A friend asked on social media, “Should I sign up my 8-year-old for karate lessons?” I understand that people take to their phones to ask such questions, but I believe certain inquiries are best made at the source.
When I was an assistant instructor in martial arts for kids, I could answer this question with an honest passion. I also ran the office and sold programs that had the potential to improve lives at any age.
Is karate good for kids?
It can be. It has great potential for the right student, and, of course, this extends to the parents, too. I’ll share what I learned over the years from the angle of the school where I worked and also earned a black belt.
Do you believe the movie hype that karate students go out looking for fights to test their skills by creating a mixed martial art for kids-style event in an alley? If so, then let’s break this down. Not all karate schools for kids are created equal.
The American style of karate taught where I worked and earned my black belt is of a high standard, with a teaching principle grounded in respect:
- Respect for others
- Respect for self
- Respect for the art
- Respect for an opponent
Safety measures when preparing your kid for a karate class
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Safety first!” In karate, this means being aware of those around you and always wearing safety gear as necessary in sparring class or in a tournament.
Sparring gear in karate classes for kids includes:
- Properly fitting mouthguard
- Foot, shin, and hand gear
- Rib guard
- Groin protection for female and male participants
Aside from outside covering for the body, it is imperative to have internal safety measures in place for the moments when your child doesn’t win a round or happens to forget their form (kata) steps in order.
Are you ready to encourage the student when they are not the winner or freeze instead of finish? When I was teaching and a student told me how nervous or scared they were, I reminded them it meant they were actually excited and that feeling was their body being ready to try their hardest.
I use that phrasing for myself to this day to keep nerves at bay when I’m trying something new or before a crucial conversation.
Karate lessons for kids
Here’s what you should know about karate and what typically happens in a karate class.
1. Being humble is a baseline teaching of martial arts classes for kids
The right instructor will guide the young so that the skills being taught (like sparring for points, not knockouts) are for the dojo (workout space) only.
If that’s the case, when do young students get to use what they’re learning? When do they get to go punch out the bully in class? Karate lessons for kids teach the art of walking away. (What?!) Unless you have participated in a deep-dive study of which martial art is best for kids, you may not realize this.
I went into labor with my 1st son while working at the karate studio. Many years later, I was sparring around with him during his black belt test. As a black belt mom, you could say I was “all in” with the benefits of martial arts for kids.
2. Karate classes for kids should not be used as the Santa threat
As an insider, I can tell you this: there are parents who use the threat that the instructor will be upset with the child about grades, behavior, or even poor sleeping habits.
Karate for kids is not to be used as a threat to encourage proper behavior. I had some parents say they’d be withholding classes as a punishment. Not only was it bad for the student to be excluded from the disciplined community, but it was also not helpful on the business side of things.
I’d encourage the parent to set up a one-on-one chat with their favorite instructor or have the student attend class but not participate. Children understand the feeling of missing out on a group activity more than a lecture on their behavior. When they sit on the sidelines and watch their classmates in action, they crave to be part of the fun and excitement.
3. Karate classes for kids require family support
The benefits of karate for kids go beyond the walls of the dojo. They include patience, kindness, confidence, discipline, helpfulness, and awareness. This can spill into the school classroom to include being focused, appreciative, aware, and respectful.
When parents observe the lessons being taught through karate, they can assist by echoing these lessons at home:
- Being responsible
- Being considerate
- Being kind
- Being a great listener
When listening is taught in person or during online karate classes for kids, the benefit flows to the whole family if they’re aware of the teachings. The connection between the instructor and student is considered central in the best martial arts for kids. It goes beyond the physical movement, fostering a culture of belonging to the elite class earning the title of a martial artist.
4. Do the work and the ranks will follow
Belt ranks are earned, never given. When instructors demonstrate karate moves for kids, they do it in a way that ensures the inclusion of each participant. Karate students don’t get benched like in other sports. Where else can a wheelchair-bound or otherwise physically challenged student earn a degree and prove they can defend themselves?
There are standard uniforms that keep all beginners at the same level mentally before they begin the physical journey towards their martial arts goals. Whatever the parent’s income, every student starts here and now, in the same color of uniform, earning each belt with the guidelines followed by those who came before them.
5. Patience before the reward
The system of belt advancement in martial arts training can’t be rushed. There is a zen awareness and a patient pace that makes every belt advancement ceremony meaningful and well-deserved.
Some students may be told to wait until the next belt testing as they just aren’t at the proper level.
This happened to me along my journey, and looking back now, I realize that while it was tough, it was also the right decision at the time. It’s a foundation for life skills, having to wait to earn the next badge and then realizing it made the reward that much sweeter.
Martial arts training ideas for kids
Online martial arts training for kids is another way to keep those karate skills up to date. Whether it’s going over forms (a set of defense moves against an imaginary opponent) or keeping up cardio for sparring, getting an instructor’s support with the click of a button is another option for keeping skills sharp. The challenge is to ensure the student is doing the work and tracking their training.
The challenge for parents is to support their child’s sports interests with goals, adherence to training schedules, and proper downtime. Parents need to realize that if they want their children to achieve success in sports, the coach or instructor is the voice the young athletes should be listening to. Not only is sideline coaching intrusive, but it’s also embarrassing for the student to have family members yelling across the field or gym.
Karate games for kids
I’ve been lucky enough to see the many benefits of martial arts for children and teens. One of the most surprising training ideas put forward is practicing the sport through karate games for kids. When an instructor changes their mode of teaching from strict guidance on precision moves and safety awareness to a loose, playful activity, the benefits of karate games become evident.
- Involvement of all members of the class
- Friendly competition with a game of tag or chase
- Training drills are presented in a creative way.
- Laughter is part of the lesson.
- Paying attention and listening skills prevail.
Placing skills and drills into a more playful format is a cross-training of sorts. We all learn by repetition, and having a variety of ways to absorb the information is an excellent way to lock in the lesson, with fun as a side benefit.
If someone asked me, “Is my 8-year-old ready for karate?” I’d never respond quickly. I’d counter by asking the parent, “Are you ready to have a karate student in the home? Are you ready for the monthly expense and supporting the lessons learned at the karate studio?”
You see, martial art isn’t just a sport. It’s a lifestyle that can provide a foundation for the whole family to share lessons such as treating others with respect, building confidence, learning to lose with grace, having discipline, finding focus, and showing kindness to an opponent.