Updated: Aug 8
My name is John Le and I grew up doing in the system of Tae Kwon Do since I was 7 years old. I did it for 14 years, competed and even ran the Northwestern Tae Kwon Do club, but after getting a 3rd degree black belt, I saw enough of the system and how it morphed from teaching kids discipline and drive to being about money.
(Me as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do- looking like a badass. I was a black belt at only 10 years old...that's 4th grade. I didn't know algebra, but I was a black belt)
Now, I run the Chicago School of Grappling and I wanted to share some insider tips on what is wrong with traditional martial arts programs. These are my top 5 reasons why traditional kids martial arts programs are not as great for your kids as you might believe.
1) INSTRUCTORS WANT THE ANNUAL CONTRACT MORE THAN ANYTHING
I'll give you an insider tip as a martial arts gym owner...kids usually quit an activity after three months. Regardless of activity, most kids only find interest in it for three months. Karate and Tae Kwon Do teachers know this and that is why they want you to sign that sweet, sweet annual contract. For Costco, the "best" member is a one that pays the annual fee of $50 and never comes. Similarly, these instructors want you to keep paying $100 a month for your kid to never show up.
However, how would they even enforce it? It's very unlikely they would spend thousands of dollars to get a lawyer to shake you down for a couple hundred dollars. Tip: if a kids martial arts program only has annual contracts and pushes it on you...they are suspect.
With our program, we DON'T DO ANNUAL CONTRACTS. Instead, we do month-to-month so that way you can stop whenever you need because life happens.
2) WAY TOO MANY BELTS, TESTS & FEES
For every belt there is a test and with that test there are testing fees, belt fees, etc. For some belts there are even "pre"tests and fees for that. Now, with different martial arts there are different belt ranks, but with Karate and Tae Kwon Do specifically, there are 8 belts before you hit black belt. With every test, it's basically a funnel these programs use to cycle your child through a sales engine and collect more money from you. Again, they are focused on money and not necessarily helping your child really learn a martial art.
With a program like Kids Jiu Jitsu, there are no testing fees. Your child simply receives a belt or a stripe whenever the instructor thinks he/she has achieved a new skill level.
3) BLACK BELTS ARE GIVEN TOO EASILY AND POWER GOES TO THEIR HEADS
I got my black belt at 10 years old (see pic referenced above...look for the badass asian kid). However I don't think I earned my black belt until I was 20. I was not physically, psychology or even emotionally ready for a black belt at only 10 years old.
As mentioned previously, it takes only about 2.5 years to become a "black belt" under traditional martial arts programs. There are some kids that are black belts at age 5!!! Furthermore because there is a hierarchy, some kids let that power go to their head and think they are more than they are. Martial arts is not about power. It is about pushing oneself, discipline, determination, drive and much more.
With programs like Jiu Jitsu, the kids are given different colors all together with none of the black. Instead, they are given only 4 colors of belts (no tests) and once they are old enough, they graduate to a blue belt as an adult in Jiu Jitsu.
4) PHILOSOPHY AND MOVES ARE UNREALISTIC
Fundamentally, I disagree with Karate's philosophy of "One punch, end it all." As much as that is glorified in movies and Power Rangers, one strike to finish a fight is extremely difficult to do. You have to have enough power and you have to hit a person at the right point to knock them out.
Additionally, it's dangerous to give children the mentality that one punch can end a fight. If they grow up believing that, they will be at risk and in real danger if they ever get into a real altercation or need to protect someone.
About 80% of fights go to the ground. That is why it is so important to teach children ground control techniques. With our Jiu Jitsu program, our students learn how to take down opponents and control them on the ground. Those skills will weave into their muscle memory and stay with them for life.
5) ONE MARTIAL ART IS NOT THE KEY, CROSS-TRAINING IS
Growing up, I really wish I learned wrestling, jiu jitsu, boxing, etc...in addition to Tae Kwon Do. In fact, Bruce Lee said "Give a man 1 year of boxing or wrestling and he can defeat any traditional martial artist." It wasn't until I was an adult that I truly appreciated "mixed" martial arts.
Not all martial arts are the same. With Aikido, you learn how to fall. With Tae Kwon Do, you learn how to kick. With Jiu Jitsu you learn body positioning on the ground. With children, their minds are like sponges and they absorb so much. That is why it is so important to teach them different martial arts at a young age. When parents ask what they should learn, I always recommend a striking type of martial art to build hand to eye coordination + a grappling based martial art to learn full body awareness.
With our Kids Martial Arts program, we deliver on that and offer Kids Jiu Jitsu and Kids Kickboxing. We believe it's the best combination for helping children grow and giving them the best skills to help them in the future.
Those are my top 5 reasons why traditional martial arts are not good for your kids. Always happy to debate it and answer any questions. If you want to talk privately, please feel free to email me at John.Le@chicagoschoolofgrappling.com