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Young Athletes: The Top 5 Martial Arts for Kids


Just think of how many times have you said to yourself or heard others say, “I wish I would have started training earlier.” There are many advantages to entering a martial arts for kids program at a young age. Some of the biggest reasons parents choose to enroll their kids in martial arts are:

  • Discipline
  • Self-Defense
  • Focus
  • Long Term Goals
  • Year-Round Babysitting
  • Intro to becoming the next MMA superstar

These are all pretty good reasons, but not all martial arts are created equal, and a good well-informed parents should know what kind of skills are about to be unleashed in their child, and what that could mean long-term.

*An increasing number of  gyms and dojos are offering “kids MMA” or “pankration” classes. There is some controversy surrounding the concept of kids MMA, but for the purpose of this article we are not addressing combat arts that are generally referred to as “sports” rather than martial arts. You get the idea. 

These are the top 5 martial arts for kids and why:

1. Karate

This is a martial art that is based heavily on the stand-up arts of kicking and punching. Karate was developed in the Ryukyu Islands, which is now Okinawa, Japan. It made its way to mainland Japan in the early 20th century, but did not reach peak popularity until the 1970’s and 80’s. Martial arts movies like “The Karate Kid” and “Best of the Best, “ helped to boost interest. 5334741020a

The three basic training techniques for karate include:

  • Kihon (basics/fundamentals)
  • Kata (Forms)
  • Kumite (Sparring)

Much of the training is conducted with minimal contact, focusing heavily on the movements and memorizing sequences of moves. This is a great way in encourage focus and mobility in children. Sparring (kumite) is usually done using a point system dependant on contact placement rather than impact, and protective gear is worn. These elements make karate an ideal starter martial art for any level.

MMA fighters who practice Karate: Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida, Georges “Rush” St. Pierre, Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson

2. Judo

Made a household name by “Judo: Gene Lebell and UFC Champion Ronda Rousey, Judo is a good introduction to many aspects of fighting arts. Judo translates as “gentle way,” and is an Olympic sport, which was created in Japan in 1882.  The focus of Judo is the throw or takedown elements of the practice. There are also joint locks and chokes similar to that in the art of Jiu Jitsu. Throwing techiques (Nage Waza) include:

  • Kuzushi (The initial balance break)
  • Tsukuri (The act of turning and fitting into the throw)
  • Kake (The execution of the throw) XXX JUDO ROUSEYJS152.JPG S OLY, JUD CHN

Some of the greatest benefits of Judo include learning to balance and counter balance, spacial awareness, self-defense and how to fall.

MMA fighters who practice Judo: “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, Hector Lombard, Fedor Emellanenko, Shinya Aoki

3. Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that was developed in the 1940’s, though it continued to evolve through the 50’s and 60’s. It has been an Olympic sport since 2000. The loose translation for the art is “the way of the foot and hand.” Taekwondo participants are known for their fancy footwork and kicking techniques, though fist striking is involved as well.150123328.jpg

Students of Taekwondo develop admirable kicking skills and a knack for perceiving distance during one on one combat. Agility and flexibility are also a plus. Many of the less-fancy kicking techniques transfer well into other arts.

MMA fighters who practice Tawkwondo: Anderson Silva, Anthony Pettis, Cung Le, John Makdessi

4. Aikido

This is another Japanese martial art and it is the most “zen” of the five arts discussed. The translation of the word means “the way of unifying with life energy.” Unlike many other martial arts, the main focus is not to harm the opponent, but instead to redirect the attacker’s force. This is a practice that is known to require little strength. Techniques do include some Judo-esc throws and joint locks.Imm_Segal 2

This is a great practice for children to learn to react calmly in intense situations. The art requires mental training, flexibility and focus. Aikido also uses kata to assist in memorizing the techniques of the art.

MMA fighters who practice Aikido: Anyone who has ever trained under Steven Segal

5. Jiu Jitsu

Whether it is Brazilian or Japanese, Jiu Jitsu is crucial for developing a ground game for a child who show a propensity for competition. This art focuses primarily on getting to the ground and dominating there from any position. It has proven to be an intrigal part of MMA virtually since its inception (or at least since the Gracie family entered the cage). The basic components of Jiu Jitsu include:

  • Takedowns
  • Joint Locks
  • Chokeholds
  • Self-Defensebara

For competition, which is sometimes referred to as “sport Jiu Jitsu,” there is often a point system and time limit. Aside from developing good grappling skills, this art teaches the necessity for control when interacting with other students, whom may be more or less skilled. It also requires attention to learn the skills and motivation to get out of bad positions. Sparring and drilling requiring partners are common in training practice.

MMA fighters who practice Jiu Jitsu: All of them if they are smart, but a few notable are . . . all the Gracie family, B.J. Penn, Fabrico Werdum, Damian Maia