Yes, it was reported in a national newspaper that a four-year-old was graded to Black Belt at age four after starting Taekwondo at the age of two-and-a-half.
Now a Black belt is a level of competence issued by an organisation and yes different organisations have different criteria, so you can have black belts of different standards.
But this Black Belt is taking it a step to far, over the last 20 years we have seen a major increase in children being awarded black belts much to the dismay of sensible martial arts practitioners.
Some organisations offer their junior members a junior black belt, a practice started 40-years ago by an organisation called the Kent Junior Judo Association who could grade a 15-year-old to junior black belt. The recipient wore a Black belt with a green stripe through the middle on reaching 16-years of age they would automatically become a senior green.
This in its self was quite a good idea but note the age. Judo, out of all the martial arts, seems to have a more uniform approach to Dan grades status. Even though there are several different organisations, most will not grade to Dan Grade below 15-years of age and most combine competition and traditional theoretical knowledge to obtain the grade.
So why grade babies and children to black belt? Money and power is the answer...
Instructors can make a considerable amount of money from kids' gradings and Kids’ classes. How many more students will this baby’s instructor get because of this grading and at 24-years-old is a black belt examiner?
But above of all it is about power, a large majority on becoming black belts suddenly become aware that they stand out from the crowd because they have achieved what the public think is the ultimate martial arts accolade, suddenly people look up to them and what is worse most believe their own hype.
Now they start to have power either within their own organisation or they create one of their own. If they are with a reputable organisation they will have constraints and controls placed upon them. Yet many believe they have the answer to everything and create a new association and a new style.
How many times have you read of someone creating the Ultimate Martial Art!
Suddenly someone who was a 1st Dan a few years ago suddenly becomes an 8th Dan Master and of course they go on some well known names' courses have their photo taken with them, sometime later they publish the photo saying they have trained with so and so to give kudos to their style.
Now if they say they are 8th Dan PingBangdo Karate a style they invented that is what they are but if they say they are graded in a traditional style like Shotokan then they can be checked.
My own style of CombatSombo which I introduced nearly 30 years ago was just a different approach to a Martial Arts Self Defence System.
I wanted a system which suited my jacket wrestling background i.e. Judo, Free-Style Wrestling and Sambo, although I created a grading system I never gave myself a grade, how could I who would award it so if asked what grade CombatSombo am I the answer would be the FOUNDER.
Sometimes these new styles group together to form a co-op, large numbers again give them KUDOS and they think respectability. Yet the way to respectability is high technical ability and high moral standards.
So back to this four-year-old baby doing Taekwondo, my own feeling taking children this young is a form of child abuse, at the age of two-and-a-half the child can barely walk let alone do hard physical exercise and what of the damage the parents and instructor are doing to the child? The child body is far from developed its bones are still soft as is the rest of the body, so things like excessive stretching can be dangerous and lead to early arthritis (this has been a problem with young gymnasts), striking and kicking pads can be dangerous to hands and joints and competition against other children can be dangerous beyond belief.
To teach any child to Kick and punch someone is morally indefensible when a child is young they do not understand wrong from right, who can say this four-year-old doesn't start school and in an argument with another child knocks them out and may kills them with a kick and do not say that cannot happen!
Those of us who taught in schools knew the playground can be a dangerous place at the best of time. In law the Criminal Age of Responsibility is 10 so should anyone be teaching children to Kick and Punch?
To make some excuse that it is self-defence is not realistic, the only way to subdue your attacker by kicking and punching is to inflict a mass of pain and damage to their body that is why grappling is a far better introduction for children who want to learn Combat and how can a child or a baby defend themselves against an adult. I have copied a letter sent to me by the late Great Geoff Gleeson some 25 years ago, please read it and tell me the Martial Arts have advanced?
A Lot of Karate, Taekwondo styles etc are far more sensible concentrating on Kata where the student is taught the discipline of self control and perfection of techniques rather than learning how knock someone’s teeth out. The most experienced Striking art in the world is boxing and the Amateur Boxing Association has a minimum age of 11 before they can box so why is this baby being taught Taekwondo?
So you think what we need is Government intervention and we a Governing Body for Martial Arts which will be a legal requirement for all those that teach.
NO, as these have been tried in the past and just become dictatorships. The martial arts needs room to move, invent and adjust, because martial arts continual change just imagine if there had been a Government body 30 years ago with absolute power there would be no Kickboxing, no Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, no Vale Tudo, no Cage Fighting etc.
New Martial Arts will come to the fore that is the nature of the beast what we need is more information. Do not just attack a rival because they have moved onto your patch and make it personal, tell your local paper, Council, MP, Church Hall, Schools etc and ask does this new club have:
1) Pi, PA, and PL Insurance?
2) Who taught them and where can they be checked out?
3) How long have they been practising?
4) Have they a Coaching Award?
5) Have they got a CRB check?
6) Have they got the right equipment?
Other things to watch out for, grading very young kids to black belt, is the instructor there all the time or does he get a student to teach, are they trying the hard sell like knocking at doors and wanting people to sign up before they have even seen a class in action, after a few months do they appoint a student to instructor level and the present instructor moves on...
For more information on Sambo visit: http://www.britishsombo.co.uk/ Contact Martin Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org