Reasons for kids to do martial arts

Children as young as four can boost their early development by taking part in martial arts, says Korey Gibson.

It’s no secret that the discipline of martial arts is widely recognised as being beneficial to the mental, social and physical wellbeing of all those who take part, but what about for our children? Here are some reasons for encouraging children to take part in martial arts.  

Grows emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence and the ability to learn and adapt are now being favoured over intellect in some workplaces. What does this mean? It refers to one’s capacity to handle relationships and be aware of, control, and express emotions, and is the focus of every martial arts session. All martial arts disciplines develop communication skills through working together to practise techniques, and prompts people to connect with their thoughts and inner being by promoting meditation and calmness. This improves focus and concentration, which, for the younger ones, can help particularly in their first years of school.  

Builds self-confidence

Martial arts build self-confidence through achievements made by hard work and dedication. Self-confidence is vital for the issues our children face today, such as online bullying and pressures at school. Our mind is our greatest weapon – "use it to defuse it" is what I believe in.  

Develops mana and a culture of respect

Creating the habit of following instructions from coaches and teammates, while simultaneously developing a solid foundation of knowledge of how to protect one’s self, builds mana from within through self-assurance and respect for those around us. We find that respect is a fundamental building block for discipline.  

Makes children comfortable with their own bodies and personal safety zone

Teaching our children to learn about their own personal safety area is one of the most important things to instill early on. This comes from being comfortable with their own body, and how it moves and works. Martial arts encourage activities such as ground fighting and grappling, where being close is imminent.  

Improves situational awareness and lateral thinking

At its core, situational awareness involves being aware of what is happening around you to understand how information, events, and your own actions will impact your objectives, both now and in the future. Lacking situational awareness has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents caused by human error. I find with lots of children, martial arts make them think in terms of action, outcome, reaction, and consequence: "What happens if I do this? What’s my next move? How will my partner/opponent respond?"  

Improves physical and mental fitness

Variety is good for any person’s general fitness levels – it keeps our body guessing as we continuously must improve and adapt. Martial arts works on cardiovascular fitness (for a healthy heart and lungs), strength, and flexibility, which is great for the development of muscles and joints. In terms of mental fitness, martial arts provide tests for problem-solving and logical thinking, as every variable is explored through any contact or non-contact combat.  

Helps them recognise threat and prevent danger

When we teach children and adults martial arts, we still practice the mantra of "defending oneself should actually mean doing everything possible to avoid fighting or conflict". Martial arts are about encouraging people to use their smarts and not their fists. It’s about so much more than getting physical – it develops their decision-making based on gut instinct, body language, and behaviour. Growing their awareness and ability to physically defend themselves is promoted as the best way to learn to identify danger and avoid it, which is what we all want for our loved ones at any age.  

It helps identify a future focus

By being involved with all the different contributing disciplines of martial arts, people get to try a bit of everything. From there, a child might take a liking to an individual martial art such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, wrestling, grappling, taekwondo, muay thai, boxing, or kickboxing (for example), which they might choose to focus on full-time. This will help them hone their skills and, should they want to, prepare them to compete in children’s tournaments. Yes, this could inspire a sporting career, but better yet, it will help them prepare for high-pressure events in their lives, which might require quick thinking, public speaking, or performance.  
Korey Gibson is the founder of My First Gym, a children’s activity hub in Christchurch. He has more than 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. He is a former professional rugby league player and mixed martial arts (MMA) champion. He lives in Christchurch with his partner and their daughters.
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