“How old does a child have to be to start martial arts?” This is a question I get asked all the time. In China, kids start Wushu as young as three. Many martial arts instructors in all styles start their own kids as soon as they can walk, usually in their twos. To me, three is the absolute minimum. But the real answer is–it varies. Yes, it depends on a few factors. Let’s look at them.
Experience with other Structured Activities
Has your child been involved in any structured group activities, like pre-school or other sports? Was he or she able to function without your help? Were they content to stay in the class or did they keep running in and out of it, when it suited them?
If you have any doubts here, go to a martial arts class or two and watch it with your child. Are they able to see how the kids function in a proper class and what is expected of them?
Ability to Focus and Follow Directions
Is your child able to follow simple instructions? Are they able to stand still and stay focused for at least a few minutes at a time? Although a good instructor will vary activities during the class, your child must at least be able to focus on each drill or game. At the pre-school age, children learn primarily by copying, so it is important they be able to do this.
Ability to Accept Discipline
Is your child able to accept discipline without throwing a tantrum? Do they understand that they cannot always have their way? Are they able to wait for their turn? A child who insists on always being the center of attention takes too much time away from the others. Children having difficulty in this area will almost always be asked by the sensei to return when they are older.
What are your expectations? Martial arts for a four or five year-old should be about fun, focus, and developing coordination and balance. You should not be worrying about creating the next Bruce Lee at that age. If you put children in high-pressure situations, they will lose interest in the activity.
This is probably the most important, though overlooked factor. Is the program set up with small children in mind? Does the class separate children by age and experience? If a class includes 3 to 7 year olds of all different levels, it is going to be extremely difficult for the three year-olds. We have special Tiny Tiger programs at selected locations, for three and four year-olds. For the three and four year-olds, it is enough to get them used to moving around, getting organised into circles, lines, etc., following directions, simple blocks and evasions, and most important, having fun. Older children, usually five and above, start to learn the more practical self-defence aspects of the martial arts as they can better understand when it is appropriate to use it.
Get Started as Soon as Possible
Getting your children started as soon as they are ready gives them an edge. Life skills such as coordination, balance, concentration, socialization, respect, and self-discipline will be promoted in a good program. Seek out the best martial arts school for your child and good luck!
When is a Child Ready for Martial Arts? is an original article by Sensei Matt Klein.