Martial Arts for Little Girls
November 25, 2006 6:36 AM   Subscribe

What is a good martial art for a little girl? What is the youngest reasonable age for her to start?

Which martial arts favor the body structures of girls and women? Which is she least likely to be injured in, while still learning strong self defense skills and having fun? The girl in question is still a baby, but I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as it seems like this would be a very good activity for a girl living in Brooklyn to get into, if she turns out to be interested.
posted by textilephile to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
aikido might be nice for a little girl as the dojos tend to be friendly and unintimidating. she will also get to roll around on the floor, which kids almost invariably love. however, I am not sure it meets your criteria for strong self defense skills. there is a aikido dojo on smith street in brooklyn that has a very good reputation.
posted by milarepa at 7:20 AM on November 25, 2006

Pretty much any martial art would, I think, satisfy the self defense needs of a child. Self defense is not about fighting, it's about awareness of your situation and the confidence to listen to yourself and avoid bad situations. For a child especially, the fighting element is way more about knowing how to control one's body than about how to actual fight anyone.

The most important factor is going to be the atmosphere of the dojo, not style. Find something friendly, with a good kids class. I would personally avoid people who teach blends of martial arts and emphasize families, as they tend to be more expensive and not as focused on the quality of the art itself.
posted by Schismatic at 7:38 AM on November 25, 2006

When she's a little girl, Aikido would probably be best. When she's older (say 16 or 17) then Model Mugging would be more useful.
posted by LeisureGuy at 8:28 AM on November 25, 2006

Wing-chun kung-fu, the form Bruce Lee would later base much of Jeet Kun Do upon, was originally developed by tiny little Chinese nuns. The form emphasizes speed over power and many of the techniques involve turning an attacker's size and force against them.

Aikido is also an excellent suggestion. I've also seen Tae Kwon Do be quite successful for women and girls, though I never developed a taste for it myself. I would avoid kickboxing and straight karate, as much of these forms rely on raw power.

I applaud this curiosity, by the way. Every girl ought to know how to defend herself. And the true lesson of martial arts, the important one that transcends mere violence, is of great value to someone who's just learning their way in the world.
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:40 AM on November 25, 2006

might not be a martial art in the strictest sense, but our little guy (just turning 4) is absolutely into capoeira. it can be serious stuff, but it's also seriously fun, given the musical side.
posted by progosk at 8:46 AM on November 25, 2006

Oh, and I'd say that five is a fine age to start her training.
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:46 AM on November 25, 2006

Any discipline will work as long as the instructors are comfortable with, and expierenced with, working with children. Her attention span, or lack thereof, will be a determining factor as well. Don't sign her up for a year right away. Pay by the month until you're sure its going to work. Seems like an obvious plan but you'd be surprised how many people drop cash for a year and their kids only go a few weeks.
posted by ChazB at 9:48 AM on November 25, 2006

When I took Tae Kwon Do lessons, there were kids as young as 3 or 4 there; basically, if they can follow directions well enough to (kind of) do the exercise/kick/punch/whatever, then they can do it. The biggest limiting factor in my experience is the master; if he or she is willing to work with young kids, they do fine.

At the studio where I took my lessons, the master often taught the beginners and he let lesser-level black belts teach the advanced class.

But... make sure this is something your daughter wants to do; if she has no interest it will be a waste of time.
posted by Doohickie at 10:11 AM on November 25, 2006

Nth-ing Aikido. It will teach her some valuable defensive skills, and with a good teacher, she'll have a lot of fun learning it.
posted by quin at 10:28 AM on November 25, 2006

Tiger Schulmann's has classes for three- and four-year olds, and locations in Brooklyn. I'm sure they'd let you come see a Cubs class or two to see if she likes the idea.
posted by bink at 10:39 AM on November 25, 2006

Wing Chun, while being a great martial art,
a) was not really developed by tiny chinese nuns, that is a comic book legend (in fact the comic book legend says only that it was passed on by one chinese nun, size not delineated) and
b) is often considered to be a little too concept-based for youngsters. Around 14 would be an ideal age to start learning Wing Chun from a competent teacher of whom there are few. I would agree that something rolling about on the floor while teaching how to neutralise strength with skill would be ideal. Until the lady is 14 and you find a competent Wing Chun teacher, maybe judo/aikido/idunno.

Striking arts - ie where you try to punch someone down - are not so great for little girls.

Also, should someone called Eattheweak be so disdainful of martial arts using raw power?
posted by criticalbill at 11:40 AM on November 25, 2006

Also, should someone called Eattheweak be so disdainful of martial arts using raw power?

Possibly because little girls don't have much of it.
posted by atrazine at 1:39 PM on November 25, 2006

atrazine: is there actually any truth to this?

i know it's certainly perceived to be true, but if we're talking about an early age (say 3 to 10), are there any studies/figures to back up this stereotype?
posted by progosk at 1:53 PM on November 25, 2006

My girlfriend teaches Wado-Ryu Karate to lots of little children. I suspect most martial arts programs cater to children as well as adults.
posted by chunking express at 1:56 PM on November 25, 2006

There seems to be quite a chorus of aikidos here, so I've done a little reading and watched a google video about it and it looks very elegant. I love that it seems so effective for self defense, yet is completely non-aggressive. Thank you for all the suggestions, and I'll keep reading the answers, but this seems like a great style to point her toward if she shows interest.
posted by textilephile at 2:17 PM on November 25, 2006

Surely your major challenge is finding teachers who will taken on a small child.

My observation is that the very young can master anything if it takes their fancy. But unless they love it straight away, they don't have the patience to stick with it. It takes a teacher who knows how to work with young children to engage them.

FWIW I'm practising both wing chun and capoeira these days, and there are lots of women (approaching 50%) in both classes.

I hear great thing things about Brazilian Ju Jitsu as an effective form of self defence that works for small people. Check out previous threads on AskMe tagged martial and martialart as well.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:28 PM on November 25, 2006

atrazine: is there actually any truth to this?

i know it's certainly perceived to be true, but if we're talking about an early age (say 3 to 10), are there any studies/figures to back up this stereotype?

You're right, I apologise to any five year olds present for questioning their brute strength.

Seriously, what? Little kids are weak. No, I am not going to dig up any studies to back up this 'stereotype'
posted by atrazine at 2:40 PM on November 25, 2006

On thinking about it, maybe you were assuming that I said that little girls were weaker than little boys. I wasn't, maybe they are, but I think that there isn't much difference before puberty.
Still though, little kids are weak.
posted by atrazine at 2:43 PM on November 25, 2006

ok, read you wrong, then.
posted by progosk at 3:37 PM on November 25, 2006

criticalbill - Just repeating what my teacher told me. An error in the origins of wing-chun are totally possible, I suppose. This gal was half my size and put my on my ass as a matter of course - makes a fella stop questioning what she has to say after awhile I suppose.

But I've gotta straighten you out when it comes to the "disdain" portion of your post. I love the shit out of karate and kickboxing - but as atra said, I don't see them as a good fit for a little girl. I wouldn't recommend she learn how to swing a broadsword either, at least not til she filled out a little.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:38 PM on November 25, 2006

Perhaps the tale of Ng Mui is the source of confusion re: Wing-Chun's origins.

If only these inconsiderate historic figures would have realized how dreadfully difficult their preference for oral tradition would make it for us centuries later.

But since this is verging towards a derail, lemme just congratulate textilephile on his responsible parenting. And should his daughter show an interest in martial arts, he might want to later introduce her to a weapons form or two.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:47 PM on November 25, 2006

Not that eskrima is about weapons alone, of course.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:48 PM on November 25, 2006

"...[I]f she turns out to be interested" is the key part of your question, I think. My father made me take karate lessons when I was a little girl and I haaaaated it. He had all these ideas about creating a very particular kind of capable child (much like you seem to, if I may say so), and while I appreciated the time and money he sunk into my lessons, I would've been infinitely happer if he'd left me alone with my violin and my books.

Also, in my experience, instruction in karate and the like doesn't yield much self-defense capability. I recall that my karate lessons focused a lot more on form and muscle control and conditioning than on anything practical. I mean, if a kid meets a mugger in a dark alley, is she really going to bust out with a crane kick?
posted by chickletworks at 5:44 PM on November 25, 2006

I did judo as a kid and I distinctly remember them having a girls-only group (guess why). it's fun if you're not overly afraid of being thrown and it actually came in handy once.

judo is about using the energy your attacker brings into the game to your advantage. unlike karate, it's a mainly defensive sport.
posted by krautland at 6:20 PM on November 25, 2006

My nine-year old has been taking karate since she was seven, after attending a classmate's birthday party held at a local karate school. Sorry -- don't know the precise variation, whether it's Aikido or Judo or whatnot, but I do know that she absolutely loves it. Not sure that there would have been much benefit for her prior to age seven, though.

Even at that age, though, the combination of discipline, technique, and skills -- as well as the chance to put on pads and spar with other kids, boys and/or girls -- has been a very good experience for her. I'm not sure how practical any of this would be in a dark alley, say, when she's sixteen or eighteen, but I will say that she has the confidence to know how to throw a strong punch or kick. When she practices sparring, she's one of the few girls in class, and has gotten used to fighting older and stronger kids. She doesn't like to lose.

From a self-defense standpoint, she has also learned which kicks will be faster (but less powerful), how to actually scream and be heard, how to break a strong grip and get away. When she was seven, they practiced this in class -- a simple leverage technique, if an adult grabs a child's wrist -- and she easily broke free from my grip, which I made sure wasn't an easy thing.

So I wouldn't expect her to stick around and fight somebody, but she knows enough to be able to get away, which is probably just as important.

And this doesn't include any of the other daily benefits that we've seen in her -- the poise, the strength, the self-confidence. For the record, our daughter actually spends more time each week in dance (ballet, jazz, tap) than she does in karate. The two are very complementary activities.

I would highly recommend some form of martial arts for any young girl, for no other reason than it teaches skills that are not typically encouraged in little girls. Be tough. Fight back. Do not be afraid of conflict. All good lessons in my book.
posted by RKB at 8:51 AM on November 26, 2006

I just updated the Model Mugging post with something I recalled last night:

One interesting statistic: We were told that the average assailant has done 17 attacks, so that the victim is totally outclassed just on the basis of experience. The victim is going through something for the first time, trying to work out a response on the fly, while the attacker has the advantage of experience and knows what to expect and how to deal with it.

But during the 12-week course, the students go through 54 very realistic simulated attacks, with full force. So if a student later faces an assailant, the experience tables are turned. The assailant just doesn’t have the depth of experience in dealing with physical assault that this particular victim does, and he is just out of his depth.
posted by LeisureGuy at 9:04 AM on November 26, 2006

I do hapkido which is a nice mix of aikido-style defensive moves and more aggressive offense techniques. It's of korean origin, but the school I attend also has a friendly attitude toward visiting masters, so there's some judo and jujitsu thrown into the curriculum, and occasional weekend seminars and the like with cross-training opportunities. The youngest in the kid's class are around 4, I think, and we have a location in brooklyn and another in the city [feel free to email for details if you like]

Most important is probably finding a dojang you like, with a good mix of people, etc. Also, if she's only a baby now, perhaps you should try it out for yourself in the meantime - we have some parents & children who train together and that always seems like a pretty cool thing to me (I had a friend as a child who did karate with her mom, and I was always envious of that...)
posted by mdn at 9:42 AM on November 26, 2006

I think the best martial art a young kid can get involved in is Judo. It's rough and tumble in a really fun way, but there has been a real emphasis placed on developing a curriculum that is safe, effective, and also fun. Unlike many of the arts recommended above, it can be used in a self defense situation. Many of the 'traditional' martial arts place a lot of emphasis on doing kata (forms) and breaking boards, which don't have anything at all to do with self defense. Check out this youtube video. It's a highlight video of some of the best throws of the 2004 Athens Olympic Judo competition. It demonstrates two things: first, that judo students can be fearsome fighters, and second that it's pretty safe: you see people just get buried with a huge throw, and then get up, as if it's no big deal. That seems inconsistent with judo being a self defense art, but remember they're being thrown onto a mat; if you threw someone hard, onto pavement, in a self defense situation, it would be quite effective.

Just so you know where I'm coming from, I've trained some Judo (a long time, on and off) and earned a brown belt. I also train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which I think is great (I'm actually more into BJJ than Judo), but not as good as Judo for young kids. I've been doing martial arts for about 7.5 years, most of that in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 12:27 PM on November 26, 2006

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