Today I want to talk about being a good karate mom or karate dad. Having been teaching now for many years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a good number of students as well as seeing just about every possible variation of moms and dads in the dojo. Exactly how you help your little one in the dojo and the very nature of the support structure you give them really does dramatically affect their likelihood of success. Doing your part to keep them active in the dojo will go a long way towards their success and keep karate enjoyable and rewarding for years to come.
First off, a question for you: do you train? The typical karate parent these days doesn’t train with their kid, or even at all. If you don’t train, how can you best help your child in the dojo? While the experiences in the dojo are often a model of real life, a parent who hasn’t studied can have a hard time knowing how to advise his or her child about tough moments in the dojo. Helping your kid through t-ball or soccer is quite different, especially if you did play, even as a child. With this in mind, I would suggest giving a class or two a try. A mom or dad who studies with their child is better poised to help them at home… and this is a wonderful activity to share with your family. If you don’t train and your child is having difficulty, encouraging words can help, but also seek out your child’s instructor for advice! It is hard to have a one-on-one conversation with every student, but you can help make that happen!
Next, don’t coach in class. This isn’t basketball or soccer – don’t be yelling at your son or daughter to keep their hands up or try to coach them on technique from the sideline. Not only is it disruptive, but it is also disrespectful to the instructors teaching. Considering that discipline and respect is one of the main reasons parents bring their kids to karate, undermining the environment is a bad way to teach that lesson.
That said, offering encouragement during breaks or before and after class is a great way to help your child. Practice positive reinforcement when you see good behavior, effort, technique, etc (or notice the instructor praising your young student). Reminders to focus and put in 100% effort are also great during breaks.
Whatever you do, don’t let your kid quit. Now just for the record, I know how it sounds when I say this, so please let me explain before you judge. Not all people who take up karate are really cut out for it. A very small percentage of students ever make it to black belt or beyond, and we don’t expect that to change.What we do expect is not letting students quit in the moment. I once had a student who was struggling on a belt test (or at least they thought so, we thought she was doing great!). Her mom allowed her to walk out on the test. In my mind that was what did her in as a student, since she quit training entirely shortly thereafter. Never quit in the moment, that is the spirit of Osu, Osu no Seishin! Even if a student doesn’t want to continue classes, we recommend focusing them on a future milestone at which point they can make the choice. Let’s try hard for 1 more month, or get that next stripe or belt first. Discontinue training on a high note – not because it was momentarily challenging.
One of the best things a parent can do is help their kid attend consistently and arrive on time. While making it to class is as much the student’s responsibility, don’t let them miss class out of laziness. Starting class on time is also important for instilling the lessons of discipline and respect that so many kids need and many parents are looking for. Any reasonable teacher knows that things happen – traffic, car trouble, a belt forgotten at home only realized halfway to the dojo – so don’t sweat missing class or arriving late once in a blue moon, but don’t let it become habitual. This is great training for life!
One of the things we hold in high esteem in our dojo is not focusing on belts and stripes. While these are great motivators, signals of achievement, and a visual record of our successes, it is important to know not to ask about promotion. When your child is obsessive over his or her next rank it is important that you remind them: the belt isn’t the goal. I made the mistake once when I was very young to ask about my next belt. I’m glad I made the mistake because it helped teach me humility and has made me a better person, but it would have been much less embarrassing to be reminded at home. Gently remind your young ones to focus on the training and belts will come.
Good karate parents also continually point out good role models and examples to their kids. “See how the instructor does XYZ”, “look at Johnny, your Sempai, he does ABC very well”. Statements like these to our kids help them focus on good goals and give them good examples to emulate. Kids don’t always realize what they should be striving for, so regular reminders such as these are valuable.
Finally, don’t over do it. Many parents try super hard and want their kids to achieve and succeed far more than their kids do. Letting your kids fail on a small scale, making mistakes and learning from them is a part of the process. Karate is a very personal activity, and if you take away the space a child has to learn and grow within it, you take away the meaning, value, and lessons it can provide.
Always strive to be a good karate mom or karate dad. Help your kids learn with the right support and they’ll grow up to love karate for a long time and reap the amazing rewards.