My brother and I started martial arts together 15 years ago. We were both scrawny and clumsy, prone to long bouts of reading instead of running, but soccer had at least kept us at a minimum of fitness. At first, I was a little surprised at how many kids were younger than us and doing the martial arts training. The youngest were a brother and sister who were 4 and 5 respectively. It didn’t take long to discover that most of them were doing very well with the training and were quite capable of teaching me a thing or two. We stuck with it for 4 solid years, until I went away to college. Since then we’ve both tried other martial arts, and varying amounts of weight lifting and running. He went into the Marines and I do more salsa than sparring, but we’ve both kept a lot of the healthy habits. Whenever I think back to how I got started with my various fitness hobbies, I always end up back at that dojang, with my brother, 3 evenings a week, (plus Saturday morning if we could talk someone into driving us across town.) I’m convinced that there are pluses to starting even earlier than we did.
How early is too early? My answer is, if they can walk, they’re ready. My 2 year old loves tumbling and climbing games. If I’m dancing to some music, he’ll come and join me. If he can squeeze his way in, he’ll help push the wheel barrow every time. When we go for walks, he likes to walk the tops of the paving stones that line sidewalks in some yards. By encouraging these he’s learning a lot about balance and how to control movement. Fitness and combat training are habits, just like work ethic and decency, your kids will follow how you lead. It doesn’t have to be extreme or tough, just purposeful. You can even go one more step and integrate such activities with your SHTF plans. If your Bug Out plans include bikes, your family fitness time could be long bike rides. If you know you’ll have to hike to a cabin, perhaps you want to schedule lots of weekend hikes. Is heating with wood in your plans? I’ve known 8 year olds who were quite handy with hatchets.
What should it focus on? Training with children should be focused on the basics. General flexibility, stamina, healthy habits, and proper form for things like body weight exercises, and self defense. It won’t make a difference if you’re teaching your child Tae Kwon Do or triahalons. It will make a difference if you’re consistent with the training, and spend time making sure they know how to exercise safely. Children are especially prone to things like heat exhaustion and joint injury. They’re body mass is constantly changing, as are their proportions, so you can’t spend too much time on flexibility and balance.
What about weapons? Children can do quite a lot of self defense before needing a weapon, so on this one, I’ll recommend you wait until the child in question is responsible enough for a weapon, be it knife or gun or bow. Then introduce them to the weapon under supervision to ensure they know how to safely carry and deploy it. My dad is a hunter, so we always knew the basic rules of gun safety, he would even bring us with him if he was headed out to shoot some clays. I forget when I got my first shotgun, it may have been 12 or so. I will point out that I don’t like toy weapons. There’s something about a child with a fake weapon, be it foam sword or plastic gun, that strikes me as the wrong message to send about weapons. They aren’t toys, care should be taken when pointing one at someone, and in my mind that doesn’t jive with encouraging children to “play” with “weapons.” Am I the only one that feels that way? Practice weapons, treated with respect and like real weapons, I have no problem with (ie a practice sword, or mock guns used in safety sessions.)
A few of my thoughts on the subject. My little guy is just starting out, it’s so much fun watching him learn. Anybody else have fond memories of their own humble beginnings or of kids picking up the habit?
– Calamity Jane