Participation in martial arts can be a very positive experience for kids. However, with so many options, it can be difficult to know how to choose the right one for your child. Each type of martial art is unique. You will be better able to make an informed decision on how to find the right match if you are aware of the differences between your available options. In this post, I will provide some background information on common martial arts styles (or systems) including “pros” and “cons” of each.
Shotokan (松濤館) Karate (空手) is a traditional Japanese Martial Art founded by Gichin Funakoshi. He is often called the father of modern karate as he was the preeminent individual who introduced a synthesis of Okinawan styles to mainland Japan.
Karate is a “stand up” art (ground fighting is not emphasized). As with other styles of Karate, Shotokan uses kata (a pre-arranged set of movements), kihon (lots of basic technique drilling), and kumite (controlled practice of skills learned as kihon and kata against a training partner) as the primary teaching methods. Along the way, students earn promotions ordered as kyu (under black belt) and dan (black belt and higher) grades. Although it varies from school-to-school, it will take 3-6 years to earn a black belt.
Traditional karate is a way of life, with a philosophy that incorporates moral, physical and mental elements to develop a student to be the best versions of themselves. Shotokan is the most widely practiced style of karate worldwide.
” We have kids starting at age 5 in our courses. ”
─ Sensei Michael Hodge, GMAU Head Instructor & Director
Krav Maga (קְרַב מַגָּע) means “contact combat” in Hebrew. Originally developed as a military fighting system for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), it became a popular civilian self-defense methodology in the U.S. and Europe in the 1990s. Krav Maga is not meant to be a style and cannot be used in a sport because it is intended to take down your opponent with any means necessary. Most of the moves in this system would be deemed illegal in the fighting ring.
Because the techniques are simple, tested in combat, and because Krav Maga schools emphasize pressure-testing against non-compliant partners a student can become proficient in self-defense in a relatively short period of time compared to other martial arts. Students in Krav Maga may earn belt promotions or they may wear colored shirts to indicate their level of training. Although it varies from school-to-school, it will take 3.5 – 5 years to earn a black belt (or the equivalent).
Students learn how to defend themselves from standing and clinch positions as well as on the ground (all ranges of combat). They also learn defenses against weapons, including stick, knife, handgun (pistol) and long gun (rifle).
” Any martial art is great for kids. The most important element in this decision is finding a good instructor. Look for a program that emphasizes positive character development. “
─ Dustin Koppel, GMAU Krav Maga Instructor
Taekwondo (태권도) is a martial art from Korea. The art was consolidated in the 1950s after the unification of numerous Korean schools (kwans) that taught variations of the art. Taekwondo made its debut as a sport at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and was eventually added to the Olympic program in 2000 and has remained since. The art emphasizes conditioning, flexibility, kicking combinations and dynamic partner sparring as primary teaching methods.
Along the way, students earn promotions ordered as gup (under black belt) and dan (black belt and higher) grades. Although it varies from school-to-school, it will take 3-6 years to earn a black belt.
You will see lots of kicking (and less punching or striking) in Taekwondo far more than you will see in other arts. It is a “stand up” art (ground fighting is not emphasized). Taekwondo is arguably the most popular martial art in the world.
” Taekwondo focuses on kicks, so those students typically have much better leg control compared to students in other styles of martial arts.
On top of that they also gain flexibility, which reduces their risk of injury and increases their mobility. “
─ Adam Gerrald, GMAU Taekwondo Instructor
Muay Thai (มวยไทย) is a very old martial art from Thailand. The fighting style did not become an official sport with regulations introduced in the 1930’s. Muay Thai students also become proficient in using the standing clinch (standing grappling) to control, or trip and throw, an opponent. The Muay Thai fighter will not, however, engage his or her opponent on the ground and is therefore considered a “stand up” art.
As with Western boxing, Muay Thai, as a sport, traditionally does not have a belt ranking system. However, although the World Thai Boxing Association (WTBA) in the USA has implemented an armband system ranging from white to black and gold for their affiliate schools.
” In Thailand many kids start very young. I would make sure that if my kids were starting young I would avoid unnecessary injuries. “
─ Nick Vasallo, GMAU Muay Thai Instructor
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Jiu-Jitsu Brasileiro ; “BJJ”) was developed in the 1920s. The art became famous in the early 1990s when Gracie Jiu Jitsu (“GJJ”) practitioner, Royce Gracie, won the first two Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events – defeating much larger and more muscular fighters “on the ground.”
There is often a differentiation between BJJ and GJJ, where BJJ is the common label for the purely sport-oriented art and GJJ is described by some as the original art that emphasizes self-defense over sport. These grapplers may train and compete in a traditional uniform (called a gi, and similar to the uniform worn in judo) or without the uniform (referred to as nogi grappling). BJJ/GJJ does utilize a belt ranking system, although advancement takes much longer compared to other martial arts (it is not uncommon to take 10 years to earn a black belt).
When wearing the uniform there are many “handles” for opponents to use to control or choke one another. Nogi grappling is more like wrestling and practitioners wear snug-fitting short or long sleeved shirts (called rash guards) and pocket-less shorts or snug-fitting pants (called spats).
“ BJJ is outstanding in my opinion for girls (as much as it is for boys) in that it helps to build and foster self confidence; it teaches girls invaluable skills of self protection to keep them safe. “
─ Trent Praytor, BJJ School Owner & GMAU Krav Maga Student