This week we jump into the topic of the best martial arts for kids. I was having a drink with my neighbor when he told me his 9-year-old son was getting bullied. He asked which was the best martial arts for kids. Over the years I have been asked this question many times by family, friends, and coworkers. It made me think about which martial arts are best for kids to learn. My knee-jerk response is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu but I know that other martial arts have their virtues. I’ll elaborate:
I tried this martial art in high school and college. It is a great introduction to martial arts and a good way to teach kids about discipline. Taekwondo focuses on beautiful kicking. We don’t see this style of kicking in MMA. This style of kicking is best described as ornamental. If you are overweight, have short legs or not flexible this is going to be a very difficult martial art to master. Getting a black belt in TKD usually takes about 3 years. But an ability to use TKD in real world scenarios is not important to receive promotions. I think it is possible to make TKD work in real world applications but the practitioner’s skill level needs to be so high that the years required will make it not practical. I think this is a good martial art for kids but a bad practical option.
I love Kung Fu movies. I love Bruce Lee (Don’t freak out I know he studied Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do). But that is the movie world. I’m sure there are some youtube videos of a KF practitioner winning a fight or two. But they are the exception and not the rule. I consider Kung Fu beautiful to watch but I consider it highly ornamental. Winning real fights requires simple moves. Trying to recall a complex 10 part move 3 minutes into a fight when your body is quitting will get you in trouble. I would say this martial art has graceful movement but is not practical for street application.
Boxing is one the first things I was ever taught. I was bullied in junior high and my Dad picked up two sets of gloves from the local sporting goods store. My Dad is from the baby boomer generation and a firm believer in learning the hard way. Boxing is a great martial art. It is a stripped down ‘no-nonsense’ type of martial art. And because of that, it is an effective martial art. However, boxing is a harsh sport. Translation: prepare to see your kid get punched hard. You have to go to this extreme to teach your kid to defend him/herself.
All of the grappling arts like Judo, wrestling, and BJJ have a great advantage. In the grappling arts, kids can learn intensity and grit and do so with less of the head injuries. Because there is no striking, grappling practitioners can practice more often and achieve a higher level of mastery. Wrestling has a great community in most places in the US but finding a place for kids younger than junior highers may be difficult. The only problem I can see with wrestling is that it is taught in a sports context. So wrestlers are excellent at takedowns and pinning maneuvers but usually not great at fight finishing moves.
Judo and Jiu-Jitsu are two sides of the same coin. If you flip through Judo and Jiu-Jitsu books you will see the same moves. The difference is how the sports/martial arts are scored. Judo competitors focus on throwing opponents to the ground. Jiu-Jitsu competitors focus on the ground game and end a match by tap out. Judo is actually the sport version of Jiu-jitsu. If taught with some BJJ finishes this could be very applicable.
This is a combatives system developed by the Israeli army. In Krav Maga no strikes are outlawed. I’m sure they teach some version of this combative that is appropriate for children. But unless you can practice it often without injury than this martial art suffers from the same problems the other striking martial arts.
In Thailand, children learn Muay Thai and literally fight for money. By the time a fighter hits his mid-twenties they are over the hill. Muay Thai is a martial art that mixes the best parts of boxing with a super effective kicking style that is totally unique. I think that Muay Thai/Kickboxing is probably the most effective standing/striking martial art ever. But it is a striking art. So unless you are ready to watch your kid take some hard knocks I suggest you consider the grappling arts.
Brazilian JJiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is probably your best option. It was specifically developed for smaller combatants defending against larger and stronger opponents. Jiu-Jitsu has its roots with the actual Samurai in Japan. In the 1910’s Jiu Jitsu made its way to Brazil due to colonialism. Helio Gracie one of the forefathers of modern Jiu Jitsu adapted the sport to work with physical afflictions. Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling style that doesn’t allow punching, kicking and body slams. Therefore, it is a martial art that can be practiced often with little risk of head injuries that one sees in boxing and Muay Thai. It focuses on arm locks, leg locks, and chokes. BJJ is a fundamental of MMA fighters. It is practiced by Law Enforcement and Military alike.
The Best Martial Arts for Kids
I hope my kids can live a life with no need for martial arts. But if there comes a day that my own daughters require martial arts I will be training them boxing for striking, some kicks from kickboxing, judo for takedowns, and Jiu-jitsu for finishing opponents. Truthfully, each one of these martial arts has something awesome to offer. There isn’t one of these martial arts which has great solutions for all positions.
Check out this great video of this young girl destroy 3 boys.