The benefits of martial arts training for children are well known. Kids learn how to listen, pay attention, focus on a task, set and achieve goals, and gain lots of self confidence. Of course they get some self defense skills too.
Karate isn't the only way kids can learn these skills, although it's very effective at teaching them. But what do you do with 3-5 year olds? They're a different animal altogether.
The younger kids are often just starting preschool, so they're not as used to operating in a group setting. Add some shorter attention spans and really impulsive behavior, and it gets pretty interesting.
Fifteen years ago, we had a pretty big Tiny Tiger class in my larger school up in Danville. This was back before we sold the school to focus on the center here in Paris. Many of those kids went on to the "big kids" class there and had lots of success.
I've seen the same thing happen here too. We had quite a few Karate for Kids and Adults in our martial arts program at the center around ten years ago. Some of the parents and adult students wanted to get their younger 3 year olds involved.
At the same time, we also had a 3 year old granddaughter (Bailey Johnson) so we started a Tiny Tigers class for her, three Blair's (Zane, Sean & Caitlin), and a little boy named Alex Elmore, whose parents had been driving him all the way up to my Tigers class in Danville.
Over the years, they eventually graduated to the big kids class, and all ended up with their black belts. Alex kept training and even received his Second Degree Black Belt. He just started college at Eastern this year.
Over the years, we moved toward working five year olds into the regular class, and my other two granddaughters started training that way. Both are black belts, still training, and now learning how to help other kids as part of our Leadership Program.
Last summer, my son was almost four, and one of our original black belt parents also had another four year old. I'd also just found a cool new Tigers program with neat new belt ranks based on some awesome animal characters. It was Tiger time!
Now here we are, a few months later, and we've just had our first new Tiger testing and graduation. It's taken a little while to get my Tiger teaching chops back. But when it all comes together, it's pretty amazing to see a group of three and four year olds listening, paying attention, following directions, and doing their new karate moves together.
I've learned all over again that you have to keep it really short and move on to the next thing, or you'll lose them. Wait too long, and you'll have mutiny on your hands. At that point you just have to roll with it!
Last week, our first three Tigers advanced from their beginning white belt to their new "Ara" White Belt. Ara is a little turtle, and the first character in the new Tigers program. Ara means "of the sea" and is shy, sweet and innocent, like most new students of that age.
Each Tiger rank has their own special character that teaches special life skills represents one of the nine different colored belt ranks in the regular program.
Ara the turtle (white)
Baeoh the Tiger (orange)
Cheeri the Cheetah (yellow)
Raon the Lion (camo)
Suri the Eagle (green)
Choa the Phoenix (purple)
Mir the Dragon (blue)
Narsha the nice Cobra (brown)
Baron the Panther (red)
At some point, the Tigers will transition into the regular "Big Kids" program and start earning their regular colored belts, and hopefully, black belts. It's going to be interesting to look back in a few years, and see where these new Tigers end up!