What is a good martial art for a 6 year old, and related questions
February 10, 2004 10:27 AM   Subscribe

MartialArtsFilter: My son has been badgering me about a martial arts class. I know exactly nothing about martial arts, so I have questions:
1) what's a good art for a 6 year old kid?
2) how much should I expect to pay for a) lessons and b) uniforms and equipment?
3) any good schools in northern VA people want to suggest?
posted by Irontom to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total)
Theres a thread somewhere in Ask Metafilter about this about a month ago. Basically you will get admittedly biased views from each practitioner. I will tell you that I studied Uechi-Ryu and there were kids in the dojo who actually practiced with the adults. (Often times they pick up everything faster than us decrepit 30+ year olds). 6 years old will probably put your son/daughter into a childrens class.

At least in my area the kids classes are $60 a month for 4-6 sessions and uniforms run about 50-75 dollars.

The University of Virginia happens to be one of the best resources on the web for uechi-ryu.
posted by jeremias at 11:04 AM on February 10, 2004

Irontom, I'm no expert, but FWIW, you might want to look at aikido, which teaches how to use one's opponent's energy and attack against him or her through well-placed joint locks and throws. The running joke is that aikido has such a strong slant toward self-defense that two masters in conflict would be reduced to shouting at each other; the first to physically move would lose.

That said, my brief involvement with martial arts involved shotokan karate. Lots of little kids in the school, and from what I saw, many of them took to the art like ducks to water. The older ones that had clearly started young and stuck with it into their early teens showed almost eerie levels of self-possession in the dojo.
posted by clever sheep at 11:04 AM on February 10, 2004

aikido, which teaches how to use one's opponent's energy and attack against him or her through well-placed joint locks and throws.

I thought that's what ju-jitsu was. Is one a subset of the other?
posted by goethean at 11:20 AM on February 10, 2004

I started Tae Kwon Do around the age of 8-ish and enjoyed it quite a bit. As a more shy kind of kid, I really appreciated the no punching the head and nothing below the belt aspects of it. But I'd go as far as to say which art he does is less important than getting a good instructor. It could be the difference between a quick burnout and a long tenure.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:26 AM on February 10, 2004

I'm an aikidoka, and although I love it, it may not be perfect for little kids. In fact, many dojos require students to be 13+. This is mainly because aikido is a very subtle art, where slight shifts in weight can be crucial to a technique. A lot of the work is slow and repetitive, and because there is no competition, kids can get bored easily.

That said, Northern Virginia has excellent aikido schools. They offer children's classes; you could take your child to watch a class for free, and see if he likes it. If so, perfect!

For most younger kids, I'd recommend a PK (punchy-kicky) art like karate/tae kwon do, or a sport-oriented art like judo. Both keep kids busy enough in the dojo that they don't get bored. Some children like karate because you get to do cool stuff like in the movies, and for a kid, this is a big factor!

Judo is great because it teaches a strong ethos of self-defense, tradition, and respect. These are common amongst most martial arts, but I've seen a few too many karate dojos of late start to lean towards flashy crap that has very little basis in the real arts.

Whatever style you choose, check out the dojo and instructors first. Sit in on a class before deciding; the instructor is the largest factor as to whether or not your son will keep it up. Martial arts are great for helping children learn respect and self-discipline, as well as keeping fit. Even better, join the class with your son :^)
posted by krunk at 11:51 AM on February 10, 2004

Beware of "belt mills," usually for "karate," that charge your son every other week to test for another belt, one of every imaginable color of the rainbow. Aikido is a beautiful suggestion; personally I'd go straight for gung fu, preferably with a Chinese instructor. But Aikido is probably the closest Japanese art to a soft or internal art, also very circular, and will teach your son a measure of respect and discipline and formality as well. Make sure you find a good instructor.

Tae kwon do is good if he wants to eventually compete. But remember, it is generally taught as a sport, with rules. There are no rules in a real fight.
posted by Shane at 12:41 PM on February 10, 2004

I've studied Goju Ryu and found it to be a style that worked well for me. I'm really not going to recommend it because I think at 6 years old the most important thing is the instructor. Scout around like you would for just about anything else. Attend a youth session at a few different schools, if they won't allow you to sit in then that should be a warning sign. Some instructors are excellent with children, others less so and some are scary. Understand your child too. High kicks for instance are out for me. No matter how much time I spend stretching I build muscle rather than flexibility, nothing will change that for me.

By combining a good instructor along with some attention to your child's physical attributes you'll find something that he's more likely to stick with and enjoy.
posted by substrate at 6:05 PM on February 16, 2004

Tae Kwon Do might be good because the emphasis is not necessarily on hurting someone else; aikido for the same reason.

If you want to go the Tae Kwon Do route, find (at least at the beginning) an ITF school (as opposed to a WTF.) ITF places the emphasis much more on technique/discipline and the martial art itself; the WTF is much more competition oriented. The students who start as ITF are much better for that training if they eventually move into the more competitive style.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 7:07 PM on February 16, 2004

I have a friend who has black belts in two Japanese disciplines. He put his son, when the son asked to study, in a tae kwon do program, though.

One totally tangential thing about tae kwon do (by the way, the correct pronunciation of that first syllable is 'tay' not 'tie'), at least at the multitude of schools here in Korea, that makes it attractive for young 'uns, is the veritable rainbow of belt colours, through which it is comparatively easy to advance, thus encouraging a feeling of accomplishment.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:10 PM on February 16, 2004

Here is the earlier thread. However, I'll give different advice in this thread, since we're talking about the needs of a small child.

I'll agree with krunk that aikido is probably not the best choice for a 6 year old. It requires subtle body awareness not only to sucessfully apply the techniques, but also to maintain the safety of your training partner when you do apply the techniques. I have yet to meet a 6 year old with that kind of awareness.

Judo or karate/tae kwon do are probably good arts for someone in this age range, for the reasons krunk explains. I might have some different recommendations for an adult who wants the most effective self-defence methods. For a small child, however, I don't necessarily want to be drilling in the most effective ways of hurting someone. I'd rather be teaching them good body awareness, agility, balance, confidence and discipline.

You'll want to visit a class at any prospective dojo, and check out the balance of discipline and fun. The child needs the discipline, but if he doesn't have fun, he'll never work at it. A good dojo for kids will provide both fun and discipline.

With regards to expenses: most dojos charge between $50-100 a month, depending on the neighborhood, although you might find something cheaper at a local community center or other non-commercial setting. There is generally no real correlation between price and quality of the school. Some commercial schools will want to lock you into long-term contracts, where you are committed to paying for several months or a year. Sign these only if the kid has been taking classes for a while and loves it. Otherwise you'll be out a bunch of money when next month your son decides he'd rather play little league. Also many commercial schools have hidden costs, usually a one-time "association membership" fee and also belt testing fees every couple of months. Ask about these up front. (Non-commercial schools may have the same fees, but they will usually be lower, if they exist.) The uniform shouldn't run more than $30-50, depending on the type.
posted by tdismukes at 5:40 AM on February 17, 2004

The most important thing is to find an art that your child is genuinely interested in and enjoys.

Equally important is finding an instructor who is good with children and who your child can respect both as a martial artist and a human being.

Most martial arts are quite demanding and unless the above conditions are met a six year old child would not last very long.

Personally I would strongly recommend Judo and Kyokushin-Ryu Karate (or Taekwondo if you don't have a Kyokushin Karate Dojo nearby) if you can find the right instructors. These martial arts offer a great workout, a lot of opportunities to compete and strict discipline.

Belts of various colors are a good thing - they serve important roles in discipline and motivation.

Full-contact arts are a good thing. A child who knows what it feels like to get hit will be less inclined to hit people outside the dojo. They will also learn control so that they will be able to hit an aggressor hard enough to stop the aggression without causing unnecessary injury. For full-contact arts finding a good teacher that uses the right teaching methods and proper protective equipment for children is important.

Avoid any schools that focus on attacking (mitts or sandbags) without actually getting hit (full-contact sparring). Teaching a child how to attack without teaching them what it feels like to be attacked is a recipe for violence. (The Kung-Fu school in my hometown was like that - they would teach kids attacks and flashy 'tricks' without ever subjecting them to full-contact sparring. What resulted were aggressive bullies who didn't last long in real fights.)

As was mentioned above, avoid any schools that teach the physical aspects without the mental aspects (discipline, respect, self-control). Again, a recipe for violence.

Avoid the schools that focus on sparring without teaching the basics or kata. A person with a strong understanding of the basics will have an advantage in sparring and competition. Find an instructor who can teach both the basics and the sparring in a balanced way that is fun and challenging for your child.

Avoid Aikido - although I respect the teachings of Ueshiba Morihei and have studied Aikido myself, Aikido would bore a six year old child to tears and Aikido alone is not very useful in real life situations. Aikido is an excellent art to learn after one has strengthened their body in more demanding martial arts and when a person is old enough to understand the subtle aspects of the art and its teachings.

If you choose a Japanese martial art, try to find an instructor who uses the Japanese language as much as possible. Even if it is only to count to ten or twenty in Japanese when doing push-ups, those few words may spark an interest in language learning and culture that will further enrich your child's life.

Extra Notes for Karate: Avoid instructors that let children practice in silence or with weak ki-ai's. A strong, loud ki-ai is a key to becoming strong. Avoid instructors that do not require the children to clean the dojo themselves after every practice. Cleaning one's dojo is an important part of training. Also, it helps if you teach your child to clean and take care of their dogi or uniform themselves.

Sorry for the long post and sorry that I could only address your first question, Irontom.
posted by cup at 8:18 PM on February 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

I've got to disagree with cup on the full-contact thing. Two reasons, both based on nothing more than my own personal experience:

First, and less important, is that full-contact schools tend to focus on competition. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that a lot of elements of the martial art that aren't specifically useful for competition are glossed over. Practicing contact sparring isn't a bad thing, for exactly the reasons cup mentions, but unless you're looking to teach your child how to fight, I would avoid a school that is full-contact all the time.

Second, and more importantly, my experience has been that the students involved in full-contact at a young age are more aggressive with their peers. Full-contact, after all, teaches you to hit someone, and when young children associate that with practice (play) in the dojo they sometimes have a hard time differentiating it from play outside the dojo.

If you can find a school that teaches full-contact sparring with as much of an emphasis on technique as it's non (or less) contact counterpart, then disregard this completely. But I haven't seen or heard of very many of them.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 9:16 PM on February 17, 2004

Hi Yelling At Nothing,

Thank you for your valuable input.

With regards to your first point, I never advocated a school that glosses over the basics or a school that is full-contact all the time. I specifically suggested avoiding such schools and finding an instructor that balances the basics (the core and foundation of any martial art) with the sparring. I believe that we agree on this point.

With regards to your second point, my experiences differ but it will depend largely on the instructor, the dojo (or school) and the dojo-kun (or school's code of conduct) so I will not try to debate the point.

You last point is quite true indeed - schools that achieve the proper balance between the basics and sparring are hard to find. They do exist, however, and are worth looking for.
posted by cup at 3:48 AM on February 18, 2004

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