A question we get asked quite frequently from parents is whether their 4/5/6 year old son/daughter can start lessons with us, and we have to politely turn them away. This page aims to explain why we do not accept children under the age of 7.
For the most part it comes down to three key areas;
- Children’s physical development
- Their emotional/mental development, and
- Legal health and safety requirements.
Ju-Jitsu is a very physically involved practice which can lead to serious injury done to yourself or others if not done with proper care and attention. This is true of all ages, not just for children. Children’s bodies need to be ready for stresses and strains involved in throwing other humans. For example, the bones of younger children tend to be softer which makes them susceptible to injuries such as dislocated shoulders and fractures.
This is also why we pair students of all ages with others similar in stature to them. More experienced students (not necessarily older students) will then practice with others who have differing statures.
On a related note, we’ve had some parents ask if their child can “just do the punching and kicking, no throwing“, or words to that effect.
To be blunt, that’s not Ju-Jitsu.
While we do use punches and kicks the majority of the syllabus is throws, joint locks and pins. Limiting a child to what is a small fraction of the syllabus will simply bore them after a while, especially when they see others around them doing things they aren’t allowed to.
Another way of looking at this could be cost wise – Why pay full price for them only to learn half the syllabus?
It is important for children to know when it is OK and not OK to use the martial arts skills they learn. In an ideal world we would like them to only use those skills in a self defence situation and only as a last resort. We don’t want children beating up their siblings or peers to get their own way, or even accidentally hurting others because they were pretending to be ‘Power Rangers‘.
Children under the age of 7 are still practising their social skills, learning what is and isn’t an appropriate response to different situations. Take sympathy for example. In nearly every martial art students will need to mildly hurt each other (in very controlled situations) so they they know they are performing a technique correctly. This helps them moderate their techniques so that they don’t use more energy than they need to while still achieving the intended effect, and it helps them restrain themselves to avoid using excessive force, which is an important aspect of self defence law.
A lot of new students, both adults and children, struggle with the fact they are intentionally hurting someone else, especially when they get a technique wrong and accidentally hurt their peer more than they wanted/needed to. It can take quite some time for people to get used to this. Younger children on the other hand typically lack the emotional skills to understand when they are hurting others and can apply too much force which hurts their partner more than they needed to, or worse end up learning to enjoy hurting others. We want to avoid both of these situations.
To be fair, all humans are constantly learning and practising their social skills well into adulthood. But we still need a minimum standard before they start. Even if a child does not quite have the level of emotional maturity they might need by the time they turn 7, most children will at least have the capacity to learn it.
Health and Safety.
In the past we’ve had parents ask why we don’t accept under-7’s when other clubs do. While we cannot speak for every club, we can reasonably assume that it comes down to insurance. The coaches in those clubs may have more expensive Professional Indemnity Insurance (a legal requirement) at a greater financial cost to themselves, something which may then get effect the price they charge for lessons.
Unfortunately at the end of the day, the head coach at every club is responsible for everyone’s health and safety, so it is up to them to decide who they can and can’t accept based on the experience and qualifications of themselves, other coaches in the club, the amount of mat space they have available, what other equipment they have and what their insurance will allow them to do.
While some children might reach the physical and mental maturity requirements at an earlier age, it may be seen as unfair that one child is permitted to start at age (say) 6 while another has to wait until they are 7. Instead we believe it is fairer to enforce a blanket rule to not allow any children under the age of 7 to start training with us.
Even then, we still have our own health and safety responsibilities which for us does mean excluding younger children from our classes.