How young should (or could) kids be to begin taking karate lessons? This is probably the most common question I’m asked from friends at social events. A question such as this has two answers: easy and hard. The easy answer is: at whatever age your local karate school will accept them. For our school, it’s age 5. For my instructor’s school, age 3 or 4. Easy answer, done.
The hard answer is why do the parents want their child to study in the martial arts. Don’t misunderstand the intent of the question; teachers love students and want kids to study karate (with their dojo especially). But the answer helps set expectations for the parents, the child, and the instructor. With expectations properly gauged and in place, the age of the child has less meaning in readiness for karate class and the overall experience will be better.
Here are some common answers parents give for why they want their kid in karate:
Fun - A parent took martial arts classes as a child themselves and remembered having a blast. Maybe it was recommendations from friends showing how fun it can be. Or it could be any other reason pertaining to having a good time. And it’s true. All the karate schools I know have fun in class. Sure there’s hard work, but work hard play hard is a common mantra. Kids learn better when they enjoy what they’re doing.
Discipline - This one is a little tricky. Yes, there will be discipline in class. “Yes sir”, “No sir”, listening, staying in line, following instructions, obey on the first request, no rolling the eyes, no talking back, etc are all part of the discipline process. But, and it’s a huge “but”, karate instructors can’t instill discipline in a vacuum. Discipline has to be practiced at home as well. Karate instructors (any instructor really) can teach many things, including discipline, but without reinforcement at home the chances of the behavior taking root are very slim.
Self-Confidence - It’s never too early to begin building self-confidence in children. Some kids lack belief in themselves, perhaps due to internal doubts or external put downs; especially as kids begin school. Martial Arts can be a great vessel to improve anyone’s perception of themselves. They learn how and when to defend themselves while also seeing progress in their abilities. The mental and physical fortitude developed can help kids to withstand quite a few obstacles in life.
Exercise - Some parents just want their child to get some exercise. Could be a break from gaming systems or as an addition to other sports. Karate is good exercise all the way around. Learning the habit of regular exercise, even at a kids age, can continue to be beneficial later in life.
My dad started me in martial arts at a young age (Age 6 – I think), and my kids started young too. (Ages 7 and 10) So, I am unapologetically biased about what young children can accomplish by practicing martial arts. Starting kids in karate in their early youth can be a huge advantage for them. Even more so when the expectations of the parents are properly in place, and the parents have the opportunity to be involved with them as the child grows in their martial arts journey.