Parents are getting their kicks asking me if it is okay that their children participate in martial arts classes. Let me put my best foot forward and provide some advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics on this topic.

Martial Arts: How Can They Help Kids?

More than 6.5 million children participate in martial arts classes, such as those that teach karate, taekwondo, or judo. Martial arts have been found to improve social skills, behavior, and respect in children, as well as improve their ability to concentrate. Practicing martial arts has also resulted in improvement of a child’s motor skills and their self-confidence. It can also be a lot of fun.

So are martial arts safe?

They are safer than most sports, especially if the focus is on non-contact training. Injuries can and do happen with increased physical contact, including sparring between children who may want to compete against each other in a martial arts sport.  If you want to reduce your child’s risk of becoming a martial arts injury statistic, I have some suggestions.

First, make sure the instructors teach at a level appropriate for your child’s age and development. Lessons in learning this sport should focus primarily on technique and self-control to reduce the risk of injury and not on fighting against someone else. Head contact should always be discouraged. Any person-to-person contact avoided until a child has the adequate emotional and physical maturity. 

Well-fitted safety gear is important. That includes headgear for sparring or for moves that carry a risk of falling, such as high jumps and flying kicks. Arm pads, shin pads, and chest protection help reduce scrapes and bruises and reduce pain from kicks and punches.

What Form of Martial Arts is Best?

As to what form of martial arts is best, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend one over another. The Academy discourages participation in mixed martial arts as well as simply watching these mixed martial arts events on TV. Direct blows to the head and choking movements can increase the risk of concussion, suffocation, and spine damage if children try to mimic those actions themselves.

Hopefully tips like these, focused on attention to proper equipment and supervision that stresses the fun and fundamentals, will take down any concerns you might have if your child expresses an interest in learning one of the martial arts. 

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital. He is also chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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