Choosing a hobby or activity with and for your child might be a hard thing to do. All activities, like playing some instrument, learning languages, playing some sport or training martial arts has both fans and critics. Some people think playing sports is too dangerous for example, and a controlled physical exercise environment is better for the development of the child, whereas many people believe in the freedom of letting them even potentially hurt themselves. The same is the case for martial arts, especially physically intense ones like karate. There are many concerns on the internet and all over the world about karate potentially turning children into bullies, forcing them to take injuries they shouldn’t, and a lot else. So in today’s article, we want to discuss whether karate is good for kids or not!
Karate is an excellent choice for kids, since if trained properly, not only does it develop fighting skills and physical fitness, but also mental clarity, focus, and social skills.
Some readers might find it weird or controversial when we talk about how it can improve things like social skills as well, so we will definitely elaborate on all the different aspects of a child’s life that karate can improve, and improve significantly. Read on to find out more about the benefits of karate for children!
Benefits of Karate for Kids
There isn’t an article on the internet long enough to describe in detail all the benefits karate has for young people. The list is virtually endless, and the explanations as to why those benefits exist are even longer. Since we aren’t aiming at writing an endless article, we will summarize the major effects and benefits karate has on young children and their psychological and physiological development.
So first and foremost, let’s talk about physiological improvements and benefits. These are the most immediately obvious ones since they are basically what made karate famous, together with the utility of karate in self-defense. When you look at a skilled karate practitioner, you usually see a fit person, who doesn’t look like a bodybuilder, yet there is something very elegantly intimidating about them. The way they walk changes, the way they hold themselves and move, all change due to karate. Karate is a martial art which greatly improves physical fitness, and it doesn’t do so by isolation strength techniques like most of bodybuilding. Full-body, combined strength exercises like pushups, situps, squats, and a lot of other almost acrobatic strength training are done. Aside from that, there is a lot of stretching in karate, which will also help with the toning of the muscles that have been developed through strength training.
Karate also develops functional muscle. This means that the size of your muscle isn’t what matters, rather the way it functions, which will be specific when it comes to karate. You can go to a gym and build an arm like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but not be able to punch properly, whereas all strength training will contribute to general fitness and functionality in karate. All of these physical aspects have amazing effects on general fitness, cardiovascular health, and things like lung capacity as well.
To move on from the physiological perspective, the psychological is also one that should never be left out. Firstly, we will talk about the way the previous physiological changes affect child cognitive and brain development in many ways.
The way this happens, mostly, is by increased and higher quality blood-flow to the brain. Meaning, that your brain will be more oxygenated due to the general fitness of your body, and this oxygenation is key to clarity, development, emotional regulation, and a lot of other functions. It really is just like when you breathe properly as a person, you feel a lot better than if you are breathing smoke. Also, exercise like karate burns cortisol, the stress hormone, which in turn also reduces blood pressure to healthy levels for people who might have a tendency for higher blood pressure. This will make the person in general feel a lot less stressed and a lot more healthy.
The other types of somewhat more abstract psychological effects are the functions and specific parts of your brain that karate helps develop. One of these is hand-eye coordination. Try this: take a boxing bag or any item you can safely punch with high speed, put a cross in the middle, and try to hit it as precisely as you can 10 times. Well, a trained karateka would hit precisely in the center a lot more times than the average person. The connection between their eyes and the motion produced by their limbs has been strengthened, and the circuitry in the brain responsible for this has also. Aside from this, reflexes are also improved, spatial cognition, which is the awareness of space around you even when you aren’t directly looking at it, and a lot others are massively improved by training karate.
Another, perhaps the most obvious benefit of karate is the ability of the practitioner to defend themselves a lot better than the average person. Karate was made for self-protection, so naturally, if someone trains it for a long time, they will inevitably get better and punching, kicking, blocking, perhaps grappling if we are talking about a traditional karate school. This also has many benefits, even aside from the obvious one of being able to protect your life in a dangerous situation, or perhaps the lives of your loved ones. You also become a lot more confident, you won’t behave in a certain way because you are scared, you will rather be able to say the truth and be assertive instead of submissive, which is really important for the healthy development of a child, since being submissive and repressing their identity usually results in depression and anxiety in the teenage years and later.
What is a Good Age to Start Karate?
We have written another article about this, elaborating on the issue regarding the age and Karate. However, it is only right to provide a short analysis of the best age to start training karate when we are talking about its benefits for children since there might be an age when they are most likely to reap a lot more of the benefits than at other ages. Signing up a toddler for karate classes will do more harm than good, for example, since they have no way to understand what the instructors are talking about or what anything means, and they are more likely to just experience it as a very stressful situation, with no benefits whatsoever.
So, to cut to the chase, the general consensus on the best age for a child to start training is 6. The reason for this is that by that age they have already developed some motoric abilities which will enable them to effectively train karate, but they are still very young and extremely quick to learn. Training karate effectively takes a couple of years anyway, so by the time the children get to anything more complicated, they will have grown. This way, we can say that they grow together with the karate they are learning.
Another great reason we recommend starting as early as 6, is due to physical endurance. From personal experience as well as empirical data, we know that children have insane amounts of energy to put into the world and whatever they are doing. One of our colleagues was, for example, a competitive swimmer when they were young. Training for a whole hour, sometimes swimming almost 2 miles in that much time, didn’t seem like a big deal and he got easily accustomed to the physical strain put on the body. After he quit swimming, he went to a pool years later and said that he couldn’t swim more than a hundred yards without having to stop. This is the type of energy that makes it a lot easier and more efficient for a child to start learning karate than a grown-up. A 40-year-old would maybe need months or years to get up to the training level required to take part in competitions, whereas a child only needs to learn the technique itself, stamina, and energy are given.
Starting later is great, too. Actually, starting at 50 is still better than not starting at all. But if you are thinking about signing your children up for karate, consider how much easier it is for them to train now than it would be in a couple of years. Age 6 is around the sweet-spot for starting, but anywhere up to 12-14 is still a great place to start.
Will Karate Make My Child More Aggressive?
There is a very common misconception about the nature of martial arts, which comes from people not training it with the right intentions. This misconception is that martial arts make children more aggressive. Though this idea is just flat-out false, we will acknowledge that the idea didn’t come out of nowhere, and has some basis on human experience.
So, first, why do people think karate has a bad effect on children and makes them more aggressive? The reason for that is that unfortunately, children with a tendency towards antisocial behaviour seek out channels and ways to express their internal turmoil, suffering and aggression, and often end up training some sort of martial art or combat sport, since that way they have a “morally just” reason to do what they would do otherwise. So in short, aggressiveness exists outside of karate, it is a personal, psychological behaviour or aspect of one’s personality, and actually, it cannot be placed in someone through martial arts. The only time this might seem like it is the case is when someone has suppressed emotional anger, and training karate unlocks that, which results in aggressive behaviours even outside of karate, which wasn’t seen before. Otherwise, karate usually has no effect on the aggression of a child, it can only help one channel it, which can be and is abused.
So yes, the conclusion is that karate does not cause aggression, just like painting doesn’t cause creativity. It can help someone develop an already existent part of their personality, so it can act as a catalyst, but in no way can one put the blame on the activity itself, rather than the actual person who is aggressive.
Does Karate Help With Anger?
As an extension to the last part of this article, we will also talk about how karate is actually a great form of anger-control for certain children. Karate is a very physically expressive and explosive form of movement. People who have anger-issues usually have the trouble of having a lot of internal trouble, frustration and anger, which they cannot process or handle, so it comes out in outbursts of rage.
Karate provides a safe and controlled environment in which a child can develop their anger and learn to control it. This doesn’t only manifest itself in one way, there are several elements of karate training which help with these issues. One of them is socialization and the general social aspect of training. Say you take your child who has anger-problems to training. They start a lighthearted sparring session, and the opponent of your child accidentally steps on the foot of your child, making them trip and fall. As a result of this, it is very easy to imagine, that if your child has anger problems, that they would burst out at the child. In karate training, they won’t be able to do this most of the time.
Due to the supervision of the instructor and the sheer fact that they have to socialize in order to spar properly, your child will have to deal with the anger and move on to cooperate, which can result in better techniques to cope with anger.
Another aspect is purely physiological. A lot of anger has to do with increased cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline (fight-or-flight) in the body. Exercise helps reduce and moderate the production of both these hormones, overall adding to the mental stability of your child, most probably reducing emotional impulsivity. This happens with almost any physical exercise, but the explosive and combat nature of karate makes it even more effective at this process.
Is Karate Good for ADHD?
First and foremost, we should clarify what ADHD is, for those readers who might not know. This is also useful in order to help them possibly realize that their child might also have it, and thus help them get treatment.
ADHD is the abbreviation and the common term used for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These are the children who cannot pay attention, who always fidget, who jump up and down and cannot be locked onto one object, target, topic, or person for any prolonged period of time. It is a fairly common disorder, and actually, very many people, who do not exhibit the hyperactivity symptoms, which are clearly the most recognizable, do not get diagnosed.
The treatment of t ADHD is not something that is very scientifically developed and rock-solid. The problem is, that though there are medications like Adderall, Ritalin, Modafinil and others, which increase the time a child or any human can focus for, which does help with ADHD, these are temporary solutions that don’t solve the core of the problem.
One of the ways ADHD can be controlled is by making changes in one’s lifestyle as well. One of the largest lifestyle changes that you can do to control ADHD is implementing a fitness routine. Karate is a very good option for this, for multiple reasons. It gives you all the physiological benefits any other form of training might, but it also requires a lot of focus, persistence and concentration. Learning the techniques and precisely executing them isn’t something you can do with a scattered brain. Karate is thus a very good exercise for an ADHD brain to focus more on a type of activity that they find enjoyable and is useful for them. Though karate will never cure your or your child’s ADHD, it can be a significant part of the treatment method, and can greatly help in them channeling all the energy they have in themselves to an external place, all while practicing attention.
One of the things that also help ADHD is just draining the person. Then, they won’t have the energy to jump around from topic to topic, person to person, or idea to idea. Instead, they will have slower attention transitioning time, which will allow them to remain calmer and more relaxed, which is something ADHD patients don’t have too much of. Karate can also easily help with this since it is a very physically demanding type of fitness activity.