Supporting Your Child in the Martial Arts

by Ms. Jennifer Grillo-Foster

Parents have many roles in their child’s life: caretaker, chauffeur, disciplinarian. I am a mother, a martial artist, an instructor, and a mother of a martial artist. Each role has its own set of duties and responsibilities.

Recently, my youngest son joined a dojang in Ohio, where he lives with his dad. My roles have shifted from martial arts instructor to martial arts parent.

Even though I live in Tennessee I still do my best to support him. His father asks questions and sends videos of our son from every class. I talk to my son as well and love hearing him discuss classes with me, his mother, and not with me, his instructor.

This role shift was, for me, sudden. I did some research on how I could encourage and support my son in martial arts, even from afar, and compiled a list of suggestions.

Take an interest. Watch a class. Put down the phone or tablet and observe. Kids tend to like showing off. Ask open-ended questions about discussions from class or their dojang friends.

Get involved. Most students have classes 2-3 days a week. On those off days, practice at home. Have them show you their forms out in the yard. I do dishes in back stance. A friend of mine with a wonderful horse stance used to practice while watching tv.

Support your dojang. Attend seminars and other events. Offer to help with cleaning. Promote! Bring in your child’s friends as potential students.

Support your child. By this, I mean regular attendance. Spotty attendance leads to spotty performance. Your child also needs a uniform and gear that are clean and well-fitted.

Trust the instructor. It is the instructor’s turn to try to get some information into your child’s thick skull. Sit back and enjoy the show. How often do you get to do that?

Don’t be THAT parent. Y’all know the one. Obnoxious. Negative. Har-asses judges, undermines instructors. It’s embarrassing for the child. Communicate. Are there mental or physical limitation concerns? Sure, everyday concerns should have been addressed with instructors when joining. I’m talking about temporary concerns. A strained wrist. A migraine that morning. Arthritis acting up.

Communicate. Is there trouble with a classmate? Did Fido pass away over the weekend? Was Granny diagnosed with a serious illness? Martial arts is a mental and physical activity. Knowing things like this help instructors understand why your child isn’t doing as well for that class.

Communicate. This time with your child. Go for things other than “yes/ no” questions. What’s this month’s tenet? Recite the vocabulary words. Count in Korean as high as you can.

Play both the long and short game. My goal when I first started TSD was to relieve some arthritis pain. That was and still is my long-term goal. My short-term goal is earning my 2nd degree black belt. For your child, maybe the long game is black belt but that short game is the next gup or even just the next form.

Celebrate. “Awesome stance.” “Nice power.” “Those kicks were above the belt.” Praise the little things. It will go a long way.

Support your child. It’s bound to happen. They lose a sparring match. that’s fine. Have your child just take a deep breath, remember their training, and try harder next time.

Don’t compare. Every person is different. Our bodies are different. Not everyone can do a full split. Not everyone can do a deep horse stance. Do not compare your child. It’s discouraging. Instead, find what they can do & praise it. Offer ways to improve.

This is in no way an extensive list. I have been an assistant instructor or an instructor much longer than I’ve been “just” a martial arts parent. Feel free to adjust this for your family’s needs.