Look beyond the kicks and the punches, and martial arts have a whole host of benefits for a child’s body and mind.

The most common misconception about martial arts is that it makes people more aggressive and violent. Martial arts originated as a combat weapon and self-defence mechanism but today they have a load of health benefits.

Under the right kind of teacher, they can actually make a violent kid calm and composed. Martial arts, in fact, discourage violence and help a child empathise with the opponent’s pain and injuries.

Right age

Children can start practising martial arts from age six, since by then they would have enough neuro-muscular coordination and control to carry out commands and the cognitive ability to understand and implement instructions.

Most combat forms in general are called martial arts and there is a lot of variety in what is being taught today. Modern ones like kickboxing concentrates on physical techniques and are usually competition oriented. There are other more traditional forms as well. It is important to choose the right instructor and a form that adheres to the original because learning the principles is more important than just learning the techniques.

Here is a quick overview of the different types of martial arts. But before signing up, check if the instructor and the school are recognised under the national and the international federation of the respective form.

Karate: A Japanese form, it uses a lot of blocks, punches and kicks. There are various styles under karate but only a few are recognised under the World Karate Federation. Karate inculcates confidence and discipline and is a great platform if you are looking for a serious sport.

Kung Fu: This Chinese form includes deep meditation, training with weapons, sparring, special stances, forms of posture and a lot of mental training. The focus is more on the chi (energy). Though kids benefit from the physical aspects, the deeper concepts can be understood only at a more mature age.

Tae Kwan Do: A Korean form of Karate recognised for the Olympics, this originally developed as a military art. It teaches confidence and discipline and combative techniques include blocks, strikes, kicks, jumps and spins. Ensure that the school is affiliated and recognised by the World Taekwondo Federation before enrolling.

Judo: Judo is Japanese, and the body that governs it is the International Judo Federation. Judo is also an Olympics sport. The techniques incorporate foot sweeps, joint locks, falls and chokes, though it also teaches self control and respect for the opponent. It is highly combative and should be considered for older children.

What it does

Shihan Suresh Manual, an instructor at the Champions Karate Academy, Irving, Texas, explains, “Martial arts are practised in a group, so they build social skills. But in tournaments, the individual performance matters; so the kid strives to excel individually too. The focus is mainly on learning the principles rather than winning/losing. Martial arts develop a capacity to cope with crisis, enhance presence of mind and teach life skills.”

Samhith was eight when his mother, Brinda, put him in Karate class. “He used to be very quiet and reserved. One year later he is more confident and has become very social, independent and is doing well in his studies too. He is periodically given five chores to be done at home by his instructor. That helps him learn self-discipline and of course it means five chores less for me,” she says. “The flip side is that he also plays soccer and the team gets a trophy in every other tournament. But in Karate he has to earn every bit of it individually. At times he loses heart. But I guess that’s the biggest lesson: that winning or losing doesn’t matter. With a little motivation and encouragement, he will gradually enjoy the real essence of the sport and participate.”

In fact a recent study has shown that, in cases of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), kids reported greater success with martial arts because it helped them build self-control and concentration.

A typical one-hour class begins and ends with a bow to the teacher. As the child progresses to higher levels, he/she learns to persevere, to strive, to perform and to reach the next level.

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