How to Teach Your Reluctant Child Self Defense

By: Sensei J. Richard Kirkham B.Sc.

Like most of you martial arts instructors and long term martial arts practitioners, I began trying to teaching my child self-defense right around the day he was born. Excitedly telling my wife how he sleeps in the on-guard position and how his googling sounds like a kia.

I began rough-housing with him almost as soon as he was able to start playing with me. Tossing him gently (careful of his/her neck if you play like that), at first, and reacting with great over-exaggeration when he'd hit me.

My method of madness (madness according to my wife) had (and still has) a purpose. Utilizing my physical education, methods of teaching and behavior modification background, I began teaching my son self-defense.

As of writing this section of the article, the last time we "played Heeya" at six years old Hunter ducked my swipe, punched me hard twice, head-butted me in the gut. As I tried to sit on the couch feigning injury (he knows when I'm faking) he jumped onto the couch on his hands and knees and b-checked me onto the floor then jumped onto my back ....A proud father laughed and made grunting sounds.

Here are the principles I combined:



I know some of you instructors don't want to treat self-defense as a game, but it's a lot less of a game than the two martial arts schools my family and I checked out. 90% of the time was spent doing non-martial arts oriented relay races. About the last 15 minutes of class was spent executing martial arts oriented drills. As a physical educator I was appalled at the lack of activity focus.

Okay done ranting. Martial arts can be fun. Martial arts games can be played while still teaching the young student the seriousness of what he/she is learning. I have yet to have an incident wherein my son has hit another child. "Only do this with daddy and people trying to hurt you or take you away son." Goes a lot further than some of you might think.


By reacting in a manner in which the child finds entertaining, you motivate the child to continue to execute the wanted actions.


Now before the religious folks start worrying about what that means, all that means is to start with what the child already does and refine it. Starting with the part method of teaching would be counter-productive especially in the area of motivation.


Remember anything you do with your child and anywhere you do it can be a self-defense lesson and fun with a little imagination. I can't tell you how many times I've embarrassed my poor wife "playing" with my son in the checkout line at Sam's Club.





My son named the pretend fight game. I'd get into an over-exaggerated fighting stance shouting heeeeeeeyaaaaaaa and that's what he decided to call it. In the beginning, trying to just get him to block and punch straight was tough so when he did that I over-reacted to that falling down, pretending to be hurt, pretending he stopped my punch.

As his skills improved I reacted less to less correct movements. If he swung wildly for example I wouldn't react. I might even tell him "punch straight son". When he did the more correct movement I over-reacted once again. Bending over in great agony from his tremendous punch to my body. Jumping up and down on one leg after a swift kick to my leg. As of the date of writing this section he still needs work on his kicks. I'm still in that over-reaction stage from just about anything he throws right now with his legs or knees.

He Has Periods of Executing Various Tactics

Presently as of writing this section he likes to run into the kitchen, then charge me. I don't dissuade him from this activity. I let him knock me down sometimes and we ground fight. Sometimes I side-step and tap him with my foot. How is that working out? Sometimes I run into the kitchen and charge him. He side-steps me and executes one of his few kicks.


Whatever the child wants to do is fine. It's up to you to make a training session out of it. Sometimes my son wants to play heeya on the bed. He ducks and slips my swipes and, on his own, started dropping to his hands and knees on the bed and head-butting me in the gut. I let him do this two or three times then side-step and catch him before the hits the floor (don't be a moron it's up to you if you want to do that I'm not telling you to) Often I'll throw him onto the bed (see the previous parentheses). Sometimes when he head-butts me or kicks I fall onto the bed. He'll either knee drop me or kick me while he's standing.

This reminds me I often tell people my job is to teach people to beat me up and of they don't do a good enough job show them how to do it better. Try putting that on a resume.


Again named by my son and one of the few games I get to play sitting down. On first glance this could seem like a waste of time, but remember the bean bag drill in my martial art drills ebook Bringing The Martial Artist out from Within? Similar idea. Just not so many variations when you're "playing" with your child.

This time my son stands at a comfortable distance and we throw two pillows at each other. If your child catches you off guard don't get mad or even look upset. You want him to do that remember! Motivate the action.

"OOF, good job son!"

Which reminds me not to glance at the TV anyway unless the show comes back on and we're just "playing" during commercials.

My son tries to dodge or catch the pillows I'm winging at him pretty good. Usually I throw one pillow then the other right after the first so he has to stay well balanced and ready. Lately he's been wanting to kick the pillow coming at him. Do I say no no just dodge? Of course not! I throw them more toward his feet.

When I was teaching martial arts full time as well as tutoring, I often didn't have time to workout with anyone but my students. Because of this, my physical skills began to decline. So I began placing myself in more challenging situations with my own students. Sparring them with my hands down and much closer to their striking range, for example, forced me to continue to improve even with lower skilled level students with which to train. Using this same method, when my son throws his pillows at me I make sure I was in a more challenging position to evade or catch the pillows. Forcing myself to move faster with better reaction time. This method can apply to all your "playing" and training situations.


Doesn't help the boy too much but gives dad a great strike taking workout. I was laying on the couch when some hula dancers came on TV. Hunter climbed to the top of the back of the couch and said,

"Mommy watch me do the hula jump!"

At which point he jumped off the back of the couch and landed on my stomach (see the first set of parentheses). Don't worry, my ebook on internal energy strikes has drills in it to teach you to take strikes even better than you do now. I also have a downloadable low cost video clip released on taking strikes and developing reflexes to hit back even if you're hurt.

The one thing not covered in the ebook or clip is how to take strikes while you're laughing hysterically while looking up at your kid whose ready to jump onto your gut.


The point of all of this is to help you to think and create training situations which may not exist during formal training in order to improve your child's ability to defend himself/herself and to improve your child's future love for martial arts.

Use your imagination, think. You don't have to be in a training area to train. You don't have to be lined up all in a row to train in the martial arts and in self-defense. You can train anytime and anywhere you want to with a little imagination.

For all kinds of martial arts and self-defense drills see my printable ebook Bringing the Martial Artist Out from Within

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