Why Every Single Kid Should Be a "Karate Kid"

In her six short years, my daughter has participated in a variety of activities including ballet, musical theater, science, Spanish, hip hop, swimming, art, and creative dramatics. During each class, she says she loves it and is always excited to go every week, but when it's over and I ask if she wants to sign up for the next session, she always gives a very resolved "no," and suggests yet another activity she'd like to try instead. The latest one — karate — surprised me in the best way possible, first because I thought it was a pretty badass choice for a kindergarten girl, and second, because I'm pretty sure karate is exactly what this wild lady needs.

And your child could probably benefit from martial arts (tae kwon do, jujitsu, and aikido are just a few other options), too. Here are six reasons why martial arts and kids are a match made in karate-kick heaven.

  1. Martial arts teaches respect. The first skill my daughter learned in her very first karate class was to bow to her teacher, or master, who introduced the practice by talking about respect. From that bow to lessons about waiting for the next command, respect is one of the most important benefits of martial arts, and according to research, it often translates to school, helping to improve classroom behavior and even grades.
  2. Martial arts teaches self-control and focus. Parents whose children have ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) regularly report big results from martial arts program since self-control and concentration are underdeveloped skills in kids with ADHD. All kids will benefit from martial arts' emphasis on focusing on the task at hand and listening to the instructor.
  3. Socialization and teamwork are key skills. Many martial arts programs require children to work together, even if they're in competition with one another. Respecting your partners and opponents at all times is important on the mat and in life. For kids who have a hard time making friends on the playground, it's often easier to find buddies in a space that includes a shared interest.
  4. Kids learn to set and achieve goals. Progress in many martial arts practices is marked by the belt system, starting with the beginner-level white belt through a variety of colors until the final black belt. Since testing for each new level generally takes place every few months, progressing through the levels is a good exercise in creating and achieving long-term goals, which in turn promotes self-confidence and self-esteem.
  5. It encourages physical fitness. Coordination, muscle control, and aerobic endurance are all important in martial arts, so signing your kid up for karate or tae kwon do also means you know they're getting regular exercise instead of sitting in front of a screen.
  6. Violence is not a side effect, but learning self defense is. Kicks and punches might sound violent, but a structured martial arts practice is more likely to teach kids peaceful conflict resolution skills and to emphasize the importance of avoiding physical altercations. However, children will learn how to protect their bodies from violent attacks, and that's a skill every mom can get behind.