Every parent wants his or her child to be safe from danger, especially an attacker.
It is this desire that has kept many of the area’s martial arts schools and academies offering self-defense training for children.
In recent years, most centers for martial arts instruction have accepted child students as young as 3 or 4 years old. It’s the maturity level of the child that may be a factor.
Scott Carroll, a master instructor and fifth-degree black belt at Castle Rock Martial Arts, said his school doesn’t accept children younger than 4.
“From our experience, we realized it was too much for 3-year-olds to process, since they have never had structured classes,” Carroll said. “Kids start to learn self-defense immediately. We want kids to be prepared if they have had one class or been with us several years.”
About 70 percent of Carroll’s school is made up of children ages 4 to 14.
Bob Gallagher, a decorated instructor at Eagle Spirit Academy in Littleton which has about the same percentage of child students out of its 210 enrolled, said his center’s Kick Fit Kids Program starts children as young as 3, but maturity is certainly a factor. He said the basic precepts for self-defense for this age consists of a child knowing his or her parents’ full names, phone number and their address. The instructors ask that of each student at the start of each class.
“Many times a young person only knows their first name and knows their parents as mommy and daddy,” Gallagher said. “If they get lost or wander off in a store, an actual name can be paged to come to their rescue. If a child knows their phone number than a parent can be reached. Stranger danger concepts teach kids what to say and how to react in certain situations.”
When most people think about self-defense, he or she may think about physical lines of defense, Carroll said. Children will not over-power an adult. The first line of defense for a child is their voice.
“If a child can use their voice to attract attention then they will be more likely to be noticed,” Carroll said. “Imagine if you were in a grocery store and you heard a child yelling, ‘You are not my Dad. Help Me.’ ”
In addition to training a child’s voice, Carroll and company will teach them physical escape methods from grabs, chokes and other holds.
Gallagher said ESA starts a kid’s training with blocking, misdirection and running. An attacking stranger isn’t used to anyone reacting on their sudden motion, he said. A young child can even misdirect a hand reaching out to him or her.
“If the young person practices and stays consistent in their training,” Gallagher said.
He said vocal training is also a cornerstone. Carroll said 4-year-olds pick up these techniques with great success. Prevention is the first and foremost focus, using role-play track and tactics predators might use. Defensive stances and voice commands are shown how to keep a predator away.
Students 7 and older learn more advanced blocking and kicking techniques, Carroll said.
A child who shows confidence is less likely to be a target of a predator, stranger or even bullies, and their self-defense training tends to affect all areas of their lives, Carroll said.
“Mental and physical abuse from bullies is more prevalent than ever and knowing that they are not a target improves their quality of life,” he said. “Confident kids have less fear and anxiety about everyday situations since we teach them how to prepare for it.”
Martial arts training in general is about building inner strength through a series of achieving short-term and long-term goals, Carroll said.
Consistency is also a way children learn to be more confident, and consistency in their training is one way to obtain it as well as mastering a technique, Gallagher said.
“Mastering a technique requires daily repetition and practice,” he said. “When a young person masters the art of being patient and realizes that it takes many reps to achiever proficiency. Then, they don’t need someone to tell them how good they are. They will develop self-esteem by realizing that they persevered and mastered something that will give them the confidence to defend themselves.”
How parents can help
The best way a parent can help a child in their self-defense training is to empower them, and knowledge is power. Carroll said at home, parents can teach their kids to stand tall, look strait at someone and speak loud and clear.
“Kids look up to their parents and want to make them proud,” Carroll said. “Praise them when they do well, so they know that they are doing a good job.”
Education is another help, especially on what a stranger is and who it may be. Even bad people can be someone a kid or family knows, Carroll said. Vocal techniques can be practiced at home as well to help a child get more comfortable about different predator scenarios. Role-playing can do this also.
Gallagher believes parents can easily equip their children with the ability to give the authorities the information needed in an emergency situation. Most students are usually encourage to practice what they learn in class at home.
“Parents should then ask their child to show them, so they can repeat what they have learned, practice it, and most important apply it,” Gallagher said. “Defense against wrist grasps, bear hugs, choke holds, lapel grabs and many other types of grasps are all taught and practiced at home.”
Things to consider
Your child's martial arts instructor should teach techniques used to "get away" and not end up becoming the bully
Your instructors should be teaching age appropriate material
Your instructors should stress martial arts are not to be used in an agressive manner
Your instructors should be patient and well versed in the training their presenting
Your instructor should encourage a child to believe in themselves
Your instructors do not need a license to teach martial arts in the State of Colorado, so research on your instructors and their schools is a good idea; most schools will have a web site