on submissions. That has pros and cons - it's not the striking that some people think when they envision a martial art, but kids can roll (spar) at very young ages using age-appropriate submissions.

There are others you'll run into, but those are the big three I see around these days, other than Krav Maga which you already mentioned.

To your other questions: 2x per week - totally common. Try out studios for a couple classes to see what they like, but as warriorqueen says stick to ones close by to start. I would not recommend online.
posted by true at 5:45 PM on August 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I fell down a rabbit hole about jiu-jitsu awhile ago and had 45-minute ride with a Lyft driver who spent the whole time telling me about jiu-jitsu. The thing I like about it is that it's not about going on the offense - attacking others - but about defending yourself when you need to.
posted by bendy at 5:58 PM on August 16, 2021

As a "first" martial art I suggest the "normal" stuff like karate or tae kwon do. It's mainly about learning basic forms and mental discipline, and how to be a sportsman and rules of dojo and such.

The different forms of martial arts differ somewhat in their origin and intended application. Most are geared toward self-defense, some are more optimized toward a bit of brawling, but all need that foundation of physical movement, mental awareness, and so on.
posted by kschang at 6:12 PM on August 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: - How do I find/evaluate/choose a studio?

Some dojos are "McDojos", and grind the students through lots of expensive belt tests to generate revenue. I haven't attended one, and don't know if they do a good job teaching despite that flaw.

I had a very good judo/jujitsu instructor who taught from a local Boys-and-Girls Club and Y*CA. So that and local city rec centers are an option. Especially after we reach herd immunity.

In your position I would ask the local subrdddit for your city, or more call likely call something like a non-profit japanese karate or aikido club/dojo/university club or association (perhaps in a neighboring town a few miles away so they don't say "just come here") if they can recommend a place near you. (Sort of like asking a periodontist for a recommendation for a dentist - they know who the good people are.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:28 PM on August 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Are there online options?

One option that might make sense is Tai Chi. OK, it's barely a martial art but because of that it's something one can reasonably learn in a zoom class. It may also be a way of gauging interest. (If you stick with it there are weapon forms.)

It's also something you can do together, although I'll leave it to you to determine if that's a plus or not.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:00 PM on August 16, 2021

Best answer: If your child is just looking to do a martial art for fun, the feeling you get from the school is way more important than the exact style. My personal observation is that there are some very slick, relatively expensive operations (usually Taekwondo around here) that have the whole 'taking care of kids and making sure they have fun' thing down pat, and they'll have parents' nights out, and fun extra activities.

Judo has been a kids sport all over the world for years and most judo teachers are doing this out of love for the sport, which means they teach out of somebody else's school and it's cheap. (Except that I see you're vaguely in the Boston area, which means you have Jimmy Pedro's school, which makes American Olympians ... and he charges accordingly).

My understanding is that 'krav maga' is a very loose term and that you'll find a lot of variation under that umbrella. There's also something to be said for picking a place that's close to where you live.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:41 AM on August 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ah!! Something about which I know a lot!! My credentials: I was a child martial artist from age 5 on, have black belts in two different styles, have taught children's classes, and eventually competed nationally in one of my martial arts as an adult.

1) Which type of martial art to do. I agree with many of the above comments: first, this is not so important for a kid, because the main point for kids' martial arts is to develop them as an athlete and to develop them as a person (the moral and disciplinary aspects of training are usually absolutely as important as the physical aspects in kids' martial arts).

HOWEVER, within that, people are right to say that there are "striking" and "grappling" martial arts (and then there's capoeira, which has more in common with dancing than with many other martial arts in a lot of ways). But more than that, the "striking" martial arts tend to have more "forms" (e.g., movement patterns that you do without a partner) as a component and the "grappling" ones tend to have more sparring (e.g., you don't do jiu jitsu without rolling—fighting other people—a LOT.) Your child may have a good temperament for sparring and may enjoy it a lot, or they may find that sparring is a challenge. In karate or taekwondo there is likely to be more opportunity for a child to excel in forms and do less sparring if they find sparring stressful. Judo or jiu jitsu or krav maga are likely to demand more sparring. I have no recommendation on which to pick for YOUR kid, just be aware.

All that said, I would rather have my child go to a dojo/dojang/studio with good instructors and good leadership than one that matched preferences on what type of martial art to do. First look at quality, then look at type of martial art and pick between the acceptable quality places near you.

2) ON MCDOJOS - this is a term that a lot of people will use scathingly to refer to any dojo that focuses on children's instruction. It is sometimes justified. It is not always justified. I went to a dojo as a child that was sometimes derided as a "mcdojo" because it was a large dojo that primarily focused on children's classes. It gave me the confidence, abilities, and strength to compete nationally.

We had a progression of about 10 belts (for children) before reaching black belt, which I progressed through between ages of 5 and 12. This was a good situation for me, because it meant that I was always reaching for a goal I could achieve within my time frame (as a child it was hard to think more than a year ahead!) - but some people would consider this to make my dojo a "belt mill" because of the frequent testing. Yet, like I said, for me it worked very well and the price was not extortionate - there were not absurd fees for each test. (It is normal to have fees for a black belt test, especially higher levels, because they often require more involvement, certification by an international board, etc.)

What I'm trying to say here is, the only way to tell a "belt mill" is looking at quality of instruction and students. Are there students competing at a high level coming out of the dojo? Do they offer personalized instruction and do you feel that the teachers know your child well? Is the price reasonable, even if there are a lot of belt tests? If those things are true, it is not a "mcdojo" in the bad way, no matter how many belts they offer or how big a chain it is part of.

3) Twice a week is extremely standard and, in fact, if your kid gets really into it, you should expect and encourage them to go more than twice a week. Twice a week is the minimum to progress. Other people above have talked about the reasons why. I just want to echo them that going regularly is THE most important part of this and if you don't go regularly, you shouldn't go at all (because it is not worth your money).

Some things that may help your mental model of how martial arts work (this is the way it works for taekwondo, kenpo and kendo anyway; YMMV with krav maga but I gather that it's not THAT different): Usually each belt has a number of different skills associated with it. Your kid goes to class, each week is taught a new skill and then practices it, then taught a new skill and practices it, etc. In some martial arts, each belt will have a "form" associated with it (a movement pattern, see my above comment - here is an example of a form in Taekwondo Your child will learn this form, which will incorporate the skills they need to know to progress to the next belt rank, and then - when testing time comes - they will be tested on it and if they pass will get their next belt.

Typically, schools have what are effectively "semesters" that end with testing days. So your kid will start, and will go one "semester" before their first belt test. Then they get a belt and start the process again. Some studios will have "tips" between each belt (or something like it) - basically, a way to mark off the number of "semesters" you've studied on your way to your next belt, a sub-belt-progression that helps little kids follow where they are in the process better.

I hope that helps. Please feel free to MeMail me if you have specific questions. I'm really excited about your kid's martial arts journey - because it was something that changed my own life as a kid!
posted by branca at 5:55 AM on August 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

I want to say that, on the commitment side, you can also get good benefits from a short time. 2x/week is what I did to study Aikido as a high schooler but for less than six months (a local college offered classes), and I came away with a much better "physical intelligence", ability to fall and get back up gracefully, ability to avoid hurting myself, understanding of how bodies move and bend, etc.
posted by Lady Li at 6:06 AM on August 17, 2021

I would not bother with online martial arts classes for new students. In pre-covid times at least, I would expect that new students should be able to try out a few classes before committing.

Martial arts schools may differ on their emphasis on competition. Competition in itself isn't an inherently good/bad thing, but it could make a school a poor fit for someone. Schools may also differ on their degree of "traditional ness." While there are OPINIONS about which one is "better," at the end of the day, I'm bringing this up as a way to explain the martial arts universe. Some martial arts schools train in tshirts/ shorts while at others doing this would be heresy.

One of the truly great things about martial arts is that it can be an activity for all ages (including adults). However, there are some schools that mostly focus on (little) kids. A school that has a wider age range can potentially "grow with your child" more and give your child leadership opportunities. Another thing that you might want to consider is the gender ratio of the school.

At the end of the day though, I think it's more important to find a school with good instruction and good people than a school of a certain style.
posted by oceano at 7:53 AM on August 17, 2021

Best answer: The above advice is really good on what to look for. As a former student and kids program assistant, I will specifically recommend C W Taekwondo in Central Square in Cambridge. They have a good kids program and great instructors (as well as a competitive adult program, if paperkid ends up in it for the long haul). They've also been extremely thoughtful about keeping folks safe during the pandemic and building out as viable an online program as possible.

I would definitely recommend keeping your existing approach of trying out / getting a feel for the studio to see if it's right for you and paperkid.
posted by lorimt at 8:34 AM on August 17, 2021

Best answer: Seconding everything warriorqueen said. I have additional thoughts about deciding what paperkid wants to get out of martial arts. There is a mental trap of "combat effectiveness". People inside the martial arts world become obsessed with whether a given art would let you "win a real fight". This is, generally speaking, a meaningless phrase, and it distracts people from all of the other wonderful things that martial arts have to offer. The greatest value, in terms of "health and safety" that most people will get from martial arts is general physical and emotional fitness.

If paperkid had expressed feelings of unsafeness or fear, then a self-defense oriented class would be appropriate. Those classes teach actual safety skills like "say 'no' loudly", "disengage safely", "seek an adult". Krav maga has a reputation for being focused on "combat effectiveness" in the sense of teaching very "brutal" techniques. Some people want that, and that is fine for them!

Since paperkid expressed that martial arts just sound like fun, I would steer them more toward an art that has less built-in paranoia and obsession with winning "real fights". I think there is more joy to be had in arts like aikido, taekwondo, and karate. As a very brief decision guide, I would say if they really like rolling around and acrobatics, do aikido; if they want to engage in a little more friendly competition, do taekwondo; and if they like kicking and punching but like the very traditional Japanese cultural elements that are often associated with martial arts, then karate is a solid bet. But the most important is to find a school that is convenient to get to where they like the people and have fun!
posted by agentofselection at 9:58 AM on August 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

« Older '80s mystery mall store   |   Should I put identity information in a grad school... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments