A week or so ago, I posted How Children Can Benefit from Modern Arnis (Part 2) on a martial arts discussion board. Concerns were raised about liability issues and the young age of my students. One writer stated that children should be 8 to 10 years old and use padded sticks. I have seen a number of FMA websites advertising that they will not take anyone under 12 to 16 years of age. The reasons are not usually stated. I guess that they believe that children do not have the requisite physical control to handle sticks. They may also believe that children are not emotionally and mentally mature enough practice Filipino Martial Arts like Modern Arnis. Are children too young to learn Filipino Martial Arts?
I do not agree with the sentiment that young children should not learn Filipino Martial Arts. I currently have 16 students between the ages of 5 to 8 years old. Based on my experiences with children in this age range, they ARE capable of practicing with sticks, provided that there is strict supervision.
Reasons to Teach Children:
(1) “Your child will be handling sticks from the get go.” When a parent brings a prospective student to a class, I am upfront about the fact that their child will be handling sticks in class. “Would you have an issue with this?” I ask the parents.
To date, I’ve had only one parent who said that they were not comfortable with their child handling sticks in class. That said, communicating with the parents right from the beginning is important. To my delight, most parents do not have an issue with this at all. Many want their children to learn about Filipino culture through Filipino Martial Arts.
(2) Empty hand single sinawali: Once the child joins the class, the first thing that they learn is empty hand single sinawali. Single sinawali is similar to patty cake games popular with children. Depending on the child, it usually takes anywhere from 10 minutes or a couple of classes to learn single sinawali. Once they are comfortable with empty hand single sinawali, I then put kiddie rattan sticks in their hands and I will slowly practice single sinawali with them. They must practice the single sinawali with me with control before they can pair off with a classmate. This usually does not take long.
Practicing empty hand single sinawali with their best friends!
(3) When a child pairs off with a partner for the first time, I or an assistant instructor will watch to make sure that there are no issues. The most common issue is uncertain/hesitant performance of single sinawali with a partner. Over time, they will perform single sinawali with their best friends with confidence!
Practicing single sinawali with a 5-year-old!
(4) It is crucial to have one or two assistants in the class so that any safety issues can be addressed immediately. For instance, we constantly remind them to be aware of their surroundings when practicing single sinawali. Very often you’ll find one pair of kids practice single sinawali too close to another pair of kids. “Spread out!” is often heard in class.
(5) Respect for the stick is stressed throughout class. The kids know that if they drop a stick during class, they will be doing 5 pushups. The stick is not a plaything! I tell them constantly “treat the stick with respect!”
The delightful thing is that the kids are now voluntarily doing pushups after dropping a stick. Sometimes, I will turn around to see another student doing pushups.
Me: “What are you doing pushups for?”
“Because, I dropped my stick.”
Or are they dropping sticks on purpose to get in a few extra pushups? 🙂
(6) Using accidents as a teaching tool: While some instructors fear accidents, I use them as teaching moments.
You’d be surprised at how well 5 to 8-year-old children can diagnose what went wrong. For instance, Cara and Sonia were practicing single sinawali when Sonia hit Cara’s hand. While Cara was out in the hallway getting her boo boo kissed by her Mom, I asked Sonia what happened.
She answered, with a sad look, “I hit her.”
I then asked her “do you know why that happened?”
5-year-old Sonia replied, “I was standing too close to her.”
I was honestly impressed that she figured out the issue on her own.
Kids learn very quickly, especially after an accident.
(7) The focus is on physical literacy and the basics of Filipino Martial Arts. Forget about turning these kids into mini Jason Bournes!
We have enough work just teaching them stick material such as the sinawalis, 12 angles of attack, basic punches, and kicks. We are also working on proper form in pushups and jumping jacks. We do social skills scenarios as well in class.
In other words, it’s all basics.
(8) It’s not all sticks, all the time. This needs to be stressed. Due to their young age, we need to be mindful of the potential stresses of stick work on their wrists and elbows. I also stay away from certain stick techniques that I do not think is physically appropriate for children. An example would be the abanico movement (see below gif). I think that this technique is likely too stressful for a 5-year old’s wrist and elbow.
I also stay away from certain stick techniques that I do not think is physically appropriate for children. An example would be the abanico movement (see below gif). I think that this technique is likely too stressful for a 5-year old’s wrist and elbow.
Likely not an appropriate physical technique for a young child.
Taking the long term interests of the kids into consideration, I think that it is appropriate to devote only half the class to the stick and the other half on empty hand material.
(9) Speech with new child student and parent: Many times, after a child has received their first pair of sticks, I will talk with the child in front of his/her parent and tell the child not to bring sticks out at home without their parents’ permission. Responsibility is key here.
(10) All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. A great way to drive home new lessons or techniques is through games. I don’t do games just for the sake of games. The games involve martial movement.
“Simon Says” is huge with the kids. Lately, we’ve been focusing on multiple angles of attack. “Simon says show me angles 1, 2, 8 and 4.” I tell you, the kids really get into this and have yet to tire of this game.
In conclusion, there is no doubt in my mind that 5 to 8-year-old children CAN train in Filipino Martial Arts so long as there is a culture of respect for the stick, attention to potential safety issues by the instructor, and stick training is done in moderation.
They can do far better than most would expect. Don’t sell them short!
In closing, I believe that children are not too young to learn Filipino Martial Arts. They can do it! My students are quick and eager learners! If young kids can participate in pee wee football or Timbits hockey, why not FMA?