I have been involved in the martial arts since 1981 doing Jeet Kune Do and been a student of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu since 1994. I am a Black Belt under the legendary BJJ Professor Saulo Ribeiro. Professor Saulo joke that I am his “kid whisperer”. I have built a school that has a big part of its nearly 300 students as BJJ students.
In being involved with this culture for several years I have seen a trend which I think is really positive. The local tournaments that I attend for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are now nearly having as many youth students as adults. Why is this? I think that people are starting to realize the fun that grappling can be. I also think that parents who do some research see the power of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a self-defense art, and can also appreciate the non-percussion striking aspect in regards to the growing awareness of concussions and young athletes.
There is a pretty big imbalance that most Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school if they have 100 students most of them have minuscule 10 to 30 student youth enrollments. It’s my assertion that there are several reason why BJJ schools have a problem with attracting and maintaining their enrollment.
When I look at my friends regardless in the standup or the grappling community that schools are struggling.
Teaching Kids Like Adults
What are the biggest challenges that schools have with teaching youngsters is that they teach their youth like they do their adults. I make the analogy that we do not teach children calculus and we don’t teach adults basic math. There’s another idea it’s very important to understand with children they have a very difficult time with a long explanation and do much better with mimicking and following along as a teaching methodology. Look at this contrast of teaching kids versus teaching adults.
Adult Approach: Lets use the adult approach of teaching a hip bump sweep. First you gather everyone around in a small group and then ask them to listen to the details of the move. Sit up on the elbow, cross grip right hand, then raise up on their hand and then hits the person with their hip. Voila! The hip bump sweep. Clap on three and try it with your partner.
Adult approach with kids: Well above sounds like a logical plan with kids. However, when you first try and get a group of 7 to 10 year olds in a group. Let’s say you have 10 students. Of the ten, 3 are actually listening to you. The other 7, as you do your detailed explanation, are thinking about Minecraft, Miranda from Youtube, how many more Pokémon they can catch, etc. When you finally finish your explanation of your technique, the kids line up every which way, most of the kids had no idea what you were talking about, then you are going between the 5 and over a 3 minute round the best kids get 6 reps of practice, while the worst kids got 3.
On Command: This is an approach that was introduced to me by John B. Will, one of my great Australian BJJ coaches. This is how a kid’s explanation may go. You do a quick explanation then quickly have them line up laying on their backs, heads all in one direction. The lead instructor says with“crab” the cue to open guard and sit up on 1 hand. “Grab” this is the cue to cross-grip right to right, “lift” connect hips and raise up on hand and to “tip” complete the sweep.
Once all the students are correctly moving in sync with the commands, then you move to pairing them up and work those same commands. After they have a good sense of the move, then they can work on stringing the commands together. After this, independently practice the drilling and use games built to develop the skill.
Once you get your mat under control. It’s important that your understand, and can articulate the value of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training for kids.
The value discussion for kids is dramatically different than adults. Kids want to have fun, however, unlike adults your program has to satisfy parent’s and deliver perceived value to them. Most karate schools that have healthy youth environments have a rock solid approach to developing life skills. One way to dramatically elevate the perceived value, and really, the highest idea in a martial arts program is to start to teach life skills as part of your curriculum. When you do this, it makes martial arts more than just teaching kids how to wrestle with a jacket on, in the parents eyes it elevates the value of the program because your are helping to mold and shape the children’s character.
While teaching and training youth students can be a challenge, utilizing these ideas can help not only produce technical youth martial artists, but also allow you to build a healthy student count. Evolving your teaching pedagogy and sharing your knowledge with the youth students can make all the difference in building the world champions of tomorrow.
About Korbett Miller: He is a black belt (black sash) in Wing Chun Do Gung Fu and a Black Belt In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Awarded by Xande Ribeiro, his school, Miller’s Martial Arts in location in Kirkland Washington. You can view his Kid’s BJJ program at : http://www.kidsbjjrevolution.com/