There is often a misconception in the minds of those that have not trained in the martial arts that we are dealing with a brutal and ruthless ritual that encourages violence and aggression. Meanwhile, parents rush to sign their children up for football as soon as age permits. Let’s look at this paradox and examine the many benefits that picking up a martial art can provide your child.

What is the difference between learning a martial art and other contact sports?

I want to make it clear that I am not biased against football or any other sport, as I consider team sports productive developmental tools for children. However, when choosing a physical activity for your child, it’s important to make a pragmatic comparison between options. Football, for instance, is a contact sport that results in hundreds of thousands of injuries annually, as can be seen here, some of which can be serious. Arguably, football helps build a tribe mentality and loyalty, but anyone that has attended a school with a football program understands a thing or two about the sport’s culture.

Studying a martial art is synonymous with respecting your instructor, your fellow practitioners, and people outside of your gym. It is an individual endeavor that is practiced among like-minded people that are accountable for their actions. Students are encouraged to be assertive, not aggressive. Victory against your sparring partner is meant to provide invaluable knowledge to both participants, while scoring is only a means to an end; not the goal itself.

Serious injuries are very rare when practicing a martial art, as knowledgeable instructors are trained in coordinating training in a safe manner. While nicks and bruises may occur, they come with the territory, as any physical activity has the potential for the occasional sprain.

What are the benefits of martial arts for children?

The benefits of embarking on the journey of learning a martial art are many, some more obvious than others. Whether your child is an overly aggressive ball of energy or an excessively reserved and introverted kid, the benefits of beginning training will start to show almost immediately. Let’s look at some of the benefits a martial art will have for your child.

Instill discipline and self-discipline

Discipline means obeying rules and codes of social behavior. Parents understand that it is important for children to appreciate freedom and rights while retaining an understanding of the importance of responsibility and order play in our lives. Self-discipline, or the ability to temper impulse and emotions, is a basic component in the personality of a successful individual. The martial arts instill these qualities in practitioners in a way that is meaningful and actionable.

The act of learning to respect and follow the instruction of a teacher is not about conformity, but rather about developing the strength of character required to achieve total control over your body. Learning to execute techniques that can cause harm to others yet mastering them to a degree that you can train with fellow students without hurting them builds character. Ben Parker said it best when he told Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.” In effect, children learn to become little superheroes.

Discourage violence

While it may sound counter-intuitive, training in a martial art discourages children from engaging in violence. For one, any pent-up aggression is exhausted in the safety of their dojo. More importantly, however, children that study a martial art are more likely to avoid physical confrontation and do so from a position of personal power rather than fear.

Boost self-confidence

As children progress through their discipline’s curriculum, a sense of accomplishment builds as they are able to perform more and more complicated and demanding techniques. Just as winning a medal in any type of competition or achieving an academic milestone, attaining a higher rank or performing a higher level skill in their martial art will boost a child’s self-confidence.

One of the tenets of studying a martial art is that you learn to instruct those of lower rank along the way. This translates to improved communication and socialization skills. Children learn to listen and provide meaningful feedback; a fundamental quality of any complete individual.

Keep them safe

A parents’ highest priority is to provide their child with the safest possible environment in which to grow and develop into a complete person. Even the most protective parent understands that the world is not a safe place and that danger lurks even in the safest settings. There is a Latin phrase used by various branches of military special forces: “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” This translates to: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” No parent wants to see their child in harm’s way, but every guardian would want their child to have the confidence to act in the face of danger.

Promote self-development

The best way to help place your child on the path to success is to put them in a position where they can prove to themselves that achieving their dreams is possible. One of the roadblocks humans face on their journey of personal growth is questioning their abilities. If our brains don’t have a proven track record of achievement, there is nothing to model success after. Learning a martial art gives your child that blueprint. It teaches them that attaining success is possible through focused effort.

For parents that want to give their children the confidence to face life and achieve their dreams, a local dojo may be the perfect tool. Do your research and make sure to find a knowledgeable and caring instructor. Not all schools are created equal. However, if you find a good environment and a competent instructor, you will see your child’s transformation before your very eyes. Be supportive and encouraging.