What is the best martial arts for kids? Well, that all depends on what you as a parent expect your child to gain from the arts. There are several common desired outcomes parents want from the partaking of martial arts for their children and I'll try to touch base on those.
3. Physical Interaction with other children in a controlled Environment.
In the 20 plus years that I have been teaching Martial Arts to children, many parents want their children to learn stranger awareness and defensive maneuvers to prevent assault and/or abduction. As far as "what is the best martial arts for kids", you have to look at several different factors, such as how old is the child in question, does he or she have an average attention span or is the child on medication to keep them focused, does he or she really want to take these lessons or do you have to force him/her to attend, can you really afford the lessons,are there any health concerns of the child in question? You must take all of this into consideration before you decide your child needs martial arts instruction.
Let's assume that you want your child to be more disciplined and that is your major reason for the martial arts lessons. Then you must decide on a good instructor. By good instructor I mean one that not only has a vast array of knowledge in his or her particular style of martial arts but one that is accustomed to teaching small children and adults alike. The instructor must be well disciplined themselves and sometimes you will be able to see this upon your first introduction. If not, then I would suggest that you watch a few classes and see how the instructor interacts with his or her students. If you do not feel comfortable with the teaching methods, by all means go elsewhere. If you like what you see then go a step further and speak with some of the other parents and hopefully you will get some positive feedback on the instructor. Most schools have no problem with you sitting in and watching a few classes to make your mind up. If they do not allow you to watch, then go elsewhere.
Content is also a major concern for most parents. Any honorable instructor should be able to teach all levels of children, from 3 years old up to adulthood depending on attention span. Content for a 16 year old would be very different than for the 6 year old and under. I'll give you an example. Let's say that the technique in question was an eye gouge, which is an effective technique but comes with a dramatic effect on the attacker. Whereas the 16 year old may be able to understand that you would never use such a technique unless threatened by serious bodily harm or in an abduction type situation, the 6 year old if taught this technique, may opt to use it on their brother or sister because he or she had a fight over a toy or other trivial matter. A true martial arts instructor should be a good reader of people and should be able to size them up within a few seconds, understanding and taking into consideration age, intelligence level, and appropriateness of technique.
If you do sign your child up and you do not see any positive results within a few weeks, find another school. Of course if you have the time and your child is not distracted by you being there, join as well. What better way to see if the instructor is teaching honorably?
Let's say that you want your child to take martial arts to gain self-confidence. The instructor's reading or as I put it earlier in this article, the instructor's sizing a person up, has to come into play and he or she must approach the situation a little differently. Trust is the key. If your child does not trust the instructor then he or she will not listen to him or her. Self-confidence has to be built gradually. If approached too fast then more harm than good could be the end result. I have taught children that came into my dojo with their head hung down , not even looking anyone in the eyes, children so scared of others that they were having problems at school and at home. Some of the reasons these children were like this were different but they all shared that lack of self. One child in particular comes to mind. His parents were the type that really did not know how to interact with their son on his level. The only interaction they had with him was on their level so he did not know how to interact with children his own age. He was very short for his age and he was bullied by his schoolmates. He was made to feel inadequate by not only his schoolmates but inadvertently by his own parents. After 3 months of instruction, not only did this kid walk with his head held high but he was cheerful and smiling. His grades at school went from d's to b's and he even gained the confidence to join the school baseball team! As it turned out he became one of my best students and not only did I, but my whole class looked forward to seeing him each week.
The physical interaction that your child receives while taking martial arts must be a positive one. He or she must not only be taught the martial arts techniques but appropriateness of the techniques, method and be quizzed confrontationally in most situations before one knows how he or she will react. You can NOT allow him or her to become a bully and you must know that your child's instructor strictly enforces brotherhood. Your child must be taught virtuous and honorably. Your child, if he or she really wants to learn will be a small reflection of their instructor.
As far as the self-defense part of your child's learning, that again will all depend on your child's age. You really can not expect a 3 year old child to be able to adequately ,physically , defend him or herself against a full grown man or woman. What you can expect if taught by a qualified instructor, is for your child to be able to know what to do if confronted by a would-be attacker. When I say ,"know what to do", I mean a number of things. Let's say for instance that you decide to take your 3 year old child to the park. You sit on a nearby bench while your child is having fun on the small children's merry-go-round. Would your child know to NOT take the hand of a lady he or she has never seen before and leave the park? Would he or she know to yell something such as,"stop your not my mom or dad", if a stranger tries to take him or her away? Maybe your child was given a whistle by his or her instructor and taught to blow it only in situations like that, to alert you or your husband in case you were momentarily distracted.
So, what is, "the best martial arts for kids"?
The best martial arts for kids is an instruction that is fun. One in which he or she looks forward to. One in which he or she learns from. One in which he or she do not sustain injuries on a consistent basis. And I use the term, "consistent basis" rather loosely. In my many years of instruction, I have never had any serious injury to any of my students under the age of 18. The most serious was a busted lip which heals in a few days. There is always that chance of an injury with any physical activity but if taught by a good instructor that chance is remote. A few bruised egos but not injuries. Martial arts should be uplifting in many ways and should never be dreaded by your child or looked at as punishment. Nor should it be taken away as punishment for bad grades as a lot of parents do.
So what really is the best martial arts? Hmm, if one is speaking in terms of style then the answer is , "there is no best style". The best martial arts is what is best for you, the person. What works for you, what makes you happy is what is best. Whether it be Kung-Fu, Karate, Judo, Hapkido, etc,etc I've taught all of the above styles as well as several other styles and have found that children like a variety. As an instructor you also have to make whatever style you are teaching interesting to your students and useful.