The Best Martial Arts for Kids


Whether you’re the parent of a boy or a girl, it feels good to enroll young people in a program that will enhance their self-confidence and help them defend themselves in the world. But how do you choose the best martial art? Depending on where you live and your willingness to facilitate online martial arts classes, you may have to make the decision based off of what’s available in your area. If you’re willing to set boundaries and make time for your child to learn martial arts at home through an online program, then your options are unlimited.

As a child, my daughter took a variety of different martial arts classes including: Kenpo Karate, ATA Taekwondo, Olympic Style Taekwondo, Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Aikido, and Toshindo. My husband and I took adult class versions at the same time and through our martial arts exploration, we learned that Taekwondo is the most straightforward martial art to learn. This is the martial art that we committed ourselves to and I don’t in any way regret it.

We used to go climbing at a climbing gym in the city and from the parking lot, we’d watch students from a nearby Kung Fu school performing beautiful round-ish movements that were so impressive, I just couldn’t wait to try it. So we skipped the climbing that day and signed up for Kung Fu where we took two hour classes twice a week for a year. On our fourth class, the instructor had the entire student body in attendance line up as pairs facing each other and we sparred for two minutes with each person there. The class was made up of students from white to first degree black belt and having already received my black belt in Taekwondo, I expected a lot more from the Kung Fu black belts. But by the end of the class, I’d learned that a first degree black belt in Kung Fu was more like a green belt in Taekwondo (at least at that school). It was hard to translate the flowery Kung Fu movements into something that resembled street defense.

Aikido was an interesting martial art, but as a female, I don’t like grappling because ultimately, once someone grabs me, if the only moves I know are grappling moves, the outcome will be based on my weight and the weight of my opponent. This is true for boys and men too. I like the idea of joint locks and I believe that they can work in my favor in certain circumstances, but my daughter has been trained through martial arts to hit the eyes, the neck, and the nuts before it’s too late. Joint locks are relatively merciful in comparison with a knifehand to the trachea. And honestly, in a self-defense situation, I want my daughter to behave with outright brutality in her own defense. I want her to go for the eyes, not the pinky finger, but that’s just my opinion.

Toshindo was a joke. It barely even passes as a theatrical endeavor. Once I had a man try to pin me down and I said, «But my hand is free and look… I’m poking out your eye.»

He said, «No, you wouldn’t do that.»

I said, «Yes I would.»

We argued back and forth. After class, I decided that our family wouldn’t be going back.

Kenpo Karate was another straightforward martial art, similar to Taekwondo. Kicks and punches in Karate and Taekwondo have a more linear quality than Kung Fu which makes them easier to learn and more practical. A child can learn the kicks and punches for either of these martial arts and they become immediately useful. And even if your child never needs to kick another person, they’ll be better soccer players for all their practice and they’ll probably be less likely to hurt themselves when they fall down too.

When you choose a martial arts school for your child, consider your goals. Are you hoping for them to be able to defend themselves on the street? And how many years are you willing to devote to their martial arts education? If you’d like for your child to walk away with a good sense of self-defense within a year or two, sign them up for Taekwondo or Karate. If you’re willing to have them take classes for four years or more, Kung Fu may have more impressive results. If you want your child to learn grappling specifically, Aikido offers an array of complicated moves that would wow any high school wrestling coach.

The decision is yours. Good luck!

Jennifer Shipp