I am sure you will agree.
Children need to learn how to protect themselves from bullies.
And I believe that learning Martial Arts is the best way to do this.
But which Martial Art should they learn?
Well, in this complete guide to Martial Arts for kids, we cover everything you need to know.
From choosing the right Martial Art for your child’s age, to the other benefits.
Let’s dive in.
Why Your Child Should Learn Martial Arts
Enrolling your child in martial arts can be a positive experience in their life and contribute to building strong skillsets for their future.
I actually believe my love of Martial Arts has helped me throughout my life as an adult, both enabling me to stay safe and also achieve success in my career.
However, there is an assortment of reasons that may easily convince you to enrol your child in a martial arts class.
Martial arts aids in the development of self-discipline, promote socialization skills, encourages physical activity, and boosts self-esteem in your child
Other plus points include:
- Fostering a sense of respect for others, regardless of race or gender.
- Listening skills become amplified.
- Increased confidence
- Greater levels of optimism
- Increased self-reliance
- Increased social skills
- Increased fitness.
- Improved classroom conduct
These valuable points can be construed as vital reasons that can help in forming a healthy mind and the physical prowess of your child.
Importance of Martial Arts For Children
Sadly, in the western world, Martial Arts have long been placed on the back burner in society as important for children.
Personally, I find this annoying.
In Japan, for example, Judo is a national sport and the benefits are universally known.
This is one of the reasons that articles such as this one are important.
But is there any proof that Martial Arts are good for kids?
Studies into Martial Arts have been lacking over recent years.
However, if we look at the data of various studies we can see the positives:
From 1978 to 2009 there were 13 studies into Martial Arts conducted:
Of the 4 studies conducted among youths, the benefits of Martial Arts for children were considered positive.
These benefits were improvements in:
- Anxiety, self-esteem and social adroitness
- Self-reliance and enthusiastic optimism
- Cognitive and affective self-regulation, prosocial behaviour, classroom conduct, performance on a mental math test
- Personal growth and self-acceptance
The studies have however received criticism due to their small size, so we conducted a parents study on the importance of Martial Arts for children.
Over 380 participants got involved in the study.
The results were as follows:
- 100% of parents think Martial Arts training has benefited their child
- 86% of Parents surveyed believed their child's behaviour had improved as a result of Martial Arts training.
- Result: 85% of Parents surveyed believed their child's concentration had improved as a result of Martial Arts training.
- 97% of parents believe that Martial Arts Training will help their child to protect themselves in self defence situations
Given such overwhelming evidence, from both scientific studies and parents views, it is clear that Martial Arts play an extremely important part in the lives of children and deserve recognition.
But, as a parent, you might be struggling to understand how a child actually gains the benefits stated, especially when to the outsider, Martial Arts is a lot of kicking and punching.
Well, for example.
Learning to be patient comes by breaking down routines as different movements take effort and time to master.
Also, providing an outlet for children to take out excess energy, helps to emphasize self-control, increase body and mind coordination, improve overall behaviour and discipline.
This, in turn, helps to relieve their stress and calms them down.
Martial Arts schools provide a positive environment for children who begin learning the concepts of respect and integrity, which are one of the most essential components focused upon by any sensei of martial arts dojos.
Finally, it gives your children a unique sense of belongingness that helps them stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Becoming not only a Martial Artist but also part of a Martial Arts school is a key part of the change you will see in children.
But what age should a child start training?
Let’s look at this next.
At What Age Should a Child Start Martial arts
Before you choose a Martial Art for your child, you need to look at their age, your objectives for the learning and of course your budget.
But, and perhaps most importantly, the type of school matters most.
Consider it a Myagi do v Cobra kai type of question.
You need your child to have the best type of environment for them and a teacher that is right too.
This, of course, depends on what age your child is.
I don’t expect a Thai Boxing gym to have drawings of cartoon tigers on the wall (although they might).
So, try and choose a martial arts school that will help your child both develop and enjoy the development process.
Going to Martial Arts lessons really shouldn’t be a chore.
Children of ages starting at 4 to 6 are generally what martial arts schools take in, but not all situations are the same.
So, do consider the trial and error method.
You are going to attend a school and it is quickly going to be clear that it isn’t right for your child.
But to help you, when your child attends a school look at what they are doing in class.
Is there a specific reason behind each activity, or is it just games and fun?
Games are good and keep your young ones engaged, but there must be an objective, and if it isn’t clear don’t be afraid to ask the instructor after class.
Which brings me to the next point.
Don’t be in a rush to sign up for 12-month contracts until the child has been there for a few months.
Personally, I would avoid Martial Arts schools that insist on 12 month-long contracts, there are plenty that offer monthly contracts that you can cancel at any time.
Which Martial Arts Are Best for Discipline
Most of the Martial Arts disciplines help augment self-discipline that is required for success in life.
If you wish to aid in forming self-discipline for your child, going for any of them should not be a problem.
After all. It takes self-discipline and persistence to study and master just about every martial art known.
But that being said, some Martial Arts teach in a more disciplined way while others require more self-disciplined training.
Let’s break this down.
Traditional martial arts such as Judo and Karate have contained within them, a process where respect is ingrained into almost all activities.
This includes lining up and bowing at the start and end of each class, not to mention bowing as a sign of respect to each training partner after each exercise/ drill.
It is not uncommon for a child Judoka to have bowed over 20 times in a lesson.
Other Martial Arts focus less on the traditional aspects of bowing but do things such as touching gloves or even salutes rather than bow.
Arts that focus on this type of activity include BJJ, boxing, kickboxing and Kung Fu styles.
I personally don’t think there is any evidence to support which style garners more discipline, but a lot will depend on teachers.
I have known many instructors to not even ask kids to touch gloves or shake hands (pre covid), and certainly not bow to each other.
So, if you find yourself at a school like this, I would leave.
With regards to self-discipline, there is a very thin line.
Some schools and styles will encourage more ‘self-monitored’ training.
For example, at a boxing club, children are expected to train hard on the punch bags without one to one coaching.
Whereas arts that require a lot more technical work, instructors tend to be focused on getting that technique right.
This might seem trivial, but it tends to be a ‘tempo’ thing.
I have seen Martial Arts school where children don’t stop for breath. It is one fun activity to another, whereas others are slower, more refined.
Which will suit your child, will totally depend on the child themselves.
Best Martial Arts for Girls
The best Martial Arts for girls are Judo, boxing, Karate, Wing Chun, Tae Kwon Do, BJJ, Kickboxing and Muay Thai.
But let’s break this down.
Before considering which Martial Art is best for girls, it is crucial to consider the objective behind such a thought process.
Is it for self-defence?
Or is it that the child needs a sporting outlet and is drawn to competitive Martial Arts?
Regarding sporting arts.
Some of the most popular martial arts amongst girls include Judo, boxing, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, BJJ and Muay Thai.
These disciplines have gained fame due to the number of successful female participants.
However, if the child doesn’t want to compete, finding a children's Krav Maga or Defence Lab class might be perfect for self-defence.
If this doesn’t appeal to them, perhaps speak to the instructors at one of the sports Martial Arts schools as explain that your child doesn’t wish to compete.
Many are perfectly OK with this, and will happily accept her as a student.
Another thing to consider is if they want to undertake a striking art or a grappling art.
The difference between is of course if they want to be punched or kicked in the face or would rather grapple with their training partners.
Best Martial Arts for Boys
The best Martial Arts for boys are Judo, boxing, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, BJJ and Muay Thai and Kickboxing.
However, let’s break this down.
When choosing the best martial arts discipline for a boy, his inclination and the main objective of learning such discipline must be given proper thought.
Otherwise, you might end up sending him to the wrong class.
So you must ask yourself.
What is the main goal behind teaching him martial arts?
Is it self-defense, or is it to instil a perfect sense of discipline?
Or do you need an outlet for their energy?
Or perhaps they are overly aggressive?
Once you have thought about these questions, then you are ready to think about the arts that would suit your son best.
In general, boys do tend to be a bit rough and tumble but that doesn’t mean that they will enjoy being punched or kicked in the face.
And that is largely a driver for choosing a Martial Art for boys.
This isn’t a sexist argument, but ultimately in large there is a difference between boys and girls.
I have kids and I see this all the time.
However, most of the decision making aspects in picking a Martial Art for a girl are the same for those of a boy.
That being said, most boys will tend to find the more competitive Martial Arts more attractive.
Traditionally, Boxing, Judo, Thai boxing, Karate, TKD and now BJJ are arts that boys gravitate to.
These arts require a great deal of fitness and also offer self-defence training.
That being said, not every boy wants to compete.
In these cases, self-defence training might be more ideal and arts such as Krav Maga and Defence Lab offer alternatives without competitive elements.
Best Martial Arts For 3-year-olds And Under
The best Martial Arts for under 3 Year olds are Judo, Karate, TKD, and kickboxing.
Let’s look at why.
It can be a tad confusing for most parents while choosing the most appropriate martial arts discipline for their 3-years olds.
Discipline is generally construed as the primary objective of enrolling children into a martial arts school.
However, being realistic, most 3 years olds will be unable to gain much more discipline at a Martial Arts school at that age, than they would from any childcare provider.
So, what do children of that age gain from the Martial Arts?
Martial Arts in many ways builds upon the foundations set by childcare providers and parents.
But for most children aged 3, Martial Arts will act as their first real physical education.
They will learn how to move their bodies in ways they have not done before.
Forward rolls, jumps to rolls, cartwheels and other drills will be undertaken.
As well as more fun activities such as punches and throws that makes them feel like superheroes or action stars.
But in real terms, your child will not gain self-defence skills or the greater benefits that Martial Arts offer.
The happiness that stems from watching your child gain grades, wear their ‘Gi’ and just feel like a superhero will be more than worth it.
It is worth mentioning that it will not only vary from style to style, but also schools at which age they start running classes for.
Many schools still do not offer classes for 3 year olds.
Best Martial Arts for 6-Year-Olds
The best Martial Arts for 6 Year olds are Judo, Karate, TKD, and kickboxing.
Let’s break it down.
Generally, most martial art forms accept children of 4 to 6 years.
Therefore, significance may be given to the children’s inclination along with the objective of the enrolment.
In addition to this, the physical structure and mental maturity may also be brought into the picture.
This can be done by taking trials at various available dojos and forming opinions upon which form would be the most comfortable for your child.
Let your child try different martial arts and observe whether he or she likes it or not. Let them decide whether they want to continue with a particular form or not.
I will just add this.
To those of you who are wondering why BJJ is not listed.
This is because BJJ teaches students to armlock and choke.
I do not feel that these are skills that should be taught to under 12 year olds in class. Therefore I cannot add the art to the list.
Best Martial Arts for 10-Year-Olds and Under 12’s
The best Martial Arts for 10 year olds and under 12’s are Judo, boxing, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, BJJ and Muay Thai and Kickboxing.
Let’s look at why:
Children at the ages of 10 to 12 years of age are very active, both mentally and physically.
They are trying to figure out different aspects of life and where they fit into it.
Therefore, it is advisable to go for martial arts forms that provide discipline, structure, respect, and self-confidence among such kids.
Some of the martial art branches that are best suited for this age group are BJJ, MMA, and Muay Thai reason being that these branches are highly technical and help kids explore connections between different martial moves.
In addition, Jiu-Jitsu is a branch that asks the student to think carefully about the movement he or she is about to make.
This gets their brains and bodies working at the same time. It's like chess but with your body.
It is in this age group that competition also adds value to the child's development.
Best Martial Arts for Teenagers
The best Martial Arts for teenagers are competitive arts such as Judo, boxing, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, BJJ and Muay Thai and Kickboxing. Along with self-defense systems such as Defence Lab and Krav Maga.
Let’s explain why.
Teenagers enjoy exploring life in general, and martial arts is no different.
Also, training in martial arts is a two-way street. It is a lot of fun, and it helps develop physical fitness while learning practical self-defense skills. It is also likely to assist in the development of their personality.
Moreover, they can feel better about themselves and increase their concentration levels.
Last but not least, it arms kids with insight that comes in handy in conflict resolution.
Why I Haven’t Included MMA
You might have noticed that I haven’t included MMA as a style suitable for children.
This is because I do not feel that competitive or non competitive MMA training is suitable for children.
It might annoy people but it is not for the reasons you think.
After about the age of 12, I don’t have an issue with kids competing in MMA with safety gear.
But rather that I feel that children should start off with a single Martial Art before then looking at MMA.
This is a personal choice.
But I would rather a child become very good at BJJ, Judo or boxing etc.
And then move to more mixed Martial Arts than try and learn MMA from scratch.
MMA just covers too vast a subject mix from wrestling, to groundwork, standing, clinch, throws kicks, punches, leglocks and elbows etc.
It is better in my opinion for a child to focus on a single art and then start to mix later on.
So there you have it.
My complete guide to choosing a Martial Arts for a child.
Did you find it useful?
If so, please forward it to anyone else considering Martial Arts for their children.
80% of my students are children, and many of those have disabilities. It has been like that for about 20 years. Most adults I teach also end up becoming instructors or assistant instructors. Working with young people, I would not change that for the world.
You are a benefit to the industry David, keep up the great work.
Personally I never taught anybody under the age of 16… I was a Tomiki aikido instructor at 4th Dan level… If a parent or anybody wanted to know which martial art to choose as an all round martial art for everything to start, I would reconmend either boxing or judo or both!!… I did both those martial arts as well as Goju ryu Karate and Wing Chun Gung fu before doing Tomiki aikido… If parents asked me why I didn’t teach aikido to youngsters was because it was better to start with Judo 1st… But to come to me when they reach 16… Then they would find it easier to understand… The problem with teaching youngsters these day is the problems asscociateed with it that you haven’t really covered form an instructors POV… There are many as you may well know…
Hey Tony, totally agree, teaching kids requires a special skill set, but there are many instructors with those skills out there. But I will probably do a post at some point about how to teach kids martial arts and make that from the instructor’s view point. Thanks for the comment.
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