By Elisabeth Clay
I am such a proponent of Jiu Jitsu for children. I even feel like the kids younger than five years old benefit highly from beginner movements, stretching, listening and conditioning skills. At my home gym, Legacy Jiu Jitsu (an Ares Jiu Jitsu aﬃliate in Anchorage Alaska) we just began a “little’s class” for children ages two-and-a-half to five years old. I believe there are incredible benefits to getting them training this young. Gymnasts start as early as 18 months, why not jiujitero’s?
The benefits that I personally believe these littles will earn:
Learning to Listen and Respond on Command
These are skills needed in life and in Jiu Jitsu. One of the things that I do so well is listen to coaches while competing. I believe this is a skill I learned during my littlest days doing gymnastics, where athletes are coached all the way through.
Right before stepping on the mats and during training, it is critical to listen and put those instructions into action. The younger they learn this skill, the better they will do with it. It is a skill not only to listen, but to also put it into action in the moment, at the moment it is said. If they begin learning this with games and little activities that are as simple as stop and go. Then, when they need a to do it with a complex skill or movement, they can. The skill of listening and implementing instructions while doing something else will come as second nature. Children have so much fun learning this that they do not even know they are gaining such a beneficial skill. They hear my voice through all of the noise around them. This is also a learned skill. It is the third component of this type of activity. In competition there are so many noises and people yelling. You have to know how to hear only the voice that matters to and for you.
Learning to Work Together
While Jiu Jitsu is an individual sport, you have to work with all kinds of people, some of whom you will love and others you will not like so much. There will be people you can work with and are helpful to your game and you to theirs. It’s a skill to learn to work with anyone and even to learn to discriminate who is helpful to you and who is not. You will also learn to help your partner. When you show up to class, but those that are most beneficial to you don’t show, it is disappointing. You learn to become reliable to others, whether that is what you want at the moment or not.
Making Jiu-Jitsu Beginner Moves Come Naturally
Many find the movements in Jiu Jitsu to be counter-intuitive. By learning them young, like walking and crawling, they become instinctual and natural. I think the younger they start these movements, the more fluid and more intuitive they become. Children are like sponges, they learn so fast and implement what they learn into life patterns. Because of this, it is beneficial to raising the next generation of competitors from their early beginnings.
Grips Will Become Instinctual
We teach children how to shake hands, so just like that they can learn the diﬀerent grips, and not only will the feel of the grips be natural, they will also start grip strength training. Like kids who grow up milking cows have really strong grips, I believe children who learn to grip and hold grips will develop stronger hands.
Problem Solving Ideas & Body Movements With Strategy
It is important for people to learn how to identify a problem and then figure out how to fix it or work around it. Even games like duck duck goose present children with the “problem” of how to get back to their spot the fastest. There is also a grip game that involves staying on your partner’s back while they move, which helps children strengthen the grips of their hands and legs, it also helps them develop strategies of where to hold and how to adjust to keep optimal grip and position placement to stay in control.
If the children have a problem or a question, they are learning how to talk to each other and to their coach. For this reason it is imperative as coaches that we demonstrate excellent communication skills, particularly that of listening. Listening is the biggest factor in actual communication. If we do not understand the other person then we are not communicating. Communication is a critical life skill we all must master.
Learning to control your own body, where it is and what is can do, is important. Rolls, and stopping and starting on command, break falling and many other little things help develop this.
Learning to wait in line, bow on and oﬀ the mats and show respect to the training area, our teammates, and our coach are skills that transfer to other areas of life, especially on those days and moments when we are frustrated. Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to, especially when you add physical tiredness to it. This makes Jiu Jitsu a great place to learn it. The younger children are when they learn this, the better it will serve them in life.
My Children’s Program
I am so excited to have designed and started this program. It has been “my baby” from the ground up. In just the first month, the children have learned how to wait their turn, line up in a straight line and many more skills. The fear was that the class could turn into a “herding cats” session, but that is not at all how it has played out. It is super exciting to see all of the things they are picking up and how fast they are learning.