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  • My recent experience with trying to parent my son and Kendo

    I've had an interesting time lately with my son and kendo and thought I'd share it in case anyone--especially from other parents--has any suggestions or comments. Sorry if this is a little long and boring/personal.

    Similar to most parents of small children with full time jobs I know, once I got into Kendo four years ago I cut out nearly all my other extracirricular activities (my wife also works full time so we're pretty much always trading off who picks up/drops off the kids when one of us needs to work late/early).

    My son is 7 and a half and in first grade. I suggested to him about a year or two ago that once he was seven I'd let him start Kendo with me if he wanted to. Of course I realize this kind of "suggestion" is a little bit of a manipulation. What kid isn't going to want to go with his dad to "swing swords" around? But I also made it clear that Kendo is very hard, once he starts he needs to stick with it for a while, and thus I don't want him to go a couple times and then blow it off. The other kids in the dojo are all a little older than him (though not all bigger), but another kid started at the same time (he ultimately dropped out) and I thought his introduction was very good with the sensei instructing the beginners and he seemed to be doing very well both in terms of aptitude and attitude.

    But the last couple months have been problematic. He's dragged his feet about going, comes up with excuses about being tired or not feeling well, and the times it's been very convenient to go he's gone but without a lot of enthusiasm. He went from a fairly regular twice a week schedule to once every two weeks, which I personally find very difficult to stay on top of my game for and imagine it's the same for him. Last week he complained one of the adults hit him too hard (a big no-no in our dojo) but I don't know that it actually happened and he was fine later that evening.

    Here's the crux of the issue: I don't want to push him to go too hard so that he comes to resent it (or me) but I also don't want to let him sit at home doing nothing productive or let him get away with a lack of discipline and devotion to something (and he isn't doing anything else right now like piano lessons or soccer team, etc.). Last night I made him go despite his saying he was tired and it turned into a bad scene, with him practically in tears of frustration not wanting to practice (before we even started) and so I said he could take off his armor and just watch for a while to relax. He ended up doing that for the whole class. So afterwards on the way home I said "look, I'm not going to drag you to this anymore. It's too hard and too demanding. You need to tell me you want to go." My other son is 5. I'm now very leery about starting him before he's 10 (although perhaps if they do it together sooner than that it will be easier on both of them)

    Anyway, I've found walking this line between demanding a certain level of commitment from my son on the one hand, and not forcing him into having a bad attitude, very hard. I am not sure I told him the right thing. I'm not sure I shouldn't be more assertive about making him go or more restrained about permitting him not to.

    There are a lot of variables here: he's the only kid who doesn't speak Japanese and although most of the class is in English I know it adds to confusion some times; on some nights he's the only kid there period or one of just two; and our classes run up to his bedtime on school nights and nearly to it on the Saturday class. So maybe I'm expecting too much here to have him participate at all. On the other hand, like I said it's not like he's one of these overcommited kids whom we drag around to soccer game after math tutoring to clarinet practice, without a break. Again, that said, he's in school from 8:30 until 6pm and I feel like that's a long day for a little kid even without extracurriculars.

    Anyone dealt with this issue with their young children and Kendo (or other activities)? I realize all kids and situations are a little different, but did you have success with any particular approach?

  • #2
    Nice to hear someone else is in a similar boat. My oldest did kendo for 2.5 years, was in bogu, did keiko had rank, and the whole thing. Towards the end of her time she hee hawed about going all the time. Finally I told her that if she wanted all she had to do was tell her teacher that she was done with kendo. That made her stay for a little while, but in the end I finally conceded and figured that if I push her she'll hate kendo and never return to it. I hope that letting her decide not to continue for now will lead her to come back to it one day. Now I'm in a similar boat with the younger one, who started kendo because of her sister but now misses her and she is now on the fence. Its hard to explain the attributes of kendo to a 6 year old, and even harder if they do not have a pool of their peers to practice with which was mostly my kids experience. Its funny when we were in japan we were motodachi for a local dojo that had about 20+ kids ranging in age from 3-12, I often think that if we had that kind of pool here kids would be more apt to stick with it. Anyway no advice on what to do other than its a hard choice to either push them to continue or let them pick, and I did try various tactics to help them stick with it. In the end I let them make the choice but push fairly hard for them to stick with it.

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    • #3
      As a parent of twin boys who are 6 and may very well start showing interest in what their old man does, I was happy to read this post.

      I've often thought about how'd I approach getting the boys into Kendo, and I think I'll put it off until they are literally pestering me about starting on a continual basis.

      Getting kids into martial arts in the West is a tough one for parents. As the other posters have rightly mentioned, you don't want to set a kid up to fail and if they start doing something then, as a parent, you want the kid to see it through. Otherwise there's some kind of nagging feeling that the child may have given up to easy. This all creates a conflict with the parent who isn't sure whether to push a bit harder to keep the kid involved, or to let go and let the child make their own decision.

      It's all very different in Japan, which I witnessed first-hand whilst living there. There is a cultural/societal foundation for children who go into any style of martial arts. There is a supporting infrastructure for it and it's all part of the cultural fabric.

      But, as we don't live in Japan and are faced with parental decisions like these I think the only answer is that whatever decision you make with your child on this issue ..... is the right one. You know your kid best, and your intuition is a good guide.

      I'm pleased that I haven't had to deal with this yet, because it's a very tricky one to navigate. My sons do team sports right now, which work very well for them. They certainly don't have the maturity for something like Kendo, and like I said, I won't even think about putting them into it unless I see a consistent interest starting to grow.

      Best of luck, but again, whatever decision you make, it's the right one. The fact that you're having this dilemna in the first place shows the mark of good parenting.

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      • #4
        Hi there,

        I just want to start off that I am no parent so I don't fully understand what you go through with your kids. But what I can share is that my sensei has put me in charge to instruct the beginners which includes kids under the age of 18 (more of them actually) - and I have to say it is really a tough job. Because they're kids, they have to be taught differently and their attention span isn't there compared to adults. When I asked the kids why they want to practice kendo, they usually say that they seen some anime or seen some samurai movie so they want to be like that. Although us as adults know that kendo is not a real depiction of anime/samurai movies, but it helps to inspire them. So maybe you can try getting your children to watch one.

        Sorry that this might not be the best advice, but I like to encourage to learn kendo at an early age - and I'm still learning how to instruct myself and keeping kids interested whilst learning true kendo. When they come to training, the one thing I try to teach is commitment - and hopefully the kids will understand and continue on with it.

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        • #5
          Started mine at 5 at home doing occasional practice. Put them in class at 6. They are now 13 and 18 and still going. 13yo just moved in with adults for most of his practice. I don't have enough kids to challenge him.

          My wife teaches the kids mostly. Mine got a lot of leeway to take off their men and just do drills, sit down sometimes or some nights stay home with grandma. Frankly it is hard to make kendo fun for a kid. So if you want them to stay you have let them win the small skirmishes with you once in a while. Mine only went once a week and with few other kids that has been enough.

          I never let the adults hit the little kids. They are to receive only. Only a couple members are trusted to practice with the little ones.

          An hour is a looonnng time for a little one. After that they hit the wall.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by jjcruiser View Post
            There are a lot of variables here: he's the only kid who doesn't speak Japanese and although most of the class is in English I know it adds to confusion some times; on some nights he's the only kid there period or one of just two; and our classes run up to his bedtime on school nights and nearly to it on the Saturday class. So maybe I'm expecting too much here to have him participate at all. On the other hand, like I said it's not like he's one of these overcommited kids whom we drag around to soccer game after math tutoring to clarinet practice, without a break. Again, that said, he's in school from 8:30 until 6pm and I feel like that's a long day for a little kid even without extracurriculars.
            I'm not a parent, but have you considered taking him once a week and try to gauge his enthusiasm? Speaking from my own experience, I find it difficult to go to the dojo on a weeknight, but once I started going once a week on Saturdays, I found myself more motivated to attend class, and I made better use of the time I had.

            I'm surprised school runs until 6 pm without extracurriculars. When I was going to school, by 2:30, I was like a convict ready to break out.

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            • #7
              As a parent (well step-parent), you have to let your child show his interests. As you noticed, if you force the issue it turns out badly. If he's not interested in practicing, ask him if he wants to come and watch daddy practice. If he's not interested in that you can't push that. His interest may blossom, but understand it may not. My youngest (well now 18) came to practice when he was about the same age a couple of times and it just wasn't for him. Now he's an all state basketball player and will be going to college on a full-ride scholarship... that was where his interest lay and my job as a parent was to support that path in life...who knows since he didn't stick out kendo I might have to become an NBA camp follower...tough job but I suppose I could handle it.

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              • #8
                Thanks for the thoughts. So far it sounds like people think I'm pushing it too hard and should back off, which is basically where I was Tuesday night when this all went down. I'm leaning towards inviting him to come on Saturdays and not during the week again until/unless he gets antsy to go back.

                (School itself doesn't run until 6pm; he's in after school care from 3 until 6.)

                I'm curious Marsten-sensei, how do you run the classes such that only two people are allowed to work with the kids? And do you have that many kids that it's formalized or just understood? We go from having one or two kids to about five at most and we just don't have the space to break them out all the time into a separate group. I've read other threads on here about how to keep kids interested, but I don't understand exactly how to implement the logistics, even if I was a sensei (which I'm not).

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                • #9
                  Frankly it is hard to make kendo fun for a kid.
                  This. When you take a good hard look, kendo isn't much fun at all

                  In the kids' sense that is, because as an adult I love the discipline, rigour and fighting.

                  So far it sounds like people think I'm pushing it too hard and should back off, which is basically where I was Tuesday night when this all went down.
                  I think you came to the right conclusion. However, I seem to recall that you told him that "it's too hard" and "too demanding" for him. To me that's not a supportive way of saying it. He might interpret it as "dad thinks I'm a pussy for not going", while you might've wanted to say "I understand now that you don't enjoy it". But that's me

                  My daughter's 3.5yo right now and I'll only try to get her to do kendo if she really shows interest. Until then she'll just accompany us to shiai and she'll see me practice at home.

                  When it comes to the lil' tyke we do have another challenge: my wife would be interested in joining our dojo to learn kendo, but we don't have a babysitter. So for now it's just me doing kendo.

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                  • #10
                    Through the years, I have seen a few parents in kendo with their kids.
                    When the children are small, it seems to work best if you are very lenient. One child in particular usually came only once or twice a month. At that time he was 5. Now he is 13. His kendo is strong and his kata is solid.
                    Do be aware that if you are teaching you own kid that it can be tricky not to demand more of your kid than of the other kids.

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                    • #11
                      oldest boy started kendo at five, and my middle boy started at five a couple years later. My youngest will be starting this Summer, as a six year old.

                      My oldest is now 11, and still doing kendo. We did take a year and a half break in there, ended up having to do a dojo switch.

                      I don't know if this helps, but I really emphasized to my kids that in kendo, the relationship and obligations were between themselves and the sensei, and had nothing to do with me. At kendo, I'm not dad, I'm just a senpai. We're all students of the instructor. If one of them wants to skip kendo, that's not really between me and them, that's an issue between them and their instructor. I did this because I didn't want to deal with child-parent pissing matches.

                      Before kendo class I remind my kids that if they show disrespect to the teacher or the dojo, butt-kickings will follow. After class we discuss how things went, what we could do better, and I talk about my frustrations with my own performance, what I'd like to change about my own kendo, &c.

                      During class, I'm just another kendo student.

                      My oldest is a real PITA. He picked up really terrible habits in our old dojo, and it's been a lot of work over the last two years to kill those off at the new dojo. His ki is pathetic, and he isn't aggressive enough. We're working on it. We don't have any older kids, so we don't have immediate role models for him to follow. I think that it's difficult to bridge the gap by watching the adults. Honestly though, I've watched kids practicing in Japan, he's pretty much just like those kids, maybe a little better because he gets a lot of individual attention.

                      He also has ADHD, which doesn't help.

                      The middle child does much better, a real pleasure to practice with. He is eight now, and like every eight year old that I know, if you tell him to take a break and just watch, after about five minutes he'll be spacing out. But when he's training he's enthusiastic, tries hard, and enjoys doing it. He's respectful, and doesn't give attitude.

                      This is a pattern that I have seen with siblings, though there are a lot of exceptions.

                      Ok, my experience working with kids is being a parent, from working with them in kendo, being a den leader and cubmaster for the pack my three kids are with, from being a 4H leader and running a 4H club, and teaching after school/evening robotics stuff, and it's all limited to elementary school kids. My only advice would be that making him understand the obligation and commitment isn't between him and you, it's between him and his teacher (assuming that's not you, if it is, I'd try to change that). I'd work towards removing the (inevitable, imo) father/son conflicts as much as possible.

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                      • #12
                        I think I can write a whole book about this. I started Kendo about 9 years ago when my son was only 4.5 years old. At that time, he enjoyed it since there are many kids at the dojo. After we moved to different city, he didn't have any kids to practice. Heck, I didn't have anyone to practice since we are 2 hours away from dojo. So, we did what we can. He cannot practice weekly but try to do it at least bi-weekly. I bought him a bogu so he can get more excited. Kids enjoyes if there are other kids. They are not having so much fun with adult... Also, you shouldn't teach your kid. Ask teacher or other sempai to teach otherwise you get so personal. Unfortunately, I was the only instructor and sempai and I pushed him all the time. I didn't mean it but my son used to cry all the time at the class.

                        Well, kids thesedays are really busy. They play soccer, boyscout, birthday party and many other social activities. You have to let them enjoy such activities. If my son was not in the mood, I asked him to join for basic class and he was okay with this. Even if you may push him for now, you cannot push them once they become teenager. So let him just enjoy and be part of kendo when you can. I have recruited many Korean kids so that they can practice each other. I have also give them some responsbility so that they can write on their school resume. Our club president is high school kid even though we have to assist them in many ways.

                        Especially with 7 years old kid, he should have other friend or similar age. They should have some challenge and responsibilty. They like to get some kind of recognition. And let them have fun !!!

                        This video is my son at 10: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGGxQ5V_8-w

                        This videos are my son at 13. Few weeks ago at the Florida Championship.
                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szeO45VOWLc

                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydoEBR2PhSQ

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                        • #13
                          Sounds like your kid doesn't like it, but I would force him to go, since it will pay off big time when he is a lot older, it's discipline and character building which many kids lack these days.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Cailin Coilleac View Post
                            I think you came to the right conclusion. However, I seem to recall that you told him that "it's too hard" and "too demanding" for him. To me that's not a supportive way of saying it. He might interpret it as "dad thinks I'm a pussy for not going", while you might've wanted to say "I understand now that you don't enjoy it". But that's me
                            Well, I said it was too hard and too demanding not to do it 100%; not that he's incapable of it. He can play baseball if he wants to zone out in the outfield and only show up once a month. Kendo is too difficult to approach it that way imo. But the point of being supportive is a good one.

                            And thanks for the added perspectives.

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                            • #15
                              What we did with our kids is to ask that they do at least one physical activity. I think its more important that they are doing sports, period, as opposed to doing what we want them to do. Took a while but they both found stuff they like - not kendo but I don't care.

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