How to train your kids in the arts

Sadly, one of the greatest threats of the future of martial arts (especially internal arts) pertains to the youths’ lack of interest. I’ve met with many masters of various arts that were unable to continue their lineage because their children failed to see the importance of the art. Myself, responsible for passing on the art of Jin Yuan Baguazhang (錦園八卦掌) also known as Warfox Bagua, have adopted many different techniques not only to train my kids, but keep their interest peaked and increase their enthusiasm.

The first step is something I adopted in my time as a rapper in Taipei, Taiwan. My job at the time was to get all of the people in the nightclub to get up, start dancing and have a good time. In the beginning it was hit and miss as I spent much energy running around on stage, jumping up and down trying to get the audience to participate with me. It was gruesomely exhausting as I would momentarily get maybe half of the audience to dance and as soon as I sat down for a rest, the audience also sat down and I had to start over.

On one particular night, there were thousands of advertisements sent out to let everyone know I was going to be doing a “big” show. To my disappointment, not a single person showed up. It was only me on a well-lit stage and the staff who couldn’t dance or even serve drinks in an empty bar. Not only was I extremely embarrassed, because I had already received payment, I had to perform just as if I was in front of a crowd.

After a few hours of performing, I went to the bathroom to hide out. Why am I doing this? I asked myself while looking in the mirror. At that moment, I realized I was doing it because it is who I am. Whether I was performing or at home by myself, I was a rapper. I decided that from then on, no matter what, I was going to have fun.

That decision changed everything, not only in my career but in my life. From then on I danced, rapped and shouted, completely entranced by the music. I didn’t even see who was there or not, I just knew I was having a great time. To my surprise, I was suddenly surrounded by an audience that continued to grow larger, night after night. I ended up changing the structure and format of every single night club in Taiwan.

You can’t tell people to have fun, but if you are having fun in front of them, they naturally want to partake in what you are doing. It’s the exact same thing when it comes to teaching your kids martial arts. If you are excited about your art, it’s contagious.

My kids from an early age always saw me going out to train, watching martial arts movies and playing fighting games. They would continue to ask me questions and I would only give them hints, making them much more curious and eager to learn.

This brings me to the next step: child psychology. Children will naturally want to do the opposite of what they are told. So when they asked me what I was doing, I would say things like, “You are still too young for this” or “this is a secret move.” After a while they were begging to train with me and I would pretend to give in.

“Dad can you please teach me the Fire Section?” Samson asked.

“Son that’s a dangerous section of kicking. I really shouldn’t show you that until you are 16.” I would respond.

“I promise I won’t use it to harm anyone.” He explained.

I continue to use this set up to this day. I withhold information until I know that they will value and respect the art.

Step three and possibly the most important step is creativity. This comes back to our own training and how we can perceive each technique from a different angle. I show my kids the basic technique of the day, then we practice the application. Following, sometimes I become a “boogey man” and chase them around the yard with toy weapons. (See “father son epic fight.”)
Using toys and games is an excellent way to not only train your kids, but spend invaluable family time together.

Step four is to see the significance of your art in your childrens’ lives.

It’s funny how we never ask questions about how we make our kids go to school. The majority of kids go to school because they don’t have a choice. In our own minds, it’s not an option for them to stay home and watch TV instead of going to school. It doesn’t matter if they like it or not, it’s just a part of the daily routine.

Why is one type of education more important than another? After all of my strategies to get my kids involved in the art, I never felt that it was a choice. Just as I never chose to take a math test. It’s just something we have to do because it’s a part of life. In the end, we won’t know whether science or martial arts will be more key for their development and success.

Lastly, we have to give them responsibility. This word may seem like a burden to many, but kids love nothing more than to feel ownership over something. I assign my kids to different parts of the art and they understand that it is their own.

“Solomon if I give you the Thunder Section, it’s yours.” I told him.

“What does that mean?” He asked.

“It means that from now on you can never forget the movements. One day I will ask you for help to remember a technique and it’s your responsibility to know and research it” I explained.

“Research?” Solomon inquired.

“It means that I have shown you the movement empty-handed. I expect you to teach me how to do it with the spear, staff or daggers.” I added.

“But you haven’t taught me the spear yet.” Solomon stated raising his eyebrows.

“Oh…I shouldn’t have said that.” I responded, clearing my throat. “You are still too young for the spear.”

“Daddy please teach me the spear!” He begged.

This cycle just continues to manifest itself naturally with these five steps: enjoy your art, pretend to hide it, make it creative, give a routine followed by responsibility and everything will fall into place. In the process of giving them new techniques, be sure to share the stories of the history of the art. It helps not only children, but ourselves when we have a deeper understanding of what we are connected to.

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