Benefits of Martial arts for Kids. Yes or No? Which style of Martial Arts is more suitable for kids?

With a bloodcurdling cry, your 6-year-old leaps into the air in a karate kick, raising your hair and blood pressure simultaneously. Before you panic and pad the walls, try channeling this urge into a martial arts class.

Activities like tae kwon do, kung fu, and aikido are a fun way for both boys and girls to achieve fitness and focus. Some parents may think they also promote violence, but that's a myth, according to experts. The martial arts actually help teach self-discipline and socialization skills. In fact, many parents whose children have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) report great success with these programs because self-control and concentration are exactly the skills underdeveloped in ADHD kids.

A typical hour-long class begins and ends with a bow to the teacher, or master. After a warm-up, students practice the art's particular skills, which may include kicks, punches, and blocks. Each requires concentration and strict attention.

Progress is often marked by the belt system, which takes the beginner from a white belt through a variety of colors until black. Testing for each new level, generally every three months, is a good exercise in setting and achieving goals.

But, say experts, it's the respect kids learn, whether from bowing or standing still and waiting for the next command, that can be the most important benefit: It often carries over into school, helping to improve behavior and even grades, according to recent research.

"Six is usually a good age to start classes," says Mimi Johnson, M.D., a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. By that time a child should have enough muscle control to punch and turn properly and safely -- essential to getting a real kick out of the martial art he chooses.

Class options

The American T'ai Chi Associates recommends looking for a school that adheres to the original principles of the martial art it offers, rather than one that dilutes them by, say, pairing jujitsu with kickboxing: The purer the teaching, the more your child stands to gain. Here's a quick guide to help you choose the right class for your child.

Karate (Japanese)

A system of self-development using kicks and punches. Its quick, sharp actions involve snapping movements of the joints, which means that kids need to warm up carefully.

Tae Kwon Do (Korean)

A form of karate developed as a military art, which has become one of the more popular martial arts in the U.S. It uses kicking and punching movements to energize the body, and breathing and meditation techniques to provide focus.

Judo (Japanese)

Taught as a competitive sport, judo teaches kids how to throw a partner using balance and leverage and helps them learn self-control and respect for their opponent.

Jujitsu (Japanese)

A competitive form of self-defense that teaches students to use their opponent's weight and strength against him. Having a partner fosters cooperation.

Aikido (Japanese)

Uses many of the same movements as jujitsu but is gentler and noncompetitive. It, too, is an excellent discipline for teaching children how to work with a partner.

Kung Fu (Chinese)

A rigorous and physical form of karate that involves more fluid movements than its Japanese cousin, making it easier on joints. It's fast-paced, so kids get an aerobic workout.

T'ai Chi (Chinese)

Focuses on balance, stretching, and weight-bearing moves. T'ai Chi is easy on the joints, boosts flexibility, and improves concentration skills.


Karate Kitty's picture

I have a little girl with ADD and the karate doesn't seem to be going to well. She doesn't stay focused and doesn't listen to Sensei. She wil focus for a punch or block or two, but then goes on her own little mission. I am trying to figure out whether she is just not interested in Karate or whether the ADD does this and if she will eventualy come around??
Chaleira's picture

Not sure... but I'm willing to bet it's the ADD. If she sticks with it I'm sure she will probably come around. As for interest is concern... I personally believe that kids at a young age really don't know what they are interested in (reason being is because they still have so much to be exposed to in life). For this reason, I think it's great for parents to expose them to as much as possible; especially martial arts :)
Chaleira's picture

Great blog! Thanks for sharing. I think martial arts do benefit kids in a big way. As a form of exercise, a way to gain and increase body coordination, discipline, an introduction to other culture at a young age....the list goes on. Personally I don't think which particular style they are still young and can try a variety throughout their youth and also because if its a kids should cater to them. I think the biggest worry should be who is the instructor. Also...have you considered capoeira :)
cris donovan's picture

just try and keep her going Michelle, i bet that within a year she will have far better concentration. My son has ADHD and now after doing TKD for 14 months we are seeing massive improvement- particularly with his school too. some days he says he doesn't want to train, i say, "that's ok, but you still have to come and watch while we do (our club has a family class that we all train at the same time)" No sooner am i and the youger one putting on our doboks than the older one asks where his is; then he trains and feels good. This class is before Kumon (extra curriculum maths) so he does an hour of TKD after school and walks into Kumon as calm as you like and knocks over his work there- the 2 work well together, but has to be in this order. perserver, you are on the right track i believe, and as your daughter starts getting rewarded for her training (belts etc) she should become even more focussed. all the best cris