If you're searching for a way to channel your child's energy into an activity that's part art form, part sport, then look no further than karate.
Jeremy Talbott, director of the American Karate Association, starts training youngsters as young as 4-years-old, but notes that parents should seek out studios focused on karate-based games for young ages as opposed to stricter karate classes.
As children reach 6- or 7-years-old, traditional karate classes are more appropriate. Once children reach their teens, they become eligible to advance past the junior levels, and depending on the studio, teens can be eligible to train for a true black belt.
Though every karate studio varies on belt advancement and training style, each will empower your child with four key lessons.
1. Goal Setting
Your child will begin his or her first class in a white belt, and will inevitably eye the older kids with their flashier, more colorful belts and polished karate motions. But how will they get there?
Your child will learn that with practice and discipline comes a yellow belt (or orange—each studio is different) and additional practice leads up to a green belt. Your young karateka
will continuously strive under his or her instructor's guidance to set sights on the next level to achieve.
Advancing to junior black belt takes around five years, depending on the studio. Developing discipline at a young age gives your child the skill set to consider long-term goals elsewhere in life—perhaps aiming toward college or mastering another sport.
Often mistaken as purely a fighting sport, karate's true purpose is self-defense, not aggression. Your child will learn the basics of how to protect him or herself, a skill that will be valuable throughout life.
He or she will understand techniques to stop an assault or defend a friend, along with the understanding that these skills are to be used only under duress. With practice, these self-defense techniques become committed to memory, ensuring your child knows how to react if and when danger strikes.
These skills are especially invaluable for young girls. More college campuses are offering self-defense each year, and your child will have am advantage when she moves away from home.
Consider any karate demonstration you've ever seen. Do the students move half-heartedly or shrink in the background? Of course not.
To successfully execute a sequence, a karate student needs confidence. Each class builds up the student's skills, but the student must take the initiative to commit to confidently execute each action.
Your child's confidence will increase as he or she masters karate and moves up in belts. This confidence stays with them through schooling, and allows him or her to develop strong friendships and maintain a positive view of themselves.
4. Leadership skills
Throughout school, your child will learn about inspirational leaders in world history. Through karate, Talbott points out, your child will learn to embody the traits of those leaders.
"In martial arts training, students stay to help other kids or lead a class," Talbott says. "They obtain these leadership qualities that they learn about, and they can use those skills in school and later on, in a job."