BJJ In My Eyes: Children in BJJ

Children in BJJ

By Professor William Vandry

Teaching BJJ to children

First of all Happy New Year to all of my students, association academies, friends and family!  I hope everyone has some new resolutions to be made, focused and goal setting to accomplish for 2010.  I have worked on new ideas for teaching, developing new ideas for students to learn at an accelerated rate and to be a constant student in this martial art.  When I first started in BJJ, I remember that my first seminar in 1995 I was thrilled learning to counter the guillotine choke.  This move is so well known that even many of my children’s class students can counter it.

There are many good programs for children in martial arts.  When I was a child, I took a Karate course and later a Tae Kwon do course.  I learned much from both.  In BJJ, developing children is a different tact.

Many people perceive Martial arts in different ways.  I first started in Martial arts when I was in sixth grade.  I learned a lot of different ideas and theories, but more in the modern day and age, it is even more complicated.  With the recent popularity of the UFC (Ultimate fighting Championship http://www.ufc.com
Many children arrive at Martial arts academies for reasons of MMA type fighting.  I have received some of the most wonderful parents in the world with great children, and I have also received some very unfortunate methods of parenting.  For example, many of my current students that are good kids.  Many of them are very polite, and along with teaching BJJ, many times I like to formulate goal setting in their lives.  For instance, I asked a group of children to write me a paragraph on what their possible careers or goals for a career when they become adults would be.  I asked them in at the end of class how did they plan to pay for their college?  I think some people may not understand why I ask children questions like that.  I don’t ask simply for an answer, I ask to let them think.  Children in their youth are the best time to formulate philosophy and thinking about tomorrow.  When I asked my children’s class students about paying for college, no one had an answer that would really fit.  Some thought mowing grass or borrowing money or maybe parents paying would happen.

In a 1996 Washington post article, costs were discussed along with formatting savings for college.

The cost of higher education continues to outpace inflation, growing by six percent to seven percent every year. Average tuition and fees at a public, four-year college top $9,000 a year and nearly $20,000 at a private school. That’s scary enough. But parents of today’s infants likely will have to shell out more than $125,000 for a four-year public education and nearly $250,000 for a private college diploma.

That article was written fourteen years ago, an article older than most of my kids class students.  Can you imagine the cost now?

A very good point was stressed about zero tolerance understanding martial arts instructors should be aware of.

The zero tolerance rule is a school rule in Texas that at times children in a squabble or fight at school can be punished.  The importance of instructor understanding school policies like this is for reasons of NOT promoting children to desire to be the next UFC fighter.  There is nothing wrong with MMA fighting, or the sport.  What is wrong in my opinion is when young children or teenagers become coaxed or coerced by instructors attempting to live vicariously through them to compete, fight MMA when they are adults, etc.

Children can enjoy MMA programs such as the UFC or others, and perhaps some may test themselves as a pro fighter.  For an instructor to push this on them from day one in my opinion has nothing to do with the Martial arts philosophy.  Teaching children should be about teaching them to grow into adults.  They should learn philosophy, self-discipline, tolerance, good manners, respect, daily meditation of goals and their behaviors in life.  Children should also be taught that competition is competing, not self aggrandizing.  For a student to learn armlocks or chokes in BJJ class does NOT give he or she the right to inflict bullying on other children in their neighborhoods or schools.  I had a child in one of my classes that had a bully gravitate toward him.  He tried to avoid this, but eventually had to defend himself.  Unfortunately when zero tolerance laws come into affect, he was also reprimanded.  However, after reviewing policy and state law, the parents did actually win this case and the child was not ticketed.

All children have potential to change and grow. Many of them look at instructors as mentors, guides, teachers, philosophers and people that are their personal Socrates in life.

This duty all instructors should hold dearly.  The drill sergeant mentality can drive children out of the school by the time they are teenagers.  Instructors that swear or state disrespectful profanities or statements that are unprofessional should never be part of any program.

At times, children will speak to their instructor.  At times, about personal things in life that they may not even speak to their parents about.  If so, an instructor should always keep the student a priority, although a more serious matter should be addressed to the parents.

I had a teenage student in the past that was dismissed from my academy.  This teenager had only trained one month, but unfortunately had behaviors that conflicted with my philosophy.  These type students make me sad to realize the reality of these situations, however a good instructor needs to always realize it’s the academy or the school as a whole, which is the major concern, not a disruptive student.

At times in the past, I have had parents discuss certain problems with attitude or behavior that is based more on respect and discipline with their children.  Most kids at my academy are absolutely wonderful children.  They are seekers of knowledge, and need guidance, discipline, education and understanding a right from wrong.

Over the holidays last year I discussed a subject about the 5th amendment.  It was at the end of my class, and many of them didn’t know what the 5th amendment was.  I asked each of them to write me a one-paragraph subject on that and then the constitution.  I had one child ask me why did she need to write it, and I told her basically because I asked her to.  The subject of the 5th amendment is not my job to teach history to a group of BJJ students.  Nor is it my prerogative to attempt to dictate or sway my course into simple history kids learn in their schools.  I asked them because I know as a grown man, and a self made man that not understanding or lack of knowledge in simple subjects such as the 5th amendment can lead to diversions of research and understanding of what every child should know when they are an adult.

I asked them also to write me a one-paragraph article on how they intended to pay for their college.  I asked them this not to overload them with more homework than our public schools do already, but to allow them an opportunity to think for them, and to investigate their futures.  This subject came at the end of a children’s class.  I asked each child how they intended to pay for college.  I received answers anywhere from ‘mow lawns’, to ‘ask my parents’, to ‘school loans’.
Ouch.  I remember when I was a child, no one ever asked me those questions.  When I graduated from high school, I applied for scholarships.  It’s a lot harder than people may think.  I think children need to think.  They need foundation of a set of principles, then absorb and digress.  When each of the children responded to the question of paying for college via a one paragraph writing………….., I made them think.  Some of them had the most absolute original ideas of paying for college.   I was thrilled.  I was so proud of them doing research.  At times we absorb and memorize equations in math, or history, or social studies, but at times we do not have time to reflect.  When some of these young men and women wrote their articles, I can tell they felt it was important to tell me.  That is invaluable.  To allow a child an opportunity to think is a great growing process in life.  Not to subjugate others to whims, pouting or selfish desires, but to think about themselves.  To reflect on their future.  To taste mentally an idea of responsibility as an adult.  Those ideas and principles are building blocks to our future leaders in this world.  I have some great children in my class.

Jiu-jitsu is the soft or gentle art.  We defined this nomenclature from the foundings of Judo creator Jigor Kano ( to the great Count Koma ( who taught our Grandmaster and founder Carlos Gracie ( who then taught my instructors who taught me and the lineage of our children.

This art teaches leverage.  Leverage is a strategy, technique, philosophy or action that is used in sparring, research, school studies, daily work, friends, life and in general applies to all sectors of life.

At times, many parents in martial arts look for every tournament available.  I don’t.  I usually wait until the child develops skill level first.  I need them to adjust mentally, and confront pressure.  All parents desire to see children succeed.  Parents desire to see children accomplish levels of athletics.  This is why high school and college football are so popular.

I had a parent a few years ago that stopped by early, and despite not even taking the time to talk to a staffer, or me he brought his child dressed in a gi and sent him to the mat.  I did not know the child was, and thought one of my staffers already spoke with him.  I let the child train, and he was already a yellow belt under another school.  I showed him some techniques that he needed to work on, and my students were very polite to him, although they did dominate him sparring.  This child obviously had done some training, but not developed foundation first.

I spoke with the father after class.  He mentioned that his goals were to have all of his children fight in the UFC when they were adults.  Many parents desire children to succeed, and to even become a well-known athlete.  This desire is a quest for family pride in a child successful in athletics.  However, this also can be a bit of the wrong direction for a child in my opinion.  Children in BJJ should develop bonding with other children, mentoring younger children.  They should learn to spar in a fun, challenging way, not an aggressive kill or be killed mentality.  Class is a training session for kids and adults.  They are practicing skills, not competing against each other.  You can have friendly sparring, and even intense friendly sparring.  However, it is still only sparring.  To me, I would rather teach a child to study, pass grades, develop social skills, understand how to open doors for elderly, say yes madam or no sir to adults, graduate one day from high school and go to college while developing their Jiu-jitsu skills to learn self discipline, techniques for self defense and competition and to apply these philosophies of leverage to their lives rather than worry about being a famous UFC fighter.  They can wait until they are adults for that.  I am sure Dana White will be there if they need him.


Absorb, and think.

Professor William Vandry

Vandry BJJ Academy: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Muay Thai Boxing & Judo – Austin, Texas.

Submitted by William Vandry on Fri, 01/22/2010 – 12:17