Best Martial Arts for Kids!
Recently, I’ve had a few people ask me for recommendations on what type of martial arts would be best for their kids.
I love when people decide to involve their children in martial arts. It is truly an amazing experience and one with countless benefits. Now, I will say that practice and pursuit of any discipline has benefits. Especially if that discipline involves some form of healthy exercise and manners/respect. While martial arts aren’t the only option, they are a great one.
First, your child should actually WANT to enroll in a martial arts school. If they want to learn a musical instrument or dance but you’re forcing them to do martial arts, they will NOT enjoy any of it and will NOT get the benefits of it either. I have seen this countless times as a martial arts teacher for the last 18 years. Parents who force their children into martial arts, despite them openly communicating to them that they do not enjoy it and don’t want to do it.
Listen to your kids. They are people and their voice matters.
If you are using martial arts as a way to instill self confidence, start with hearing and respecting their voice. There is no greater way to instill love and confidence in your kids than by listening to them and validating what they want and need. Learning should be fun and enjoyable.
Right off the bat, you need to be comfortable and confident in whatever school you go to and with every teacher there. See my post on “PICKING THE RIGHT SCHOOL OR GYM” While I made it with adults in mind, the same things apply to kids.
So on to my recommendations…
As far as punching and kicking sports/arts go, this is my top choice for kids… and for adults. Muay Thai comes from Thailand and is not only their national sport but a truly beloved and ancient art and cultural tradition. It’s fantastic exercise, super fun, challenging and will instill actual practical skills, if they ever need them. Muay Thai schools are big into staying relaxed and enjoying themselves while training really hard. To me, those are some of the most important elements right there.
Traditionally, there are no belts in Muay Thai but I have seen some Western schools adopt a belt system for kids. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with it but it’s not native to Muay Thai. Belt systems have pros and cons that I will address in another blog post.
Classes are usually broken up into…
Muay Thai involves kicks, punches, knees, elbows and stand up grappling. For me, as long as the place is clean, teachers are kind & skilled and the students are friendly & respectful, it’s a terrific option for exercise, discipline, confidence and practical skills.
This might not be a good option for anyone with head trauma/issues.
BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU
My next recommendation is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). Originally derived from Japanese Jiu Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has become a remarkable, unique and massively popular martial art from Brazil. This is a grappling art that is also incredibly fun, challenging, instills kindness, discipline and teaches real world practical skills. This is not a striking art and focuses solely on grappling (wrestling), primarily on the ground. So for anyone uneasy about punching and kicking, this is a great way to go!
BJJ does use a belt system and is one of the best methods I’ve seen at teaching kids healthy competition and goal setting. Because you’re not getting punched or kicked in the head… dealing with stress and loss is a much easier pill to swallow as well.
Classes are usually broken up into…
The atmosphere in most good BJJ schools is very friendly and calm. It’s method and focus is heavily based on camaraderie and healthy competition, where “losing” isn’t a big deal and instead seen and used as a teaching tool.
This might not be a good option for anyone with spine or joint trauma/issues.
TAE KWON DO
Tae Kwon Do (TKD) can be really wonderful for kids. It is a traditional Korean art that is based primarily on kicking. It is their national sport and also an Olympic sport. While there is some punching, most of the focus is on kicking in the air and on pads. As well as learning forms. So this is a good option if you are not looking for much contact.
TKD uses a belt system and is terrific exercise for kids, as well as great traditional martial arts discipline and structure. Usually, there is no sparring and the focus is on flexibility, athleticism and fun games/activities. So while the real world self defense application is much less than my previous suggestions, TKD can be a great and healthy experience for just about any kid.
Classes are usually broken up into…
Most TKD schools are fun and provide great exercise in a clean environment. There is a lot of protocol which, if done correctly, is a beautiful experience with great benefits.
This might not be a good option for anyone with hip or leg trauma/issues.
It is my belief, backed by tons of scientific data, that children with developing brains, should NOT be getting punched and kicked in the head. So as far as sparring goes; light, friendly competition with light contact to the body is usually what I recommend. If the school/students are good then you can even have light, controlled contact to the face but that’s not for everyone. Hard sparring causes tremendous physical and psychological trauma in adults, but in children it is amplified exponentially. CTE, brain damage, impulse and anger issues, anxiety, depression, ptsd, as well as the deterioration and long term physical trauma are all very clear reasons to not spar hard or fight full contact. Adults can make an informed decision to do these things but children should be taught better. So hard sparring and full contact competition is a big NO!
Light, controlled sparring is an amazing tool for learning how to manage stress and anxiety. It also teaches how to be gracious when winning or losing. Friendly, healthy competition teaches us where we excel and where we have more room for improvement. This is an essential life skill that is difficult to instill other ways.
There is nothing wrong or bad about losing/failing if we use it as an opportunity to improve and enjoy the results of our hard work. It is not shameful or indicative of our self worth.
As long as sparring isn’t being used as an excuse to hurt people or cultivate a negative environment, I’m all for it.
In BJJ all the same things apply, with the exception of the dangers punching and kicking to the head, since there is none of that.
Either way, kids should NOT be getting concussions, broken bones, knocked out or choked out during sparring/competition. Period.
There you go! My top recommendations of martial arts for kids. Boxing is another great option but usually won’t offer much in the way of protocol or traditional martial arts structure and cultural exposure. I love boxing though and have been casually teaching my son to box since he could stand.
There are so many styles and schools, so please don’t limit yourself to my recommendations only. Karate, Judo, Capoeira, Filipino Martial Arts and many more are also AMAZING choices! There are so many awesome and beneficial arts so try a bunch over the years.
It all depends on the school/teacher/students and your child’s personality.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me any time.