The role parents play in the development of young martial artists and their decisions can drastically change the length, quality, and value of a student’s training.
Over the years we interact with many different types of parents with all different types of priorities. Some parents consider martial art training a convenient alternative to day care. After all, in martial arts the child gets physical activity, socialization, and education. These parents will generally drop off the students for class while they attend to errands or other activities.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are parents who watch attentively every class. Sometimes instructing, coaching, or disciplining from the sidelines. These parents essentially have one foot on the training floor. And mixed between these two types is every variation you can think of.
But let’s focus on parents who play an active role in the martial arts training and development of their children and explore some challenges they’ll encounter while participating in the journey.
The Ups and Downs of Motivation
Any instructor will tell you how often you watch students go from passionate about martial arts to absolutely against at the idea of training. Parents have it easy when their child is excited. It doesn’t take much convincing to get them in their uniform and to the academy for class. However, when that enthusiasm drifts, getting ready for class can turn into an epic battle just trying to get them in their uniform.
The fight doesn’t end once you get them to the academy either. Once the child is on the floor, their attitude impacts the way that class is going to go. Every drill becomes a chore and playing with their belt seems to be way more important than paying attention.
The parent, seeing this carry on into class, is left to wonder if the Instructor is noticing the behavior and going to correct it or losing patience. They then have to decide if it’s right to take it upon themselves to try to fix it. The parent also has to wonder if school, activities, and training are just too much.
Managing the motivation rollercoaster can be overwhelming. As an Instructor the mission is clear – continue teaching the student for as long as the parent brings them, or until they are old enough to decide for themselves. For the parent, knowing when to push through resistance and when to give in is a psychological puzzle.
Let’s analyze one of the most powerful tools of an old school academy: failure
Martial artists and academies have phrases they used to indicate a broad sense of resilience throughout life. “Fall Down 7, Get up 8,” for example is one I hear all the time. It is great for martial arts because not only are you literally thrown down in martial arts, but you also experience roadblock after roadblock as you attempt to improve your body, mind, and spirit.
A great Instructor is going to intentionally set up challenges for students to face and push them to overcome. The instructor doesn’t want to spoon feed everything to students; instead they want to encourage effort in the right direction and watch their students work and fight for that accomplishment. Some students will dig in their heels and work harder and some will grow frustrated. Some will succeed, some will fail and try again, and some will just quit.
So, how do parents fit into all this? They need to be able to watch their children fail and encourage them to get back up and try again.
Certain pressures will tempt a parent not to engage in this practice. The first pressure is from the child him/herself. Failure never tastes good, and the child will want to quit repeatedly. It can be a tough slog to get them to push through. The second kind of pressure is societal and ego based. Some parents refuse to see any fault in what their child is doing, even if the instructor does. Additionally, if an egotistical parent sees other children progressing faster than their own they will have the tendency to accuse the Instructor of favoritism or poor teaching. At that point, they can allow their child to quit without any sense of guilt or fault.
Recognizing Bad Teaching
Let’s make things more complicated. As mentioned above, a parent needs to be careful not to fall prey to their own ego and the emotional swings of their child. This includes not projecting fault onto an instructor if success isn’t immediate.
But what happens when the instructor actually IS at fault? Believe it or not, there are a ton of sloppy Instructors out there.
Sometimes instructors have to be tough on students, putting up intentional roadblocks can help students overcome their own perceived limitations and teach them qualities of resilience, determination, and self-confidence. But a lot of Instructors aren’t so altruistic in their motivations. Many are guided by how much money a parent has given, how many sponsored events they’ve attended, and other even more nefarious factors. Sometimes it’s easy for perceptive parents to pick up on the difference between a tough teacher and a bad one.
Common Red Flags of a Bad Teacher:
• Militaristic dominance over students, including insults, injury, and abusive regimentation.
• Touching and feeling of an uncomfortable variety or in a manner that clearly isn’t related to technique.
• Explicit favoritism, providing perks to students that are above and beyond the norm of their rank.
• Probing comments about a student or parents relationship life, physical appearance, or dating life outside the academy.
• Excessive grouping of students into pay tiers, sometimes through the addition of many special “clubs”.
Unfortunately, bad behavior often manifests itself in more sublte ways. Teachers with unscrupulous motives tend to be good at hiding it, and only after months or years of analysis will a parent catch on to the true motives of the teacher.
There’s no easy solution to this problem. Parents simply need to keep involved and keep their eyes and ears open. Most of all, they need to be honest with themselves where the problem might lie.
Most instructors hate to admit it, but some students simply aren’t cut out for long-term training. Martial arts can be arduous, thankless, and boring. Not everyone was born to fall in love with them.
As mentioned above, one of the core responsibilities of a parent is to help their child push through those times of low motivation and setback. Sometimes this can equate to literally/figuratively dragging the child to the dojo.
How then is a parent to know when it’s time to let go?
As you might have guessed, there is no easy answer. The Instructor, of course, will recommend you push through any and all obstacles because they know the lofty value of long-term training. They want your child to have a life enhanced by the arts (or they want your money – remember, there are bad teachers too).
Parents, on the other hand, need to help balance all aspects of the child’s life. Kids are samplers by nature; they tend to enjoy an activity for awhile, get bored, and move on. Of course, pushing through that sampling tendency is what turns a good young student into a great mature student. But what if it isn’t sampling, and the child would be much better off elsewhere?
Of course, you can split time between martial arts and other endeavors but the best overarching advice I can give in this regard involves “the spark”. If a parent is observant, they might see certain shifts or sparks in a child’s development. Unexpected moments of intensity, focus, self-defense skill, good behavior, courtesy, etc. If a parent sees these things and believes that the arts are turning their child into a better person, pushing through resistance might be appropriate. If they are not seeing any positive gains, or even negative tendencies of bullying, disobedience, disrespect, etc., it may be time to move on.
Keep students motivated and interested in obviously a challenging task for parents. Sometimes parents can be creative with solutions, such as joining the class themselves. If they are on the floor, it’s easier for them to ‘lead by example’, and of course the child recognizes that since a parent is nearby behavior is a requisite of class. But ultimately, nothing external will be a permanent solution. The parent and Instructor can guide and inspire, but they can’t decide what’s in the heart of the student.