Training at Home with Your
In the same way that reading to your child has been proven to improve their skills and interest in reading on their own, training with your child at home in a way that is fun for them is both good and encourages them to practice on their own to develop an even higher level of skill. This will help insure that the lessons learned in the dojo are retained for a long time to come.
Like so many things, this takes nothing so much as keen observation and creativity.
If you have followed the advise in the first part of this article, you have already seen what they do in your child's school. You also have a running dialog with their teacher, who you can always ask the opinion of to see what they feel your child should be practicing. Usually this will be things for the next belt test - certain kata (forms), techniques, self-defense scenarios, and so on, or things your child is having trouble with in class.
From your own observations, talking to your child, and talking to their teacher, you will know what they are good with and what they are having trouble with, so this starts to show you what to work on at home. Start by training to eliminate their weak areas and then work to develop their strong ones. You want to keep things fresh and mix it up, because always working on one's weak points is not always the most fun.
Once you have figured out WHAT they should they be working on, then you should determine:
1) Which of those things can you do at home with your child?
Things like warm ups, basic solo drills (kicks, punches, blocks, kata, etc.), focus mitts, kicking shield, foam blocking bat, heavy bag, throwing dummy, rolling and falling, calisthenics, and so on can all be practiced at home in limited space.
2) Which ones will help your child develop their attributes they need the most?
This is an individual assessment. If your child is in a grappling art, then cross-training in striking might be a good choice for an at home activity. Striking is always an easy thing to do, because the parent can work the focus mitts, padded blocking bat, kick shield, etc. and help the child develop power, accuracy, combinations, defense, etc. in a safe environment. It can mimic the feel of sparring without any of the danger.
You can do this with your child even if you do not have any martial arts experience. Just watch how they do these kinds of drills in their class, and try it out with your child. You might want to look into some books or videos on how to use focus mitts and other equipment, as these are usually full of specific drills, combinations, etc. you can coach your child through.
Ringside boxing supplies at www.ringside.com offers a great little FREE boxing manual that any parent could use to coach their child in the basics of "the sweet science". Call them and ask for one - you'll be surprised how much good stuff they packed into such a few pages, and how clearly they explain everything.
Training in grappling at home is harder because any kind of wrestling requires a partner of roughly equal size. This is where a grappling dummy might be useful, or at least a heavy bag laid on the floor. Mats for rolling and falling are a good idea, too, but can get expensive and are easily damaged. With kids I would recommend the foam "jigsaw" mats that are 40" on a side. They are a nice surface, durable, and individually replaceable if damaged. They also store away easily enough.
3) What other activities could you do together that would support the attributes they need?
This might include sports you play (or want to learn) that are able to be played across age lines, such as handball, swimming, running, yoga, etc. that could act as cross-training for their martial art.
Helping Your Child to Overcome Test Anxiety!
It is not uncommon for a child to become nervous before a test in school, and a martial arts test is no different. So, how do you as a parent help your child overcome their fears?
1) Find out what the specific performance details of the test are
What does your child have to do to pass? The instructor should be able to give you a written test description detailing the requirements for your own reference.
2) Go through the test with your child point by point and find out what they know
What can they do with authority, and what they are still unsure of? You should have some idea from watching them and their friends in class if they look "on" or not when doing their moves, even without being a martial artist yourself.
3) Talk to their instructor about any concerns
Politely ask the instructor or one of the senior students / black belts to help make sure your kid gets a little extra work on kata #3, or check out their foot sweep, or whatever it is that the child is having problems with. If you can watch them doing this, so much the better for your own knowledge. Ask if you can videotape them, and you will have a great reference for later at home!
4) Do a pretest at home
Go through the testing sheet from start to finish so your child can rehearse their performance. Use all the formalities that they would in the school and try to mimic what goes on in testing as much as possible, so that the rehearsal has all the same characteristics as the real test.
5) Teach your child advanced learning technologies as appropriate
Brian Tracy has a wonderful series of programs on personal psychology and learning that can be invaluable life resources. His course on how to increase your ability to learn things is great, and I can not state strongly enough how these technologies could help your child for their entire lives. If they are young, learn and apply these skills for yourself and then pass them on; or listen to the tapes together and talk about what they mean, or give them his books as a present, or whatever. Learning how you learn best, how to realize your goals, positive self talk, etc. are all invaluable for the athlete in any sport and in life.
6) Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is an automatic way to center, focus, and relax when under stress. Simply put, it is the physical equivalent of hitting "alt-ctrl-del" to reboot your computer (your mind). A very simple way to calm yourself down when nervous / excited is to breath in and out in ever longer intervals. Breathe in for a three count and out for a three count. Then breathe in for a four count and out for a four count. Then breathe in for a five count and out for a five count, and so on. Keep going until you are breathing in for a ten count and out for a ten count...or longer! If you are very relaxed it could be much higher, perhaps twenty counts or more; just don't force it.
How to Beat "Yellow Belt Flight"!
BEWARE of Yellow Belt Flight!!!
These three small words strike terror into the heart's of instructors worldwide!
They also strike fear into the heart's of parents who have just signed their kid up for a 12 months of lessons!
So, what exactly is Yellow Belt Flight, and how do we overcome it?
The term "Yellow Belt Flight" (abbreviated YBF from here on out) comes from the fact that most students earn their yellow belt within 4-8 weeks of joining a school, and it is often just after this point that many of them will quit training for good. In my experience, nearly 50% of students will quit at this point, most of the rest will quit sometime later, and only the dedicated 10% will ever earn a black belt in their art.
There may be many reasons that people give for quitting, but they come down to a few basics:
1) The initial rush of doing something new has worn off
2) The realization that there is a lot of hard work ahead to do is starting to set in
3) They lack confidence in themselves to go on
4) They are afraid of something at the school, be it a person, the idea of competition, getting hit, etc.
5) Their ego gets in the way (you realize quickly in the dojo that "you don't know it all")
Now, people will rationalize all sorts of other reasons, but usually it is one of these or a combination of a few. A good instructor tries to stay on top of this and check in with each student to look for any signs of YBF, but it might go unnoticed. A lot of people beat themselves up mentally in private but are fine in class, so YBF can build undetected by an instructor, like a cancer. This is where you the parent are most important in preventing YBF!
No one knows your child as well as you, so talk to them about their training and see what kinds of things they say, and how they say them. Try to help them develop positive self talk about their skills and training. Remember, Olympic-level teams have sports psychologists on staff for a reason - the mental side of the game is that important!
So, even just knowing that is normal to maybe feel unsure about martial arts at this point may be enough to help KEEP GOING! (Yes, just like that "little engine that could" in the storybooks) The martial arts are not an easy path, or everyone in the world would be a master, but they are a rewarding one. I feel that my first teacher, Kimura Hirokai, said it best; "Time will pass and one day you will be 10 years older, so why not have a skill that you have developed over that time, as opposed to being older, having squandered your time, and not learned anything."
This is where the mental skills, like those taught
by Brian Tracy can be invaluable. Though his materials are too
advanced for young children, you the parent could utilize these
techniques and teach them in an appropriate way to your child. Older
kids and teens could listen to his tapes and understand them on their
own, and could get a powerful edge in martial arts and in life.
Wrap it up
I hope you have enjoyed this series of articles and that it may be of benefit to you and your children. The martial arts are a precious gift that you can give your child; an invisible protection that is always there for them even when you are not. The arts promote health, positive self image, goal setting, leadership, and other attributes that make winners in life. So, find a good school for your child, and set them on the path...