Martial Arts for Your Child

More than 6 million children in the United States participate in martial arts. Martial arts are known to improve social skills, discipline, and respect in children. Children can also improve their abilities to concentrate and focus on activities, as well as bettering their motor skills and self-confidence. Martial arts can be fun and beneficial at any age.

The term martial arts can be used to describe any number of styles or disciplines of self-defense practices. There are many different styles practiced around the world, with the most popular forms being karate, tae kwon do, and judo.

  • Karate (KAH-rah-teh) means “empty hand,” as it
    is normally practiced without weapons.
    Karate is a traditional Japanese form. The hands and feet are trained and prepared for use in a weaponless form of self-defense.
  • Tae kwon do (tahy-kwon-doh) means “the way of foot and fist.” This is a traditional Korean martial art. It is also the most popular. This form highlights discipline, respect, and personal growth and focuses on the use of the feet for powerful kicks in self-defense.
  • Judo (joo-doh) means “gentle way” and is known for a variety of throwing techniques. It uses many methods to control an opponent while on the ground. In many ways it is more similar to wrestling than to the other martial arts.
  • Kung fu (kung-foo) most commonly translates to “hard work” and is one of the oldest forms of martial arts. The term may be used to describe all of the hundreds of Chinese martial arts. Kung fu is mainly a “stand-up” form of the martial arts, known for its powerful blocks. Wushu is the most popular and modern form of kung fu.
  • Aikido (eye-key-do) means “way of harmony.” This Japanese martial art is known as a throwing style. It teaches a nonaggressive approach to self-defense, focusing on joint locks, throws, and restraining techniques, rather than kicks and punches. While aikido may be learned at any age, it is especially popular among women and older adults. Aikido is not practiced as a competitive sport.
  • Jujitsu (joo-jit-soo) means “the art of softness” and emphasizes techniques that allow a smaller fighter to overcome a bigger, stronger opponent. First practiced in Japan, jujutsu is considered a ground fighting or grappling style of the martial arts. Many of the forms have been incorporated into other martial arts such as judo, karate, and aikido. The arm lock and submission techniques have been taught to police all over the world.

While the martial arts are relatively safe, injuries can happen because there is physical contact between opponents. The following is information from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) about how to prevent martial arts injuries. Also included is an overview of martial arts forms.

Injury prevention and safety tips

  • Instructors. Experienced instructors will teach at a level appropriate for your child’s age and maturity. Lessons should emphasize technique and self-control. Experienced instructors will carefully advance your child through more complex training. Lessons should also be fun. Visit a variety of instructors and ask about their experiences with young children and their teaching philosophy.
  • Technique. An instructor’s emphasis on technique and self-control is very important in limiting the risk for injury. Children should learn to punch and kick with their hands and feet in proper position and using the appropriate amount of force. Kicks and punches with the hand or foot in the wrong position can cause injuries to fingers and toes. Punches or kicks that are too hard can cause pain or bruises. Contact to the head should be discouraged.
  • Equipment. Safety gear should fit properly and be well maintained.
    • Headgear. When the rules allow, protective headgear should be worn for sparring or for activities with risk of falling, such as high jumps or flying kicks.
    • Body pads can help protect against scrapes and bruises and limit the pain from kicks and punches. Arm pads, shin pads, and chest protection for sparring.
    • Mouth guards.
  • Environment. Mats and floors should be safe to play on. Gaps between mats can cause sprained ankles. Wet or worn floors can cause slips and falls.

Common injuries may include scrapes and bruises, sprains and strains, finger and toe injuries, head injuries. Martial arts injuries can be prevented with proper supervision and compliance with the rules and safety guidelines in place for martial arts.


Source: Care of the Young Athlete Patient Education Handouts (Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


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