Entering a child into martial arts at a young age can set them up for a childhood full of fitness, fun, and discipline. There are many benefits of martial arts for kids when it comes to issues like learning how to pay attention and also how to defend themselves without becoming a bully themselves.

Below you’ll find the ultimate guide for choosing a martial art for your child. It can also help you narrow down your options so that you can give your child a few to choose between themselves. Read on to learn more about the different types of martial arts for kids and what to expect when you enroll them.

When Should Children Start Martial Arts?

While many children start martial arts when they begin grade school (around the same time children start other sports activities) there are many martial arts experts that recommend starting children in a martial art as early as possible. This means in some cases starting your child out in a martial art as early as three years old. (Source: Believe Mixed Martial Arts)

Choosing an age to start your child in martial arts will make a big difference in which martial art your child is eventually enrolled in. Some dojos have programs for children as young as three years old, while other martial arts styles may require that the child be slightly older to participate. Starting children young has associated benefits regardless of which style you choose:

  • Prepares children for school: Like preschool, toddler-age martial arts are a good way to introduce children to an organized cooperative environment outside of their home. It’s also a good way to teach young children to listen to other authority figures than their parents.
  • Increases confidence: Lots of children experience issues with anxiety around leaving home and going to school for the first time. Being part of a martial arts class can instill your child with the confidence they need to thrive. As a result, they may be happier and less shy when first starting school than children who have been sheltered.
  • Teaches children focus and structure: When children are very young, they may find it difficult to adjust to the focus and structure required by activities such as daycare and school. Martial arts help refine these skills and make the transition to other focus-driven activities much easier. The structure also helps to make children feel more secure.

If you’re afraid that your child is too young to start a martial art, no need to worry! All styles of martial arts that include training for very small children keep safety in mind at this age. There is also a lot more focus on building physical endurance and teaching group discipline than on any serious sparring.

In other words, there’s more focus on fun (and discipline) than fighting in preschool martial arts. Children have to be taught physical discipline and self-restraint before they can be trusted to spar. This makes preschool martial arts a suitable exercise activity even for very young children.

Why Should Children Take Martial Arts?

There are many benefits for you to choosing a martial art for your child as early as possible, but regardless of which age you enroll them, all children can gain many advantages from engaging with a martial art at a young age and sticking with it for years. Here are just a few of the reasons why you might consider choosing a martial art for your child:

  • Self-defense: Bullying can be a problem even in good school systems, so teaching your child how to defend themselves in a physical fight at an early age can keep them from being victimized by larger, meaner kids. A child knowing martial arts can serve as a strong bullying deterrent to other children since bullies don’t want a fair fight.
  • Competition: Martial arts are a good way to introduce children to competitive sports since the competition aspect of martial arts relies on an individual’s efforts, rather than depending on a team. However, children still learn cooperative skills in martial arts too. Sparring is more often a team-building exercise in martial arts rather than a serious rivalry.
  • Energy outlet: Anyone who has spent a large amount of time around small kids knows that they’re full of more energy than they know what to do with. Without proper physical stimulation, this can lead to temper tantrums and other impulsive behavioral issues. Martial arts practice helps act as a way to vent this excess energy for calmer behavior.
  • Alternative to team sports: While some children enjoy group activities, other children may be more introverted or interested in parallel play. (Source: Healthline) Children who are independent and individualistic may not like the idea of being part of a team. These children still need a physical outlet, however, and martial arts is a good individual choice.
  • Goal-setting: Martial arts teach children about goal-setting by teaching children martial arts forms in small chunks and preparing them gradually to compete for their new belts as they advance in the ranks. This is a great way to introduce children to delayed gratification and the satisfaction that comes with achieving long-term goals.

Before you choose a martial art for your child, it’s a good idea to know some of the advantages for your child of participating. This way if your child shows initial resistance to starting a new activity, you can give them some reasons why it’s a good idea for them to try and stick it out.

It can be hard for some children to adjust to the rigors of a martial art before they get comfortable with their teacher and dojo, so this early resistance is usually just a phase until they acclimate to the group.

Choosing the Best Types of Martial Arts for Kids

After choosing when to introduce your child to martial arts, the next decision you’ll need to look at is which martial arts style to invest in. The world of martial arts can seem overwhelming when you’re first shopping for a martial arts style – there are so many different types of martial arts, and the style in which they’re taught can be different from dojo to dojo.

These are a few of the best martial arts for kids (Source: One):

  • Taekwondo: Taekwondo is arguably the most popular martial arts style taught as a recreational sport for children and with good reason. This showy martial arts style combines impressive kicks with an emphasis on agility. While not the best martial arts style for self-defense, it’s a good choice to replace other competitive sports.
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu: A big advantage of jiu-jitsu is that many of this martial art’s moves are performed at ground level, which is where many schoolyard fights usually end up. This makes jiu-jitsu a good martial arts style for parents who are worried about their children being able to defend themselves.
  • Muay Thai: Muay Thai style fighting is a great way to teach children self-control since they have to spar very carefully to avoid injury. Unlike other martial arts such as karate and Taekwondo, Muay Thai doesn’t have a ranked system. It isn’t as strong of an option for kids who are motivated by outside goals, but it can teach children to set their own.
  • Wrestling: Western-style wrestling is one of the oldest forms of martial arts in the world, and has a history going back all the way to the days of ancient Greece. Many school systems have a wrestling team, so learning wrestling from a young age is a good way to set children up for competitive sports and scholarships later.
  • Aikido: If you want your child to be involved in martial arts but feel conflicted about them participating in a violent sport, Aikido is a smart compromise since it’s considered one of the least violent forms of martial arts. It’s also a good choice for children who might be overwhelmed by more complicated martial forms since it focuses on simple holds.

If you look into the martial styles above, you’ll see that these different martial arts have drastically different histories and different areas of focus when it comes to the skills that they teach.

The best martial art for your child depends on what they hope to eventually get out of the discipline. It also depends on their individual talents. You can observe children play-fighting to get an idea of what their natural strengths are. Some children might be more drawn to kicking, while others prefer groundwork and wrestling.

How to Choose a Martial Arts Dojo

Once you’ve chosen which martial style you intend to enroll your child in, the next step in choosing a martial art for your child is picking out the right dojo. Picking the right one is important, since the wrong dojo may discourage your child from participating in martial arts. Many dojos are also overpriced for what they have to offer, or may not be run well.

The first step to choosing a dojo is to figure out which dojos offer classes in the martial art you’ve chosen. Depending on where you live and which martial art you choose, you may have only a few options, or you might have dozens. With less common martial art styles like Muay Thai or Aikido, you may end up having to travel some distance for lessons.

Here are a few other tips for choosing your child’s martial art dojo:

  • Observe a few classes. Many dojos will allow parents to observe a class to see how the lessons are structured, especially those dojos with a focus on teaching younger children versus adults. Watch a class or two and observe how the martial art masters interact with the children to see if it’s a dojo you’d feel secure leaving your child at.
  • Check out the class selection. Preferably when you choose a dojo for your child, you’ll want a dojo where the child can stick with one dojo throughout several years of study. This means the dojo needs to be large enough to accommodate children as they age or rank up in their chosen style.
  • Read online reviews. Most martial arts dojos have a website these days where they will showcase their best reviews, and Google Reviews is a great place to scope out any potential dojo to see if there are any negative reviews to be found. While negative reviews of any business should be taken with a grain of salt, multiple bad reviews are a bad sign.
  • Be wary of contract dojos. Some dojos seek to lock students into long-term contracts. This is typically an indication that the dojo offers an inferior level of instruction since they aren’t capable of keeping students enrolled through the quality of the classes alone. It’s smart to be skeptical of any annual fees or contracts a dojo wants you to commit to.

Choosing a martial art isn’t just about picking the right style and dojo for your child. You also need to keep long-term costs into consideration, too.

Lesson Pricing in Children’s Martial Arts

Cost is a significant factor in choosing a martial art for your child since some martial arts are more expensive to practice than others. In some martial arts, you’ll also need to pay for secondary equipment such as weapons.

Martial arts dojos usually structure their pricing in the following ways:

  • Monthly charges: Most martial arts dojos operate by charging a credit or debit card monthly. Some require a connection directly to your checking account. The average costs of monthly martial arts lessons vary from discipline to discipline, but $25-50 per lesson is a common pricing bracket. (Source: Lessons.com)
  • Annual contracts: Some dojos require students to sign up for a six-month or twelve-month contract that requires them to pay monthly regardless of whether they continue to take classes or not. This can be financially advantageous for dojos but can be a problem for parents who want their children to be able to switch dojos at will.
  • Per lesson: If you arrange one-on-one lessons for your child’s chosen martial art, the instructor may charge per lesson rather than on a monthly basis. This can sometimes be beneficial for parents since it allows them to arrange lessons during irregular times if they can’t find time to schedule a weekly or bi-weekly class.

Whichever type of pricing you decide to go with, be sure that the dojo you sign up with is a reputable one to make sure you get your money’s worth for your child.

You should also look at the length of the classes that your child is signing up for. Thirty minutes per class isn’t long enough to learn much in martial arts since it takes several minutes just to warm up and wind kids down in a lesson, so try to aim for classes that last for at least an hour instead to see serious results.

Life Skills Learned Through Children’s Martial Arts

Along with the general skills learned in martial arts that can benefit children as they grow, there are also other life skills that are taught in martial arts that can be an advantage to your child no matter which martial art they choose. Here are some of the life skills learned through martial arts regardless of the style (Source: The Way):

  • Courage: Any kind of fighting art requires courage. However, it also takes a lot of courage just to try something new and stick with it. Parents should be compassionate and encouraging with their children when they first start a martial art since early attempts can be daunting.
  • Endurance: Martial arts teaches both physical and mental endurance. The forms required by martial arts require a certain level of strength, balance, and agility that the dojo should continually work to improve as the child advances in their chosen martial art. Parents can also help increase endurance at home with other physical activities.
  • Perception: Situational awareness is one of the most important aspects of fighting that students learn. This awareness can help martial arts students be more insightful about other situations they find themselves in. Martial arts also teach children to look for an advantage or opening rather than impulsively jumping into action.
  • Humility: Like any sport, competitions in martial arts have winners and losers. Becoming disciplined in martial arts means coming to accept that mistakes are a part of learning. It also teaches children how to lose gracefully.
  • Respect: In many dojos, there is a strong focus on respect – respect for oneself, respect for one’s elders, and respect for the dojo. This sense of respect for everyone around them can lead to a child that acts more mature and well-behaved over time. This maturity can carry on into their adult years too if they stick with their martial art.
Jason Wilson on Guiding Kids Through Martial Arts

The skills above are universal across martial arts systems, so no matter which one you end up choosing for your child they will benefit from them. These are life skills that will not only allow children to adapt better in school settings, they also set children up for later success throughout their lives.

How to Help Your Child Practice Martial Arts

After you and your child choose which martial art you want to involve them in, a key aspect of keeping them motivated and engaged with martial arts between practice sessions in the dojo is to have regular practice sessions at home. It’s easy for parents to help their children practice martial arts between lessons if they invest in the time and a little basic equipment.

Follow these tips to help your child practice martial arts between lessons:

  • Invest in some boxing pads. Help your child practice their forms and drills by holding up boxing pads for them to aim their punches and kicks at. This can help them improve their endurance in class and can give them more confidence when they have to perform the moves in front of other people.
  • Research your child’s chosen martial art. Know what the forms your child is practicing are supposed to look like so you can gently correct their form when practicing at home. While practicing at home together is a fun idea for bonding, you don’t want your child to pick up any bad habits or postures their teacher will then have to train out of them later.
  • Reward them for their hard work. While ideally learning a martial art should serve as its own reward, young children can often be better motivated by tangible rewards like a small trip or a treat like thirty extra minutes of television. This will help keep practice sessions fun and encourage children to stay engaged.

If you have invested in a few hour-long lessons a month in a martial art for your child, this should teach them the basics of what they need to know. But setting up some kind of casual training regimen outside of the dojo can help children stay more active in the sport and can give parents a chance to practice together with their children.

Other Activities That Help With Martial Arts

Choosing a good discipline for your child is important, but there are other activities that your child can engage in that will help enhance their studies in martial arts. These activities act as a way for children to enhance their abilities in the dojo while also getting a break from the rote memorization of katas and forms.

Here are a few other recreational activities that can help children with martial arts:

  • Meditation: The mental and emotional benefits of daily meditation are proven for both children and adults. Many martial arts dojos already incorporate meditation as part of their teachings as a way to invoke stillness in the mind. Meditating with your child between martial arts classes can help them become calmer and focused.
  • Dance: Dance is another individualistic sport that focuses on the connection between mind and body while increasing a person’s agility. Whether you get in some Dance Dance Revolution rounds with your child or enroll them in a formal dance class, dancing can help make a martial artist more agile and strong.
  • Tumbling: Gymnastics focuses on flexibility, agility, and upper body strength. These are all skills that can come in doubly handy in martial arts applications too. The balance beam is an especially useful tool for martial artists since improving your sense of balance can help prevent an opponent from taking you to the mat.

Encouraging your child to pursue other activities outside of martial arts can help to make them more well-rounded while also improving their martial arts skills at the same time.

Martial Arts Are Always a Good Choice

The best martial art for your child will depend on a lot of different factors and what styles are available to you in your area.

However, no matter which discipline you ultimately go with, your child is sure to benefit in multiple ways from being exposed to the dojo lifestyle.