This is what I’ve been hearing over and over. Well, besides the fact that most Wushu/Taekwondo/Karate lessons are actually dominated by young children, the movies also played a part in drilling this common misconception into people’s mind.
Is it not true? Yes, it’s not true. Children do not learn better when they start young. The main reason, they are not mature enough. Things which are related to sex and violence are regarded as mature content, it so happens that Kung Fu is one of them. Kung Fu is a mature hobby. It can’t be taught if the child is to know that Kung Fu can hurt and kill people, and that complicated rules and responsibility are to be in place for any Kung Fu practitioner. This is simply because children do not have the maturity.
Then why do so many of the Shaolin monks and top martial artists start young? If you look into their life stories, their circumstances lead them to little choice but to do Kung Fu. Like how the Shaolin temple will adopt orphans who will then become warrior monks after spending their childhood in rigorous training. They don’t have a choice, they have no home to return to nor people to rely on. They can only become warrior monks to repay the benevolence of the temple to accept them.
What about the top martial artists? We know many of them are born in a family which parents and siblings do a particular martial art, it’s a family tradition. Therefore it’s an obligation to be uniform with their family’s direction. Having done the art for generations, it’s certain that the standard of the art is high for the family. Furthermore if the family runs a martial arts school, opera troupe or even an action film company, the children will know how profitable the business is that their family benefits from it.
As we know, there are people who inflict health problems on themselves when they do Kung Fu wrongly. If a student does not pay attention in class or misinterpret the teachings, he might pick up the wrong method of breathing, posture or strength exertion. If it is a small problem it may just cause some discomfort throughout his life, if the error is serious the person may develop high blood pressure or excessive buildup of stress hormones, or even influence the balance of gender hormones.
Among students, there are shy ones and proactive ones. If the students have questions in their mind, most likely the proactive ones will get the answers first, and the shy ones might never dare to ask anyone. Same for teachers, there are teachers who can’t be bothered much, simply teaching from the textbook, some don’t even have organized teaching material. Some teachers simply do not push their students and there are teachers who are temperamental and take out their mood swings on their students. With all these in mind, do you think children in junior school/primary school are able to deal with such social setting?
An adult is able to do research before hand and consider over a few times which school or teacher to learn under. Just like you guys who are following my website and reading this article. Adults are able to make decisions for themselves which they will not regret and are more capable of taking responsibility for their decisions.
Physical development is also another factor why children are not suitable for picking up real Kung Fu. If it’s dancelike movements designed after some graceful Kung Fu moves without the internal content, then it’s fine, but most children will find it very hard to learn real Kung Fu because of their physical limitations. Before puberty, children lack core strength and isometric strength. They are not able to hold positions for long and they do not have the strength to sustain sharp and explosive movements in certain styles of Kung Fu. By right, they are not supposed to have so much isometric strength and hard, lean muscles, because their bodies are growing, the muscles have to lengthen with the bones.
Well of course, there are always exceptions, very very few though. Within the child population there ought to be a few who are focused, strong willed, and disciplined enough to stay on track with their training to produce results. There are some who are witty, understands quickly and picks up fast. These children will be the best candidates to ‘start young’. However as children cannot make decisions for themselves and are vulnerable to environmental circumstances, it is still quite difficult for children to succeed in learning Kung Fu.
There are still many benefits of starting young, well, not as young as 6 years old or 8 years old, but the teenage years. When people undergo puberty their bodies are growing into the bodies of adults, exercise in the puberty stage will not only enhance growth and build a strong physical foundation, but also develop good mind and body coordination. Also, a teenager is learning to ropes of adulthood, after their parents let them go and experience making their own decisions and living with it, so picking up skills at that age will be more of a personal endeavor than something a child is obliged to do.
Because real practical Kung Fu contains instructions and details which may be too profound for young children to comprehend, it is more suitable to start from the teenage years. In fact most of us adults cannot solve secondary school/middle school mathematics questions unless we are mathematicians or mathematics is our hobby. The teen years seem like the best age for learning. On the other hand, let’s say the teenager left school and went into the working society, leading a sedentary life for 15 years, and he’s now 34 years old, chances are he’s not going to be very familiar with controlling his body. For most working adults, besides walking, standing and sitting which are physical activities, the rest of the activities are with the computer, or writing, reading, talking; They’re detached from other kinds of physical activities for too long.
More likely than not, a working adult will be uncomfortable or unconfident with Kung Fu movements when they first touch it because it’s been ages since they last moved in that range of motion. It can even be more challenging (and thrilling) than dance, because there’s the combat element in it, it has to be fast and strong on top of just doing the movements. There’s sparring and sparring sets which put more pressure on the practitioner when he has to take care of the environment outside his body, while controlling his own body. However it’s still better than having little children or toddlers to learn Kung Fu, because the understanding and self-responsibility is there, at least you are teaching Kung Fu to someone who knows what you are teaching. That is the most important because if you know it and you practice it, you will become good at it.
From here we understand that it’s alright to start young, but not too young. At the right age, your body coordination and awareness will be sharp enough, your body’s strength and agility performance will be at its prime, and you will be matured enough to guide yourself through your martial arts journey independently.
So whether is it a little boy or a middle aged woman who wants to pick up Kung Fu, it all boils down to the most important factor, personal decision. Without tight circumstances to force them into learning Kung Fu, picking up Kung Fu has to be out of a personal decision.
Many parents enroll their children in Kung Fu lessons, but do they know if their children genuinely want to do Kung Fu for life? Will they be able to live up to the duty and responsibility that comes with being armed with Kung Fu, even if they chose to pick it up at the spur of the moment?
Parents surely do not want children to waste their time doing something they’ll drop eventually. They want their childhood to be spent on constructive skill and character development. They have to know that real Kung Fu is not developed in 1 year, not even 10 years for most people. That’s because it’s not easy to use, and it’s not only physical, the mental factor matters just as much.
Every adult, young or old should know that almost everyone goes through a rebellious phase. We try to disobey our parents and choose to do things which they don’t want us to do. We want to be ‘ourselves’ instead of merely a chip off the old block. It is at this stage of life when a person should pick up Kung Fu, because at this age the person is supposed to take charge of his own decision making and be responsible for it. Doing it at this age or older is out of one’s own will instead of being forced upon.
We all know that people are more motivated when they are going after something they want for themselves, including learning Kung Fu. We do not like being puppets to someone of more authority, we want to choose our own paths. And as a Kung Fu teacher I can tell you I do not like to teach someone who does not want to learn. No teacher likes that. I can’t put my passion into it and I can’t teach well if I know my students are forced to learn, because I know my efforts will be waste and I might as well use it on someone who wants to learn.
As a humble martial arts teacher I want to tell you parents, please respect your children’s decisions. As parents, you can guide your child but you are not supposed to dictate his life. I hope this has allowed all of you to understand why I do not teach children below the age of 13. Not because I dislike children or is unable to connect to children. I love children too, but I just do not like to make them do what they are not suitable to do.