10 Tips for Helping Your Kids Practice at Home

Parent: “Son, it’s time to practice karate.”

Son: “No! I don’t want to!  I hate karate!”

Does this sound familiar?  Whether it’s karate or any other activity/skill that requires lots of training, such dance or learning a musical instrument, at home practice is essential.  The class or lesson is meant for enhancement, correction, and introduction of new material from an experienced teacher.  Building muscle memory and improving aptitude are things that can be, and should be, done at home by the student.  We all know it is true, the more time you spend on something, the better you will be at it.  Below are a few tips to help your child practice karate (or anything) at home.

  • Short durations

Go to your room and study.  Don’t come out until you’re a doctor.  It’s true, the more you practice and study, the better you’ll be.  However, there is no need to cram it all in at once.  This leads to burnout and resentment of the activity.  Remember, this is supposed to be an activity that brings enjoyment and we don’t want to change that.  Start with short 5-minute sessions a couple times a week.  Slowly increase the duration once it starts becoming routine.

  • Avoid stimulating activities immediately before 

If I was on the last level of a video game I love, I wouldn’t want to stop to practice something that is hard either.  Avoid having your kids doing any sort of stimulating activity right before having them practice as you won’t get them to want to stop and switch gears.  This includes video games, television, playing with friends, etc.  

  • Set a schedule

It is a fact that if you schedule something and make it a routine, you will be more likely to do it consistently.  Setting a schedule for practice time is a great way to help ensure it happens.  Having a schedule can also help you avoid doing overstimulating activities immediately prior to practicing as well as being prepared in other ways to have a successful practice session.

  • Don’t bribe

If you practice karate for 30 min you can play video games for 30 min.  This is a bribe and it does not teach kids the discipline required to improve at anything.  Kids typically breeze through their practice just to get through it in order to get their bribe.  A bribe is different than a reward.  Rewards are great ways to reinforce good practice habits.  If your child has been practicing for a week without being told to and is giving genuine effort, allowing them a little extra video game time is a great reward.  Just make sure not to do it all the time so it becomes expected.

  • Have them fed/hydrated/rested

Have you been in a late afternoon meeting after skipping lunch, forgetting your water bottle, and being up late the night before?  Probably not the most productive meeting you’ve had.  To ensure success in getting kids to practice, schedule practice times for after they’ve had a snack and not immediately after another activity.  Asking your kid to practice karate right after a 2-hour soccer practice will not go well.  Make sure your child is drinking enough water throughout the day as well.  Staying hydrated has a tremendous impact on energy levels.  Lastly, avoid snacks and drinks with lots of sugar.  They will have a hard time focusing then will crash hard.

  • Have them teach you or perform for you

We all feel great when we are good at something and someone takes notice of it.  When someone hands us a compliment we can’t help but smile from ear to ear.  If you can give this feeling to your kids regarding what you want them to practice, you’ll likely be successful at getting them to do it.  Kids especially like it when they get to be the person in charge.  So, ask them to either show you something or teach you something.  You need to be specific though.  You can’t just say “Show me something you know.”  You need to phrase it such that you provide them a compliment first.  For instance, say “I’ve really noticed your side kicks are getting super strong, can you show me how to do that?”.

  • Trick them/make it fun

There are times to be serious and times to be fun.  Teaching martial arts to kids helps them understand when it is appropriate to be one or the other.  Let’s face it though, kids want to have fun so the more fun you make something the more success you’ll have.  When it comes to practice, don’t be a drill sergeant making them do knuckle pushups for every mistake.  Kids like to be creative.  Let them use their imagination to come up with a martial arts game the two of you can practice.  You could also channel your inner child and come up with a game of your own.  This way, you are playing a game, not practicing (there’s the trick).  Even if you are doing regular practice, be sure to be lighthearted and have fun while doing it.  Crack jokes, be silly, but be sure you are still engaged in the practice.

  • Re-enforce the class

There are two ways to go about this one.  It’s kind of like the good cop/bad cop routine.  One way is to utilize any positive feedback the class instructor instilled to your kid during their class.  Perhaps the instructor commented on how you child’s horse stance was looking better or his/her punches were snapping out for the first time.  You can use this to encourage your child to practice more.  You could also notice something yourself; you don’t need the instructor to point it out.  This only works however if you consistently observe their class.  If you only watch class once and awhile, your kid will realize that it was an empty compliment.  The bad cop version is to reinforce any improvements the instructor noted for your kid.  Maybe the instructor said he/she needed to get stronger pushups.  You could tell your kid that their instructor said you needed to work on it and they will know if you didn’t.  Do not however tell them they need to work on something that the instructor did not point out.  Your kids will think you don’t know what you’re talking about (even if you do) and won’t want to listen.

  • Be an idiot

You’re kids already think you’re an idiot, so why not act the part?  What I mean by ‘be an idiot’ is try not to act like a know it all when practicing with your kids.  Unless you are their teacher, instructor, or coach, don’t give them technical guidance.  Just be their partner or simply be present when they are practicing.  Be encouraging, complimentary, and upbeat.  Your mom used to say, nobody likes a know it all.

  • Don’t push it

It’s easy to get frustrated when your kid does not want to practice or gives little to no effort when practicing at times.  While you don’t want to give in right away, you also need to know when to let it go.  Pushing too hard is not going to be beneficial and will ultimately lead to the kid resenting the activity.  Know where that boundary is and when you get close to it, throw in the towel, sit down and figure out a better strategy for next time (maybe some of these tips…).

There are certainly more ways to help kids practice not just karate but just about anything.  If you’d like more ideas, feel free to contact me.  If you have some of your own that you find successful, please share!

10 Tips for Martial Arts Training at Home

During the COVID19 pandemic, many martial arts students were forced to train at home.  Some were lucky enough to have live virtual classes, pre-recorded lessons, or other training methods provided to them from the studio they train at.  Even before the outbreak altered our way of life, training at home was still an essential part of becoming a lifelong student in martial arts.  I have put together below, ten tips for successful at home training, in no particular order.  I hope you find these helpful.

  • Stick to a set schedule

When you trained at a studio, there were set class times.  You knew Monday/Wednesday at 6pm was my training time.  Now that you are training on your own at home, there is more flexibility and less structure.  The flexibility can be good to a certain extent but if you want to stick with something, setting up a consistent schedule and training routine will go a long way in ensuring your success.

  • Have a clear plan for at least 2 weeks ahead of time

It is very likely your instructor had several weeks if not months of classes planned out ahead of time.  This was to ensure all of the curriculum was taught to every student in order for them to progress and improve.  If you are now training at home, you need to chart your course.  I recommend planning at least 2 weeks in advance.  You will be less likely to stick with training if you are coming up with what to do on the fly.  Plan out and write out the topic you want to work on for 4-6 classes at a time.  You will look forward to training because you know what you want to accomplish.  It will also help keep you on track as you are progressing through a plan you created.

  • Set a goal

Your instructor has probably told you numerous times the importance of setting goals for yourself.  Now that you are training at home, this is even more important.  Goals help motivate you and keep you on track.  They are specific and have a timeline associated to them.  You need to have a clear objective to your training and not just exercise.  Be sure your goals are doable.  Rather than setting a goal of learning the entire black belt curriculum in one month, set a smaller, more manageable goal of learn the movements of the next form this month.  If that was easy, set your next goal to be tougher.  If it was unmanageable, bring your next goal back down to reality a bit.  Adjust your goals as needed but don’t give up on them completely.  Don’t beat yourself up for not meeting a goal.  Simply evaluate and make adjustments.

  • Challenge yourself

Tip 3 above was to set a goal.  This tip is similar in some ways.  Setting a goal is one way of challenging yourself.  You need to go into every lesson with the following 3 things in mind: get a great workout, learn something new, and have fun.  Challenge yourself to do more pushups than you did last time or maybe to do one more set of kicks or spend an extra 5 minutes working on your flexibility.  If you try to challenge yourself every lesson, you’ll see way more improvement and stay motivated longer.

  • Get a partner

Training by yourself is boring, even for those extreme introverts like me.  Having someone to train with is a lot more fun and is something to look forward to.  Grab your mom or dad and ask them to join you.  Get your brother or sister off the couch to practice with you.  Call up a friend or ask your neighbor.  The person doesn’t have to be an active student in martial arts, just having someone along your side makes training much more enjoyable.  This is one of the reasons many people enjoy training at a studio; they greatly value the friendship and community of their fellow martial artists.  If you bring this to your home training, you can strengthen your family bond while exercising the mind and body.

  • Teach someone something

Who feels confident when they are teaching someone something really cool?  Everyone!  Once you achieved one of your goals, pick a small aspect of it and teach someone else what you’ve learned.  This will not only be exciting and fun, it will also be challenging and take what you’ve learned to the next level.  You may find that you don’t know something as well as you thought you did.  Don’t make it too challenging for the person you are teaching, especially if they are not a martial arts student.  Teach them something that takes only 5-10 minutes to learn.  They may come back for more and now you have a training partner!

  • Learn something totally new

For this tip, I don’t mean learn the next form or self-defense technique in your style’s curriculum, although that is not a bad idea if you are feeling idle at home.  I mean learn something totally new.  It doesn’t need to be a physical skill.  Perhaps you have always been interested in the history of the founder of your style.  Find a book and start reading.  Maybe you have always been into weapons forms but your style is limited in that respect.  Find a video and start learning.  By doing something that really excites you, it will help motivate you to stick with all aspects of your training.

  • Dress the part

I don’t mean go train in a ninja turtle costume or dress up as your favorite power ranger.  I do mean that you should put your uniform and belt on if not all the time, then at least most of the time.  Every time you put that uniform and belt on, you should feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Even if you are at home by yourself, you represent something when you put that uniform and belt on.  You are representing your studio, your instructor, all the people you’ve trained with past and present, and people who have trained in your style throughout history.  It is a big deal.  If you treat it as such you will feel a sense of pride and obligation to train hard and stick with it.

  • Use all resources available: books, DVDs, youtube, etc.

Bust out the DVD or VHS player and learn some tricks from some pros.  OK, it is more likely you will go to youtube but the concept is still the same.  Use all the resources at your disposal.  There are a lot of great books, videos, and magazines out there that can help you in just about every aspect of training.  It is also inspiring sometimes to see people doing awesome things you want to be able to do whether its aerial kicks and tricks for teens or flexibility types for the more senior crowd.

  • Free your mind

As Morpheus said to Neo in the Matrix, “Free your mind”.  During class at many studios there are rituals such as bowing and mediation.  It is important to maintain these rituals when training at home.  Meditating for only one minute prior to and immediately after training can have a profound impact.  You will be able to clear your mind (which is especially important these days) and have a focused training session.

I hope these tips help you maintain your training regimen!  

About this blog

At the time of writing this, my martial arts studio has been closed for 4 months. This is the longest period of time in over 20 years that I have not taught a martial arts class. The COVID19 pandemic has changed our lives forever. I greatly miss sharing my knowledge with eager students chomping at the bit. I also miss those occasional, sometimes frequent, classroom rants that I go on when I just can’t stop unloading information on the students. I often call these ‘core dumps’, like when a computer crashes and creates a file in which the details are dumped to. This blog will serve as my new outlet to share the information, opinions, and yes rants, that I have stored from 30+ years of training. Hopefully readers will enjoy my posts and engage in some sharing of information. I have an analytical way of thinking so I will often try to explain things with scientific evidence. If I ever post something that is not accurate, by all means call me out on it. Not only do I have a vast amount of sometimes useless information stored in my brain, I am also a lifelong student of the martial arts and continue to come up with new ideas and opinions which I will certainly share.