Kids’ class vs adult class: What’s the difference?

It goes without saying that teaching martial arts to children is different from teaching it to adults. And then again- what are the real differences?

My question is prompted by a comment from a fellow instructor about what a great workout she had when she used some of the drills and games from kids’ class when leading the adults. I’ve experienced this, too, and it has occurred to me that in many ways, the adults in my classes are just like the kids: they thrive on fun and excitement (even while being serious); they have fantasies about gaining supernatural powers and performing amazing feats; they crave praise, recognition and advancement; they can be whiny and petulant (although they’re usually better at hiding it than the kids). And sometimes they just can’t line up straight.

In all seriousness, though, there are real differences, and they have consequences. There are physical, mental and emotional differences between children and adults, and surely they have an impact on curriculum and practice. They also have an impact on the instructor’s experience on the job. Perceptions about this affect attitudes in several ways. For instance, many instructors who are comfortable working with adults are quite apprehensive about trying to teach kids. Some simply don’t want to. On the flip side, many people don’t feel kids’ class can possibly be “real martial arts,” and find it hard to take seriously either the program or the instructor who devotes energy to it.

So let me throw it all open to discussion: What are the important differences between kids’ class and adult class? No answer will be considered too obvious, too humorous, or too serious.

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10 Comments on “Kids’ class vs adult class: What’s the difference?”

  1. Tanner Critz Says:

    I’ve always found that I get more out of everyone if I treat kids more like adults than they’re used to and adults more like kids than they’re used to.

    I have most of my classes in ascending order of age and rank over the course of the day, but with the same topic and similar games and drills. The primary changes as I go up the ages are the amount of time I can spend on each topic before switching (kids are still developing their capacity to string long sequences together and control their impulses and focus), and the number of drills that I need to disguise in games. Like I said in the beginning, though, I get a lot of mileage out of now and then letting the adults play, and giving the kids some intense and difficult training.


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  3. Mark Brandenburg Says:

    Tanner hit it right on the head. Many kids want to do things their parents or other adults do; likewise many adults wish they were younger so mixing some adult-type routines into kids classes and kids routines in adult classes really works.

    One thing I found the same between teaching adults and kids is the enthusiasm and praise that the instructor shows is infectious. I think this has been discussed in a previous post. It really makes a difference in how the students react. In kids, enthusiastic praise makes them happy both internally and externally (usually exhibited by a smile) and in adults it makes them push themselves harder (happy internally).

  4. redwoodojo Says:

    Does anyone have things they teach adults, but would not teach in kids class, either because it’s physically inappropriate, emotionally inappropriate, or simply because the kids can’t take things seriously enough?

    I’ll throw a few things out there to get it started:

    – With younger kids I omit elbow strikes, and especially downward elbow to the spine, from our self-defense partner sets. And I rarely if ever teach the truly damaging techniques that are the mainstay of “serious” self-defense.
    – I never permit the younger kids to place thumbs on each other’s throats for choke escape partner work.
    – I do much less target-based partner work in class with the kids, because they cannot maintain focus and safety holding the targets the way teens and adults can. I do more target work where the instructors hold the targets.
    – I never assume, with kids, that I can simply give them some instructions and expect them to practice together or on their own. (Over time, and as they age, they get better at this.)

    On the other hand:
    – I teach them a whole range of jumping and flying kicks well before they are required by our curriculum- because they can do them!
    – Similarly, I often have them do matwork and drills “ahead of rank.” They love it and are- compared to adult students- nearly indestructible.


  5. Sometimes I dont think kids get enough credit for what they can do – especially from those who dont train kids ona regualar basis. My son surprises me constantly when he remembers something from when he was 3 (he is 5.5 now). I think to myself – wow, he was paying attention (and oh my god, what else does he remember).

    I attended an executive CEO meeting last year that had a great speaker on the subject of cognative learning. She said that everyone has a dominant learning type – there are three: visual, auditory and kinestetic. Just because someone isnt looking at you (visual learner) doesnt mean they are not taking it all in. Someone who learns by listening might divert their eyes and turn their ear to you instead to really “tune in”. As far as differences in teaching kids and adults, I think its important to teach to all typoes of learners (kinestetic, auditory and visual) in both adult and kids class.

    I also agree with Tanner – swithcing it up and having some fun games/drills for the adults is a great way to tone down the seriousness of it all – some adults can get a bit intense sometimes. Kids on the other hand are really mat friendly and can do lots of fun stuff on the ground as well as in the air. I like Didi’s note about mixing up the curriculum for the kids to include some fun stuff that their bodies are well adapted to – my kids love flying front snap kick more than anything.

    Actually, now that I am thinking about it, I dont think there is really that much difference between kids and adults – other than a few of the more riskier techniques that should be avoided and the obvious attention span issue – not even sure about that issue either; I have some adults that have a poor attention span and some kids that have a great one (that might be a myth). I think bottom line, adults are just big kids that do appreciate doing fun stuff in karate class sometimes and not always being so serious and intense. Kids like a challenge and shouldnt be short changed because someone might not think they are capable – my kids constantly amaze me at what they can do (and what they remember).

  6. redwoodojo Says:

    Here’s a brief post on an aikidoka’s blog that touches on the subject of kids vs adults from a different angle:

    http://www.goldbergsensei.com/post/369053068/time-to-learn-something-from-the-kids

    We need to be aware of differences in experience and presupposition that may affect how different groups of students interpret our instructions… Perhaps this topic is worth a blog post & discussion in its own right.


  7. Lots of good points made here. Attention span, dangerous techniques, etc. I will cover this very subject in a guest post this week at martialdevelopment.com.

  8. Matt Klein Says:

    Hi again guys, the post mentioned above is at http://www.martialdevelopment.com/blog/teaching-children-martial-arts/#comment-12783. Hope it is ok to put the link in here.

    • redwoodojo Says:

      Hi, Matt, Enjoyed the post. Much overlap with topics addressed in this blog in several different posts. Your comments on how blunt kids can be made me laugh (“have you gained weight?”). I’ve gotten, “What happened to your hair?!?” among others. Please have a look at our most recent post http://wp.me/pDCU2-5D; I took the liberty of using your post as a conversation-starter. Hope you don’t mind.


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