Are you concerned for your son’s safety but too scared to allow him to try karate because you fear he will be injured? Do you resist your daughter’s attempts to join her friends in the local martial arts classes because you think her face will be permanently disfigured by a kick or punch?
Relax, karate and most other martial arts are relatively safe, especially for kids. Statistics http://www.nyssf.org/statistics1998.html show that martial arts are safer than most other sports, especially in the younger age brackets. Young children have less power, and are therefore less able to hurt each other than adults. As you can see from the above link, martial arts are safer than baseball and basketball, and far safer than football (gridiron) or rugby. In addition, the nature of injuries are usually far less severe in martial arts, with the typical injury a sprain, strain, or bruise, as this article shows. These are minor compared to the brain and spinal cord injuries that happen in more dangerous sports. Nevertheless, injuries do occur. Luckily, there are things you can do as a parent that will tip the odds in favour of your child’s safety.
First, schools that specialise in children are your best bet because they usually make sure the classes are kid-friendly, meaning non-intimidating and safe. Remember, they are teaching kids, not prison guards or army combat types, where the outcome is life or death.
Always insist on watching your child’s classes. Good martial arts schools will allow and even encourage you to watch the classes. It is the parent’s right to see what is going on. It is also the parent’s right to question something that does not look safe.
Are the classes usually preceded by a warm-up session? Flexibility training is the key to injury prevention. Kids are usually far more limber than adults so the warm-up session does not need to be as long as in the adults classes.
Sparring and contact is the most critical area as this is where the potential for injury is greatest. Sparring is not for beginners, especially when they are kids. The student needs to develop not only correct technique, but also the control that goes along with it before he or she steps into the sparring ring.
Does the school require students to wear protective gear, including head gear, gloves, mouthguards, shin/foot pads? Is the sparring overseen by black belts, with the sensei always present?
Are there clear-cut rules for which areas of the body are off-limits as targets? Some contact is not necessarily a bad thing, as it teaches children the importance of covering up and using footwork to evade their attacker. But allowing children to punch each other in the face or neck is a big mistake, as is kicking below the belt or in the back.
Full-contact sparring should be for students 16 years and older, not for young children. Are students that show a lack of control cautioned, or is the instructor creating an aggro environment, where the kids are encouraged to be aggressive? Technique and control should be emphasised in sparring, not brute power. These are all important areas to consider when viewing a sparring class.
Weapons can be dangerous, especially ones that are difficult to control like the kamas or nunchucks. It is advisable to require students to be a certain level, preferably black belt, before they can begin learning them.
Overall, get a feel for the instructors, as their attitudes will be reflected in their students. If they are caring and respectful, they will produce caring and respectful students in a safe, friendly environment, where learning is fun and everyone is welcome.