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Martial Arts

Kids’ Martial Arts Classes: A Parent’s Guide

Is martial arts right for your child? Here, experts answer common parent FAQs about choosing martial arts program styles, readiness, safety and more.

By Sarah Antrim

dad talking to martial arts teacher
The first step in finding out if martial arts might be right for your child is very simple: Just ask them if they’re interested. Have a child who doesn’t know enough about martial arts to say yes or no to that question? Consider taking them to a local martial arts studio and ask the owner if you both can observe a class. They can also give martial arts a try at home through online classes. Also, encourage your child to ask their friends if they’re enrolled in a martial arts program. Having buddies who train might make your child more interested in trying karate, judo, tae kwon do, mixed martial arts, or whatever their peer group is doing. Also, don’t let your child be discouraged if they don’t think of themselves as “athletic.” Martial arts programs are good for kids who like competitive or team sports, but they’re just as good for kids who don’t.

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What are some different types of kids martial arts classes?

There are hundreds of styles of martial arts and mixed martial arts to choose from. Mixed martial arts (MMA) doesn’t always mean dangerous cage fighting, either; it simply means that the style being taught includes two or more styles of martial arts. Some programs called mixed martial arts, karate, or tae kwon do include learning to punch and/or kick as methods of self defense. Kung fu is one of the oldest martial arts and focuses on strong blocks to prevent being struck. Others, such as aikido, focus on using the opponent’s strength and momentum to prevent them from harming you. Some include wrestling, and others focus mainly on kicks (such as tae kwon do). Some also train students in the use of traditional weapons, such as a bo staff or nunchakus, which are those two short sticks joined by cord that you’ll see in Bruce Lee videos. Many also focus on solo routines called kata, in which students practice a series of moves with an imagined opponent.

Regardless of the methods of self-defense taught, many traditional martial arts programs also teach philosophy, character, and behavior. They often emphasize humility and respect for all people as part of their curriculum.

boy martial arts kicking a pad

How do I know which style of martial arts to choose for my child?

It depends on the type of personality of your child. Judo involves more throws, joint locks, and pinning opponents to the ground. If your child isn’t a fan of physical contact or tight spaces, this is probably not the best choice for them. Karate and Tae Kwon Do both focus on a variety of self-defense exercises involving striking and blocking techniques. Generally, karate is more focused on hand-to-hand techniques, while tae kwon do focuses on techniques using the legs. Mixed martial arts programs may include both of these, as well as others. There may even be kickboxing classes in which kids don’t spar (or fight) at all, but simply hit a heavy bag or padded shield.

The best way to find what you child might like is to watch classes at a few different types of studios. Be sure you watch students who are the age of your child and are beginners, so your child won’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated (which can happen if they observe advanced or older students). Also talk to the instructors of programs you like. Their approach and philosophy may wind up being the biggest factor in helping you and your child make a decision.

Remember, though, if the first program isn’t a good fit, there are plenty of others. Sometimes you only realize what you like after trying something you don’t! If your child does not enjoy or adjust to the program after a month or two, you can shop around for a different program.

How do I know if my child is ready for martial arts classes?

Most classes recommend that kids start around 8 to 10 years old, but young exposure is never a bad idea. Many schools also offer preschool or kids’ beginner classes, which get them moving, jumping rope, kicking a shield or the air, and learning how to focus and listen. Typically, the school you choose will tell you what age level they recommend, and many will also evaluate your child privately or during a sample (often free) class so they can tell you if your child is ready and which class would be the best fit for them.

martial arts teacher and class

What sort of safety concerns should I be aware of?

Of course there is always a chance that a child may get injured in any type of sport. However, some techniques learned in martial arts may help them fend off an attack or otherwise protect themselves later in life. For instance, some schools teach how to fall and roll so if you fall down (whether you’re pushed or you trip), you’re less likely to be injured.

Some schools offer little to no contact. Others have kids spar (fight) while wearing mouth guards, shin guards, helmets, padded gloves, and other protective gear. Mats on the floors prevent a hard impact if kids fall.

The most common injuries in the martial arts, according to HealthyChildren.org, are scrapes and bruises! Older kids may experience sprains or strains and finger or toe injuries — mainly due to improper technique. Also be wary of concussions, which can occur if kids strike their heads or are struck in the head. Whether your child engages in martial arts, soccer, football, or another sport, it’s a good idea to learn the signs of concussion and get your child checked by a doctor any time you suspect he or she has one.

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How long is a kids martial arts class?

Most classes tend to be 30 to 60 minutes in length. Class times for preschoolers may be just 30 minutes, while teens may train for over an hour. Other schools may have every class lasting 30 minutes. It just depends on the school. Ask your prospective school for a schedule so you’ll know how long classes are and how often they have classes (and when) for your child’s age/ability.

It is usually recommended that beginners practice 2 to 3 times a week, though preschool programs may meet just once a week. More advanced students will likely practice 3 or more times per week, especially if they are looking to advance to a higher level.

Where can I find a class for my child?

ActivityHero takes the guesswork out of finding the right martial arts class for your child.

You can browse by location, age, or date, and even look for options that suit your budget or provide extended care and other special programs such as summer camps or movie nights.

Find top-rated martial arts camps and classes with top-rated instructors.

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Martial Arts Sports

11 Martial Arts Movies, Books & Shows for Kids

Your Karate Kid will get a kick out of these movies, shows, and books. Even the funny ones deliver key messages on building self-esteem and standing up to bullies.

By the Kids’ Media Experts at SmartFeed

martial_arts

Imagine this rainy-day scenario: Your lovable, active child, who is normally bouncing off the walls when cooped up indoors, instead is dressed in a crisp, belted uniform, standing tall on a mat, in a straight line, with a dozen other boys and girls their age. Your child proceeds through the class exercises with focus, enthusiasm, and discipline. Not there yet? Here’s another scenario for your next rainy day: Your lovable, active child cozies up on the couch to read a good book or watch a movie or TV show about kids like these. Kids who are martial artists and use their skills to overcome evil in the form of bullies, bad guys, or simply self-doubt.

Below is a hand-picked list of movies, TV shows, and books about martial arts that may inspire kids to give this popular activity a try … and that will endlessly entertain students who already are working on earning their next belt or sash.

Martial Arts Books for Kids

Bunjitsu BunnyTales of Bunjitsu Bunny
Ages 6+
This beginners’ chapter book shares stories of a bunny martial arts student. She is strong and good at solving problems.

 

 

 

PhoenixPhoenix: The Five Ancestors Out of the Ashes, Book 1
Ages 9+
The unusual combination of martial arts, bicycle racing, and Chinese mythology come together in this book — the first installment in a new adventure series featuring well-balanced characters and strong life lessons.

 

 

GildedGilded
Ages 12+
The heroine of this fantasy is a Korean-American girl uprooted to and transplanted in Korea. She battles mythical beings with martial arts and archery. This first book in a series is sure to leave readers wanting more.

 

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Martial Arts Movies for Kids

Kung Fu Panda 2Kung Fu Panda 2
Ages 6+
Filled with its familiar entertaining cast of characters, this sequel is top notch. Kids will be mesmerized by all of the martial arts action supplied by this well-trained team, and parents will appreciate the added notes of emotion and history.

 

 

Wendy WuWendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior
Ages 8+
While running for homecoming queen, Wendy learns of her legacy as a warrior against evil spirits. Wendy shows that balancing demands of the present along with her heritage is a worthy pursuit.

 

 

Shaolin SoccerShaolin Soccer
Ages 8+
This enjoyable, funny film offers a delightful mashup of martial arts and soccer in a format that’s fun for the whole family.

 

 

Karate KidThe Karate Kid
Ages 11+
This classic original film is still the best of its series. In this coming-of-age tale, teenager Daniel learns how to mature, make friends, and defend himself thanks to the discipline of karate and the guidance of a demanding and eccentric (but endearing) instructor.

 

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Martial Arts TV Shows for Kids

Kung Fu PandaKung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness
Ages 6+
Po and his crew are back, waging martial arts battles with villains … and prevailing. Po is a great role model, showing that his uniqueness also makes him both heroic and worthy of respect.

 

AvatarAvatar: The Last Airbender
Ages 9+
This terrific animated martial arts/fantasy/mythology series is entertaining for the whole family.

 

The Legend of Korra
Ages 9+
An inspiring heroine is at the heart of this excellent animated sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender. As she trains for an important role, she learns important lessons about herself and her family’s history.

 

Samurai Girl
Ages 13+
Here is a great action-packed series, led by a fierce female warrior defending her family from evil. Each episode culminates in sword battles and martial arts fighting, so keep that in mind before sharing this series with younger viewers.

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Martial Arts

Why Kids Who Hate Sports Will Love Martial Arts

Just because your child doesn’t love sports doesn’t mean they’re not an athlete. See why they might love martial arts, plus 3 questions to ask when choosing.

By Rachel Stamper

girl learning martial arts

Great news: Your kids don’t have to be “natural” athletes to excel in martial arts. In fact, this type of organized physical activity offers all of the perks of team sports (and a few extra benefits, too, such as self-defense skills) — without the aspects that tend to stress some kids. We asked one ActivityHero provider to share her observations on why this is true … and what kids can gain from trying a class in karate, taekwondo, or another type of martial art. Here’s what we learned …

Sports can boost your child’s self-esteem, improve coordination, enhance fitness, and encourage lifelong healthy habits. If you’re like many parents, though, you may have found that your kid didn’t dig the team sports vibe. One team member of ActivityHero from San Jose, California, says her daughter, Anushka S., thought that team sports were cool … until she was actually playing them.

“When she would go to soccer games, all she was interested in was sitting by the side and playing with the grass,” says her mother, Shilpa D. “She was happier to be subbed out so she could socialize with her friends.” Since trying martial arts, though, Anushka has found an activity that challenges her in a way that she thoroughly enjoys. “She likes that it is not competitive with others,” says Shilpa. “But at the same time she has her own milestones to achieve. She loves moving on to the next belt-level. She is very persistent about achieving her goal.”

Maybe your child, like Anushka, isn’t the competitive type. Or perhaps your kid played sports as a youngster and lost interest when the age level — and intensity — increased. Or maybe you don’t see team sports as a good fit for your child who has special needs. Whatever the reason, if you are looking for a positive alternative to team play, you might want to do as Shilpa and Anushka did and consider adding martial arts to your child’s after school activities.

I recently spoke with Meggie Presti, owner and primary instructor of Core Taekwondo in San Mateo, California, to get her thoughts on martial arts as a healthy alternative to team sports. “I have all types of kids in my classes that benefit in their own way,” says Presti. “I have kids that have ADHD or dyslexia, kids that just march to a different drummer, and kids that tend to get lost in the shuffle. I also have students that are simply more into academics or prefer video games to outdoor games.”

Here, Presti shares some of the perks of martial arts training for all types of kids, along with some tips to help you choose a martial arts school for your child.

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What is the biggest difference between martial arts and team sports?

PRESTI: Team sports force everyone to do the same activity at the same time. The big difference with martial arts is that everything is individualized and self-paced. Children have instructional time in class, but then it’s up to them to develop learning habits to address areas where they need more practice.

For example, if I’m struggling with a front snap kick, that’s on me. I can ask for help, turn to other students, or ask the instructor. And at tournaments and belt tests, you’re scored for your performance and success is on you. This teaches accountability and encourages and rewards individual effort.

How does martial arts training compare with team sports in terms of inclusion and competitiveness?

PRESTI: Team sports for younger kids are more inclusive, with everyone getting equal time, but as kids get older, those less confident or less skilled may be benched. But with martial arts, your child will never be excluded.

There is also a different sense of competitiveness. On a team, if you can’t hit the ball, you let the team down — that’s a lot of pressure. But with martial arts, you are challenged at your own ability level. You progress on individual merit and it’s a powerful experience because it was all on you. Your child can say, “I did this.”

Are martial arts best for a certain “type” of child?

PRESTI: No. I work with all types of kids. We instruct kids who struggle with weight or self-esteem. Kids that are smaller than their classmates, that struggle academically or socially, or that would rather be at home behind their computer. All kids can enjoy martial arts. It’s different from other sports they’ve seen or tried. Kids that stick with martial arts are those that need success outside of a group setting. No matter what age your child is now, they can develop athleticism, confidence, and a love of physical activity. And martial arts can benefit kids with a wide array of special needs, as long as it’s developmental appropriate.

What are the benefits of martial arts beyond fitness?

PRESTI: Not only is martial arts athletic, but it builds amazing coordination. Martial arts wires your brain differently: Studies have shown martial arts helps in math, logical progressive reasoning, and standardized test performance. Studies show a correlation between physical fitness and test performance. And other studies specifically show martial arts students score better on memory and other cognitive functions. Martial arts involves moving your arms and legs in different directions, which builds cross-coordination. And it’s helpful for kids with weight issues, since an hour of martial arts burns close to 700 calories.

kids kneeling in martial arts classHow do martial arts impact socialization?

PRESTI: We live in a team sports society where teammates are also friends. But if you’re not on a team, you don’t have that opportunity to socialize. Many martial arts schools are a community. At Core TKD, we have a Halloween carnival, parents’ night out, ice skating, and all sorts of non-martial-arts activities outside of class. We also offer camps in summer and during school breaks. Plus, while the kids are in class, parents get to know each other and become resources for each other. Even though kids compete individually, there is a definite sense of camaraderie and community that helps improve socialization skills.

How do martial arts increase self-confidence?

PRESTI: In martial arts, there’s a notion of ‘this is my success.’ We pay attention to and build up each child. A lot of kids come in with low confidence. They may be picked last in PE class so they don’t want to do physical activities. I’ve noticed over years of teaching martial arts that every child does something well — whether it’s doing a certain kick, doing push-ups, or putting in extra effort. We notice areas where they excel from the start. A good instructor will make each child feel special. We train as a group, but we see each child as an individual. Low-confidence kids that may hide in the back in other sports can’t do this in martial arts — and they don’t want to.

Can you share a recent success story?

PRESTI: Yes. I have a female student now who is on track to complete her black belt this Spring. She is from a family of 12 people that live in a cramped three-bedroom apartment so she doesn’t get a lot of ‘me’ time or space. She has two special needs siblings and is the glue that holds her family together. Her dad enrolled her here because he wanted her to have something that was all hers. On her first day, she said, “I can’t do this,” but her dad told her to try. Now, she’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve had. After two-and-a-half years, she’s completing her black belt — and other kids have told me they want to be like her.

Do martial arts also appeal to kids who do like team sports and are natural athletes?

PRESTI: One of my most determined students is a girl that competes in cross-country and track at school and decided to try martial arts. She’s on my elite team that competes at a high level. She is on our demo team, is at the top of the class, and usually wins awards, but sparring was one area where she was lacking. I encouraged her to recognize this challenge and meet it. She dedicated herself to mastering this weaker skill and is now in the master sparring class. She admits she still doesn’t love sparring, but she appreciates the challenge in an area where she struggles.

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What’s the best way to choose a martial arts studio?

PRESTI: Not every instructor is the right fit for every child. Your child needs to make a connection with their instructor — this is important to keep kids motivated to keep going. When choosing a martial arts program for your child, I encourage shopping two or three schools and asking three important questions:

  1. What do you do if a child misbehaves? Some programs will do push-ups or time outs. At our school, we rely on our culture to prevent misbehaving. Make sure you are comfortable with the school’s disciplinary model and that you will be allowed to observe classes.
  2. How long does the contract last? Some programs ask for a commitment of six months or a year, but others may ask for up to five years. Avoid a contract that locks you in too long. If your child wants to quit, you may be asked to keep paying until the contract runs out.
  3. Who will be teaching my child? Some studios take anyone with a black belt as an instructor. And large programs with hundreds of students may offer no consistency in instruction. You want a studio where your child has the same instructor at every class.

The bottom line is that if a program doesn’t feel right, don’t sign up: You want to make it a good experience for your child. Do your homework first and look for a program you both feel good about. Try a free lesson or a month-long trial before you sign a contract so you can evaluate the programs thoroughly.

Check out Meggie Presti’s Core TKD on ActivityHero and see class and camp offerings as well as after-school programs. Or, if you live in a different geographical area, visit ActivityHero to find martial arts programs near you. Martial arts may be just the thing to get your sedentary or sports-hating kid off the sofa and into the dojo!

References:

VR Chomitz, MM Slining, et al, “Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the northeastern United States,” Journal of School Health, 79 (1) (Jan 2009): 30–37.

Alesi Marianha, Antonino Bianco, et al, “Motor and cognitive development: the role of karate,” Muscle, Ligaments, and Tendons Journal, 4 (2) (Apr 2014): 114–120.

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Martial Arts

How Martial Arts Training Breaks the Cycle of Bullying

Parents expect that learning self-defense techniques will keep their kids safe from bullying. But that’s only one of the benefits of martial arts.

By Laura Quaglio

Martial Arts Helps Kids Build Confidence
Learning self-defense techniques in martial arts class can certainly help kids feel stronger and more confident, while providing them with the skills to protect themselves if need be. But this type of after school activity can also help kids who are not typically the targets of bullying. First, martial arts training often includes life-changing skills that can help the bullies themselves transform into “good citizens.” And it can help kids who may be bystanders (observing others being bullied) by teaching them how to react when they see someone else being targeted.

Here’s how two ActivityHero providers say today’s martial arts programs are tackling the topic of bullying — and why all kids can benefit from this type of after school activity.

Parents who feel their kids are “bully-magnets” have long sought the martial arts to help their children gain the skills and self-confidence they need to stand up for themselves. And with good reason. “Whether on the bus, in the playground, or at school, bullies pick on kids that look like easy targets,” says Victoria “Tori” Navarrete, an instructor and co-owner of Navarrete’s Black Belt Academy in San Francisco, California. Tori and her husband, Master Fernando Navarrete, have more than 30 years of experience in martial arts, are members of the American Taekwondo Association, and are certified in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. “We believe that teaching kids the skills needed to defend themselves both physically and verbally will make them a less likely target, and help them act when they see bullying going on.”

Bill Soto (“Mr. Soto” to his students) — who has been owner and chief instructor at Soto’s Martial Arts in Appleton, Wisconsin, for more than 28 years – agrees. Further, he asserts that kids are often first taught one of the least effective strategies for preventing bullying: avoidance. “In my experience, trying to avoid a bully doesn’t solve anything,” says this fifth-degree black belt in American Martial Arts. In bullying situations at school, he explains, the kids are showing up at the same place as the bully every day. “So the bully usually continues to track them down,” he says. To help combat this very real problem in a more effective way, Bill’s school hosts free bully-prevention seminars for both his students and the local community. “Some martial arts schools focus on what to do during a fight,” he says. “But we need to talk about what kids can do beforehand to prevent the fight.”

Here, some details on how these ActivityHero providers are enabling kids to stop bullying in its tracks.

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They’re Building Physical Strength

Training in martial arts typically involves a variety of exercise, including cardio and strength-training. Students also build endurance by participating in class. Perhaps just as important, though, martial arts students learn how to carry themselves in a way that discourages bullying. “The bully will prey on the child that seems to be walking with their head down, shoulders slumped,” says Mr. Soto. “Putting a child in a martial arts program where they can be constantly encouraged and in a place where they can achieve success – this can help them hold their head high outside the martial arts program,” says Mr. Soto.

The Navarretes agree: In fact, they begin by teaching students to make strong eye contact and walk “tall and strong” before they progress to showing kids how to respond to verbal, then physical attacks. “Taekwondo teaches you to be strong in your body and your mind, and this gives students a certain air of confidence that is evident to those who would mean them harm,” says Tori.

They’re Learning How to Be Good Citizens

“In our school, you are expected to treat others with kindness and respect, help those in need, and do the right thing, no matter what,” says Tori. She’s proud to report that one of their students recently stepped through a circle of kids to put her arm around a boy with physical disabilities who was being bullied. “She told them that he was her friend and not to pick on him, and then led him away,” says Tori. “He told her this was the first time that anyone stood up for him. We could not be more proud.”

Mr. Soto refers to this type of intervention as being an “upstander” instead of a “bystander.” “The problem with a being a bystander is that you’re standing by, doing nothing,” he explains. Instead, kids need to know how to recognize bullying and report it to an adult. But telling kids is not enough, he says. That’s why, during bully-prevention workshops, Bill has two kids role-play a verbal bullying situation, then instructs another child to stand up and tell the bully to stop. Then he has another do the same. And another. “Saying those words can be harder than throwing a punch or a kick,” he says. “Kids have to role play this over and over so they will be able do it when necessary. Knowing what to do isn’t enough: It’s not in the knowing, it’s in the doing.”

They’re Learning to Be Good Leaders

erase-bullying

“The biggest misconception is that martial arts training will make students more aggressive and more likely to engage in physical fights,” says Tori. “While it may seem counter-intuitive, the opposite has been true in our experience.” In fact, Tori says that counselors have referred many “physically aggressive” kids to their school to help the kids channel their energy in a positive way. What’s more, martial arts instructors pride themselves on showing former bullies how to become a positive role model and leader. “We actually have several black belts who were once bullies who now help teach the younger kids,” says Tori.

In fact, a big focus of the curriculum at Soto’s Martial Arts is on “leadership life skills.” “Whether it’s discipline, confidence, courage, focus … those are skills that kids can use every day,” says Bill. “Sometimes people ask me if martial arts is a seasonal sport. I say, ‘Is confidence seasonal? Is attitude?’ Kids are not going to use their self-defense moves every day, but the leadership skills, they will.”

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