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What’s the Perfect age to Start Training in Taekwon-Do

As an instructor, every September I receive phone calls and messages from prospective students (some years more than others!). One of the questions they most commonly ask before the usual ‘where exactly are you located?’ and ‘how much are classes?’ is to do with age. People frequently ask ‘Am I too old to start?’or ’Is she too young to start?’ or ‘Is this a good activity for X year olds?’. As is so often the case, I find myself thinking and often saying “it depends”. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to every possible age you could start at depending on what the actual goal is, and that’s something that’s very hard to get across in a sales call. So here we go with an example:

Joe is three years old and is really keen to do the white pyjamas power ranger ninja training like his brother. 

Advantages:

  • Nobody has taught Joe any bad habits
  • Character traits may be influenced / shaped
  • Fundamental motor skills can be developed and refined into fundamental TKD skills
  • Great time to work on balance and mobility

Disadvantages:

  • Very short attention span requiring variety and stimulation
  • Many TKD concepts can’t be taught or need modification
  • Sharing, taking turns, organised group settings etc. are unfamiliar
  • 100% reliant on parental input and support

You’ve probably read all of that and then applied a filter of your own. What was your goal for Joe anyway? Do you hope Joe will:

  • Compete / be a national or World champion?
  • Gain confidence, become resilient and handle life better?
  • Enhance interpersonal skills, becoming a better friend/sibling and mitigating against bullying?
  • Get a black belt and develop a strong CV?
  • Learn to defend himself against a world full of potential aggressors?
  • Gain a deep appreciation for the more esoteric side of martial arts and become a lifelong practitioner?

Did anyone ask Joe or Joe’s parents? Would they have been able to answer? Would the answer change if Joe was 9 and being bullied at school? How about if Joe was 12 and starting secondary school this month? Maybe Joe is 23 and has just finished University? Maybe he’s 45 and hasn’t exercised in years…

So three years old might be the perfect time to start if Joe’s mum wants him to learn good habits, socialise in a positive environment and develop good movement fundamentals. As long as the instructor, the class format and Joe align with those goals we’ll have a happy mum and hopefully a happy Joe. The advantages and disadvantages of each starting age will vary according to the goals of the individual and the ability and willingness of the instructor and the club to deliver on those goals. Let’s look at a slightly different example, this time with a goal in mind.

 Jill is 14 and has been thinking about doing Taekwon-Do for a couple of years now. Some of her friends train and hold grades between blue and red belt. She would like to be doing what they’re doing and traveling around Europe to competitions and events. 

Advantages:

  • Maturity will allow for easier teaching of TKD fundamentals
  • Having a peer group with more training experience can be helpful
  • Joining is her decision rather than a parents and so intrinsic motivation is higher

Disadvantages:

  • Dependent on previous experience in physical activity for physical aptitude
  • Will likely be at university age before reaching black belt
  • May not be in the same grade group as her friends
  • School exams and potentially work (at 16) may impact on training

Here the advantages and disadvantages have been shaped a little based on Jill’s goals. Some of these things wouldn’t matter if Jill was looking to get some fun exercise as a way of relieving daily stresses or if her main goal was to meet / make new friends. Let’s jump the generations a bit for one more example.

Alan is 63 and has just made a good recovery after having a hip replacement. He hopes to find a more interesting way to stay fit and healthy, maintain some flexibility and strength and stay active socially in his local community. 

Advantages:

  • Mature and realistic expectations
  • Goals are quality of life driven

Disadvantages:

  • Physical aptitude may require a modified programme / syllabus
  • Clubs may not have an appropriate group / programme

When I think of ‘the perfect age’ I think it comes back to what you hope to achieve from your time in Taekwon-Do. The older you are, the more likely you are to have an achievable or realistic goal to strive for and with the right club and instructor Taekwon-Do will be a good fit for you. The younger you are, the less likely the goal is your own and the less likely the goal will stay the same as you grow and mature. It can be easier to set the foundations for the accomplishment of a wide range of goals but not easy to figure out which one you should go for. It’s also difficult for the instructor to know what goals to support with very young people and so often superimpose the club ethos or their own goals as a surrogate. 

So the perfect age depends on the new student and their goals, the instructor and their ambitions, the club and its structures and maybe even the organisation and the opportunities it provides. If you’re thinking about it, just start and negotiate the rest of the details from there! 

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