There are a host of benefits associated with martial arts training for children, from increased athleticism to self-defense and a heightened sense of discipline. In fact, I have written about that on multiple occasions on this blog and on other martial arts sites. I am a HUGE fan of training our kids. When it comes to jiu jitsu though with submissions specifically you have to be careful about what you teach your kids and when it is taught to them. They need a healthy appreciation for the responsibility that goes along with understanding ways to manipulate the body that are core to jiu jitsu.
- Research Local Gyms – Before you sign your child up for the first gym to advertise youth jiu jitsu instruction, make sure you’re doing your homework. Not all gyms are created equal, and you’ll be able to sort the better quality options from others in your area by asking for referrals, looking at the facility and paying attention to unique ethos of each gym. Basically, how do they approach jiu jitsu for kids if it is no different than what they do for adults I would recommend finding a different gym.
- Choose Instructors Carefully – An instructor who only teaches youth classes because they drew the short straw may not be as well-suited to teaching kids as the instructor across town with a passion for teaching youth combat sports. Make sure you take the time to ask about instructors’ qualifications, as well as their curriculum. Teaching kids takes an incredible amount of patience as their attention span is well… short. Make sure the instructor is equipped to handle that with something other than just yelling or sitting them out.
- Ask About Instructor-to-Child Ratios – High-quality gyms will staff each class appropriately, but it’s always best to do your own research. One instructor heading up a class of thirty kids means not everyone is getting individual attention, and some kids may not be performing maneuvers as safely as they could be. In fact, this is a huge risk because kids may not realize the risks associated with improperly practicing an armbar for instance.
- Invest in Proper Gear – Minimizing the risk of injury means investing the appropriate gear to keep your child safe. You can’t send your youngster to class without head gear, mouth guards or groin protectors and expect them to be fully protected. Ask your child’s instructor about recommended safety gear, and invest appropriately. Realistically other than a gi and mouthguard not too much is normally required for jiu jitsu but knee and elbow pads may also be a good idea.
- Take Time to Learn the Rules – Most parents who enroll their children in martial arts classes have no training themselves. While you don’t have to sign up for adult beginner classes to keep your child safe, it’s always a good idea to learn the mechanics and underlying philosophy of jiu jitsu in order to help your child better understand what they’re doing and how to stay safe. Plus, it gives you something that you can share with your kids which likely will create memories that will last a lifetime.
- Listen to Your Child – No matter how badly you want your child to reap the benefits of instruction in jiu jitsu, you can’t make them feel the same interest. A child who doesn’t want to be in class and has no interest in learning proper technique may be reckless or inattentive, which can lead to injury in some cases. I’m not talking about a child that every once in a while doesn’t want to go to class because EVERY child will feel that way at some point (just take them anyway).
- Reinforce Jiu Jitsu Lessons and Values at Home – Kids who are excited about their new skills are going to want to try them out on everyone they meet, so it’s your job to keep not only your child but others safe from this boundless enthusiasm. Talk about the lessons they’ve learned and how they can practice at home without submitting the untrained kid next door. You may want to get a wrestling dummy or let your children practice on you.
- Understand the Implications of Contact Sports – It’s not abnormal to want your child to reap the benefits of jiu jitsu instruction while still feeling some trepidation about the risk for injury. The truth is, jiu jitsu is a contact sport. Just like football, soccer or baseball, there will be some risk for injury and there will be some bumps, bruises, and mat burns along the way. Keeping your expectations realistic is one of the best ways to mitigate some of the risk, and to understand the difference between a bruise and serious danger which generally should not be the case with jiu jitsu.
- Observe Classes – If you drop your child off at the door and never observe a class, how will you know the instructor is stressing proper safety measures? How will you know if the gym is clean and the facilities in good repair? Make a point of observing classes and remember that your jiu jitsu instructor is NOT a babysitter. Sometimes YOU will need to keep your child in check and focused.
- Keep Lines of Communication Open with Instructors – No parent wants to hear that their child isn’t doing well in an activity they like, but it’s important to listen to your child’s instructors when they’re training in jiu jitsu. Also recognize that the instructor knows best whether your child is ready for a belt promotion, stripe, etc. Especially with jiu jitsu (which takes several years to master and get a black belt) it’s not about how quickly they get their black belt it’s about learning some valuable life lessons.
Jiu jitsu is growing rapidly in popularity and there are many opportunities for competition as well that your kids may love (but be warned that every kid won’t necessarily get a trophy in this sport). Just like any other sport though there are rewards that cannot be overvalued by teaching them jiu jitsu. It’s not about protecting themselves (although that is a definite benefit), it’s about giving them something that if they want they can literally do for the rest of their lives.