Written by Mike “Spider-Ninja” Bidwell, a BJJ Black Belt under Phil Migliarese and Ken Kronenberg (Team Tai-Kai / Balance). Mike is a full time Jiu-Jitsuka, blogger (check out his great blog BJJafter40 and ‘Like’ his Facebook page), freelance writer, content provider, teacher and Ninja-for-hire!
I’ve been teaching kids martial and especially BJJ for a long time now. Let’s put it this way, I started martial arts in the very early 80’s when Jean Claude Van Damme was king and “The Last Dragon” was the dopest movie ever! (still is) Anyway in that time I’ve seen kids that I’ve taught have their own kids who train BJJ! My point is that I guess I have taught a lot of kids (including my own two who train and compete). So I guess I may know a thing or two about teaching kids BJJ (with slight sarcasm at the thought of being the oldest guy in the room)… In particular I have mainly taught kids as young as 3 1/2 to 7 years. In my experience, the closer you can get to four years old the better the chance your child will have a positive experience starting BJJ. There are a few key areas parents should consider when starting a BJJ class. First does your child have enough verbal communication skills that they can communicate their needs and desires to the instructor? For example: they need to be able to ask and answer basic questions during class. This will also include basic communication with others students and coaches as well. Bathroom Trained: Most BJJ classes are 45 minutes to one hour long. Most instructors will require your child be bathroom trained enough to successfully finish an hour class. Classroom participation: Being shy or outgoing is okay. It only becomes a challenge if your child is so shy they refuse to participate or if they are so “high energy” that they cannot focus enough to participate in learning. BJJ is a “contact sport” so your child needs to be somewhat prepared to wrestle and have physical contact with other children. A great instructor will introduce grappling and contact over time. But nevertheless, there will be contact.
Remember, there’s no real perfect way to figure out if your child is ready but to give it a try. The best way to get started is to call a school and schedule an appointment for a trial class (most schools offer a free trial class).
What to expect from your first BJJ class?
The first class is more about your child getting comfortable in a new environment and having a fun, positive experience. It usually helps to arrive a few minutes early for the first class, this will allow your child to get comfortable and confident.
How to dress for your first class?
Ask the instructor or school representative what your child should wear for their first class. Some schools offer specials that include a gi (uniform). If this option is available it is strongly recommended. Your child will feel far more confident if they have a uniform and “fit in” like the rest of their class. If this option isn’t available, sweats and a tee-shirt generally works well. Don’t dress your child in your nephews multi-colored karate uniform and red belt. Remember, the goal of the first class is for your child to get comfortable and have fun. Not look like they came from an alternate universe. Some schools have requirements on uniform colors etc., so when in doubt ask!
If at the end, they’re smiling and are asking to come back, that’s a great sign. If they are a slightly tentative but warm with the idea of coming back, then try to get them back in sooner rather than later. If they don’t want to return, ask why? It might be a simple four year old misunderstanding or the school or instructor might be the wrong fit. Either way, use this as an opportunity to see if they’re ready to start and / or this is the right school. I strongly recommend not pushing your child to start. If you push too hard they may never want to return in the future. Versus, maybe right now’s not the right time but in six months or a year it is? Either way, you want to do whats in the best interest of your child.
Tips and Reminders:
Again, there’s no real way to find out if your child is ready other than trying a class! I would avoid watching a class first. This reason may not seem obvious, but if they watch and don’t participate they may think it looks too hard and not want to do it. Versus if they participate and they overcome those challenges as they appear, that new confidence will be the momentum that propels them forward.
What to expect:
- Your child won’t sit still – most little kids don’t.
- They will pick their nose a lot! Watching a kids BJJ class is like watching fish in a fish bowl. Don’t panic when your child sticks a toe (and maybe even someone else’s) in their mouth. All kids do weird stuff with their toes and fingers.
- They will push and poke at other kids all the time and the other kids will do it too. Don’t panic, it’s normal this is how kids explore and interact. This is especially true in a BJJ class where we encourage kids to grab and pull! Their self-discipline will improve over time.
- Every kid cries from time-to-time. This is mostly how little kids react when they’re upset. First make sure they’re not injured; if not, encourage them to return to the mat right away.
- Let your child be the guide but with some additional guidance from mom and dad. If they want to train 2 or 3 day’s per week, then encourage it. If they suddenly want to train less, ask questions. Sometimes a simple misunderstanding with a fellow student can turn into something bigger.
Keep in mind, exploration though touch is really normal for 4 – 7 year olds. Over time BJJ training will teach them better self-control which will help control this behavior on and off the mats!
Remember, don’t put unnecessary pressure on your child. Encourage them on and off the mat with positive, realistic expectations. Remember, Jiu-Jitsu is tough enough on its own. Make it fun because they have their entire life to get “good” at it! (photo credits: Richard Mossotti)
It’s not who’s good. It’s who’s left. -Chris Haueter, BJJ Black Belt, BJJ’s Dirty Dozen