T Nation

Martial Arts for Kids


I have two boys ages four and five. They have expressed interest in 'Karate'. Does anyone have input as to which martial arts discipline they would recommend etc.?

Thanks so much, AG


Well Taekwondo seems to be the most fun for younger kids, but in my opinion just a flashy "dance" type karate. Hmm Hapkido and Akido(sp?) are very fun also. If your kida are into wrestling I'd go with a type of Jiu-Jitsu. First I would really check around for instructors that are good with young children. The martial art may be fun, but with a worthless instructor your kids don't like, it would suck. Also find whats available in your area. A lot of places offer a free class or two for your kids for them to see if they like it. Also I highly recommend that you participate with them in it as well. When I was younger my dad participated in wrestling with me, and those became great memories.


AG, I can't give you too much direction on particular disciplines, but I will give you our experience with Karate.

My boy started with 'Karate Mighty Mites' when he was about 5. He took the same mighty mites course a couple of times, and was ready to move up. The same Sensei teaches kids thru teens at the local rec center, and agreed to let him start at 6, although the required starting age was supposed to be 7. He is now a white belt with 3 stripes, and he still enjoys it.

I think you'll find if they start in any martial art, you'll quickly find out if they really want to persue it.

It really is great for kids!

\|/ 3Toes


AG - I can't recommend karate for kids enough. The impact it's had on my 5 yr old son has been tremendous! Discipline, listening skills, and goal setting are just a few of the things that he is learning without even knowing that he is learning them. I really believe that his time spent in karate gave him a real head start to school (He started at 4 yrs old). Makes a dad REAL damn proud to hear him answer someone on his own "yes sir".

As far as what kind of martial art, well I don't think that matters as much as the shool and the teacher. Go to the school and get a feel for the instructors and the school itself. My son started at the same place I go to simply because I knew the school and the instructor to be very good with children. Ask the head instructor what their education methodology is in regards to kids instruction. And definitely sit in on a class just prior to signing them up.

Any dojo that emphasizes character development along with martial skills will probably be fine. My dojo really supports what kids should be doing in school as far as report cards and discipline go. That being said, I come from an American Karate/Kickboxing background and I have a love for the Chinese arts like Kung Fu and Wing Chun.

I also have a feeling that traditional martial arts are better for kids than other arts such as kickboxing, etc. Forms memorization and discipline being the reasons.

Anyways, I hope this helps!


I like"chtdrmn's" post.
I've been involved in the martial arts since 1970. For me, Judo was the most fun. Also, Judo players are generally in the best shape of all the martial arts folks. The problem is, there is very little good Judo in America. My job has taken me to Japan for a couple of years. The average quality of the Judo here is better than 99% of what I saw in America.
Next is Aikido. Although, the best martial art I've ever practiced. Prgress is slow due to the nature of Aikido. It is truely awesome. If the instructor is not sufficiently advanced or the class is poorly led, broken bones will surely follow. Again, very little good Aikido in America.
Judo or Aikido - all depends on the instructors local to you. In Judo instructor should be recognized by the Kodokan - look it up on the internet. In Aikido instructor should be recognized by the Aikikai Foundation. For both Judo and Aikido only those two organizations provide quality control. Anything else and you don't know what your getting. Feel free to email if you need links or anything. Good luck, jim


Up and coming Shogun warrior


That's awesome!

Good question AG1. My daughter's only 2, but we were planning on getting her into dance or gymnastics in about a year.

Some form of martial arts would be cool too, a few years later depending on how she likes dance or gymnastics.


Small hijack. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion I can't help but wonder if maybe you have had little or just poor experince with Taekwondo. Also, please don't call it a type of Karate, they are different disciplines from different countries.

But to get back on topic, I would suggest checking out different schools of different types of martials arts and just watch some classes to get an idea of what they are like and even talk to some of the instructors and maybe other parents who are watching their own kids. I also think the suggestion of enrolling with your kids is a great idea, wish my parents had done that.T


Judo also doesn't get into the gimmicy types of "Karate for Kids" programs. A club might have a kids class, but it isn't usually that sort of take your money while we babysit for you and pretend to teach something.
As far as quality of instructors, there are 3 governing bodies in the US. The USJI, USJF, and USJA. I've trained at schools under all 3 organizations and find that the USJI and USJF tend to have good instructors, but the USJA doesn't seem to have the same standards. I hate to get into the politics of that stuff, but the stereotype seems to reinforce itself everywhere I go. Then again, I'm coming from a competitors mindset which isn't necessarily the most important thing for a child. For kids any teacher that is patient, kind, but firm will probably be capable of giving them a good foundation in Judo regardless of their affiliation.


There are many martial arts out there that are great for kids. They all instill discipline and they teach the children many skills that they can use in there lifetime. I personally like Jeet Kune Do. A childs learning potential is unlimited if given a chance. The following is a list of important attributes that, when developed, will improve a child's mental and physical capabilities.

Health and Fitness
The reason the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do can apply to every aspect of life is because of the parallel affect. Life is filled with many ups and downs. To experience happiness, you have to know what sadness feels like. Training and learning the many attributes of martial arts What ever your choice may be enables the child to turn a failure into a success.

After years of training experience, the child will grow into a responsible, disciplined adult. Most of all It's just down right fun to watch them in those little outfits and looks of there faces when they break that first board. Hey man whatever the choice children are our future, teach them well.



I have to disagree here. Taekwondo and Karate are intimately tied. A brief history lesson:

Prior to the Japanese occupation of Korea, native martial arts like Hwarang-Do and other combative practices were quite prevalent. Buddhism had taken a firm hold in Korea, so the influence of Chinese martial arts was undeniable. NONE of these native Korean arts resembled TKD.

When Japan occupied Korea, all native martial arts were banned. During this period, Karate was proliferated throughout the Korea nation. So much so that Koreans began to develop their own, "new," modern martial art known writ large as Tang Soo Do, or, "The Way of the China Hand." For those who are well informed, the Chinese characters which represented the word Karate in Japan originally meant "The Way of the China Hand."

The Japanese latered altered the Kanji and changed the its meaning to "Empty Hand" for nationalistic purposes, and to distance the art its Chinese origins.

So now, we have Tang Soo Do and Karate. For all intents and purposes Tang Soo Do was/is Karate taught by Korean masters. Looking at the forms alone, the similarities between TSD and the Shotokan School of Karate are remarkable. There is atleast a 90% overlap in the forms.

After WWII and the deoccupation, Korean arts flourished. TSD split into numerous Kwans, each master teaching something slightly different. This is why you see the dichotomy between Hee Il Cho's TKD, the Kukkiwon TKD, and Choi's ITF TKD.

Not getting ahead of ourselves here, around the 1950s General Choi met with numerous leaders of the different Kwans and tried to unify the Korean Kwans (still very much "Karate" for all intents and purposes) into a single Korean art - Taekwondo. Unfortunately, politics and internal conflict caused a further rift, and the Kwans remained largely disparate.

The major evolution of Korean arts came with the development of Kukkiwon. Here, new forms were created and the definitive "Korean"-ness came into play. Olympic competition was a goal from the beginning for the WTF, which was largely an extension of Kukkiwon. In contrast, General Choi's forms were the byproduct of he himself, while Kukkiwon came from a meeting of numerous masters.

Unfortunately, the "Palgwae" poomse were slopped together in two weeks time, with the ultimate intention of making TKD "look" different from Karate. By the 70s however, the art had changed significantly. The development of the Taegeuk poomse shortened stances and emphasized the new kicking slant brought into TKD, with full-contact sparring taking the focal point of the art.

Something to note - prior to Korean influence, Karate practitioners were not throwing spinning heel kicks, spinning round kicks, or any of the more advanced kicking techniques taught today. This was a large byproduct of the Korean influence. There has been an extensive cross proliferation of techniques between Karate and Taekwondo.

Today you can find Tang Soo Do schools that teach something very akin to what TKD looked like before its evolution. The particular Kwan TSD evolved from (Moo Duk Kwan) also has a TKD arm. Some Moo Duk Kwon masters refused to join Kukkiwon and the TKD banner, thus retaining the older techniques.

ITF schools are harder to find. Recently a major split occurred in ITF due to the passing of General Choi. The forms of ITF utilize a "wave" motion and keep the longer stances of Karate. Kukkiwon (or "WTF" TKD) is the TKD we all know and most people lambast today. Most schools teach only the sport aspect of TKD.

Much like Muay Thai, which has an extensive traditional lineage, only the techniques applicable in competition are taught.

So, to say the TKD is not Karate is a misnomer. TKD, I would argue, is as much Karate as any of the native Japanese or Okinawan arts. Feel free to disagree, but given the historical circumstances, I feel that ignoring TKD's evolution from Japanese Karate is ignoring the very firmament of the art itself.

I've been a TKD practitioner for 9 years. One of the requirements of receiving a black belt was the recitation of a fairly extensive history of TKD. In this, the dogma of TKD as a "3000 year old art" was central to the theme. I wish the powers that be in TKD would accept the fact that TKD is a modern martial art, and has little tie (in its current incarnation) to anything beyond the integration of Japanese Karate.

That said, TKD is a great, physical art. Far more demanding physically than any traditional Karate, I feel like at a young age TKD may be the way to go.


I'd agree with Darshu on this one. I started with TKD when I was young, but I quickly lost interest when my interest switched from "having fun" to "learning to defend myself". As a result, I was stuck with a lot of relatively useless training, as well as several habits that could have gotten me severely injured and/or laughed at if I ever need to protect myself.
The advantages of Judo are that it allows for competition and provides a quality base for self-defense.

I like hapkido as well, but I attended a few classes with my 11 year old, and he came away with ideas about throat strikes and various jointlocks that could seriously hurt someone if he happened to be showing off or even just playing around. Judo or Brazillian Jujitsu are great for teaching quality defense without a lot of flash.


I've seen this advertised in a couple places: http://www.lildragons.com/


Useless? Which is why Georges St. Pierre, David Loiseau, and Andy Hug all cross-train(ed) in TKD. In terms of athletic demands, TKD is way up there. That said, I'm a huge fan on Judo.

BTW, did you know...

BJJ is not Jiujitsu at all. Jiujitsu, properly romanized from the Japanese Kanji, is Juujutsu. Juujutsu refers to the art of hand-to-hand combat when fighting against an armed opponent. It was a combination of numerous forms of hand to hand engagement, much like what our modern military trains in today, and became known as the Samurai fighting art.

Interestingly, Juujutsu has little to do with modern day "Brazilian Jiujitsu." Calling Brazilian Jiujitsu "Jiujitsu" is akin to calling the fighting method of our solidiers in the Revolutionary War a "fighting style." Jiujitsu, as it is understood in its homeland of Japan, is practiced primarily for historical re-enactment purposes.

This, along with Zen archery and a number of other budo pursuits form the foundation of the modern practice of ancient Samurai arts. Aikido actually is a far closer relative of BJJ than "Jiujitsu," or correctly pronounced and romanized "Juujutsu." Juujutsu involves few, if any, of the techniques of BJJ.

So what then is BJJ? Kosen Judo. The Kosen Judo school was a complimentary offshoot of the pre-WWII Kodokan Judo club. They focused on "newaza" or "ground control" as the formation of their art, and eventually, this was molded into the common Judo lexicon. What the Gracies learned was not Jiujitsu/Juujutsu but JUDO! JUDO!

So why does modern day Judo look so different?

After WWII, Kodokan shut down and was only allowed to reopen so long as it abandoned its militaristic bent. In concurrence with SCAP, the new Kodokan Judo began focusing on olympic competition, and changed the rules and legimate competition techniques to focus more on throwing.

So in reality, BJJ is really Brazilian Judo, but in order to distance themselves from the Japanese, the Brazilians erroneously began referring to their art as Jiujitsu.


You may be thinking of Olympic style Tae Kwon Do that has been popularized recently. There are other disciplines.



As others have said, meet the instructor and base your decision on that. Any style can teach your children self-control and discipline, but only certain teachers can convey the material in a child-friendly manner.

Decide whether your kids are ready for a serious MA course, or if they'd be better served by one of the "kid-dragon-tot" MA sessions offered by numerous schools.

Remember the following. If the instructor doesn't have MA ability, he'll never convey ability to his students. If a fair number of his upper-ranking students aren't of decent skill, don't bother if you're serious about your children learning something. And even if the instructor is skilled, it doesn't mean that he's a good teacher. It only means that he "might" be a good teacher.

Good luck. This is actually a tough choice to make.


I would agree 100% to enroll with your kids if you can. I've seen that at my school, at least 50% of the parents will end up enrolling too. On fridays my son and I go to open gym where we can work together, We work on his kicks, his kickboxing and defensive set, etc. He absolutely LOVES it when he gets to be in the same class as his dad and says he wants to keep doing karate so he can be a black belt too. It's really neat when the martial arts can be a family thing.

When I first started back in 1994, I studied with a family of five, almost all of them black belts and all three of the kids were out of the house and on their own. No matter how busy their lives were, they always got to karate and worked out together. I always thought that was kinda cool. I hope my son and I have that kind of relationship when he's that age.

Anyways, I could go on forever about the benefits of kids in the martial arts. Bottom line, it doesn't matter what style of martial art. It matters more the teacher and the school. Aikido, Kung Fu, Karate, Judo. They can all be good.


I don't think it's that clear. It appears that that the symbol for "kara" means "empty" or "barren", and that "barren" was a word used in refering to China. From what I gather, it really is unknown if karate means empty hand or chinese hand ("the way of" would be karate-do), although the use of weapons seems to support the "chinese hand" hypothesis. And of course, regardless of the name, there is little doubt that japanese MA are based on those from China.

sorry for the hijack =)


In terms of martial arts for kids, just be warned that any dojo willing to give a child a black belt is probably not a good choice. If they are willing to look you in the eye and lie to you like that, they are probably just trying to take your money. If you are really, really lucky, you will find an instructor that refuses to accept money for teaching.

My aikido instructor promised his sensei that he would never take money for training. All dues go to the rental of the room we use and for seminars (where extremely high ranking practitioners are brought in to teach for a weekend or so). Finding one of these guys is probably almost impossible, but if you come across one, you've one the lottery.


I did Taekwondo in the American Taekwondo Association (ATA). It very well could have been a bad instructor that made my experiences different. I found it to be a fun discipline, but my main goal in taking Martial Arts was for self defense. I switched from TKD to Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which in my opinion are more defense oriented according to my experiences. TKD may very well be a great martial art, but my instructors made it seem more flashy with the kata and such. So my opinions are based on my experience with it in my hometown and watching it in the Olympics which made it seem, to me, not defense oriented.