Best Martial Arts for Kids: What Research Shows?

Positive and Negative Effects of Learning Martial Arts

As discussed in our previous article, "Benefits and Good Age of Learning Martial Arts," learning martial arts can promote children’s self-regulation skills and mental health by improving mediation between thoughts and actions in response to a physical challenge. This is in addition to all of well-known health benefits associated with exercising.

The largest gain is for 4th-5th graders, while gains for kindergarteners-1st graders are small, and those for 2nd-3rd graders are moderate. 

However, these benefits may come with costs. Some studies have documented more aggressive languages, more aggressive behavior, and even antisocial or violent crimes associated with those who have learned various forms of martial arts.

Researchers also find that different types of martial arts cause varying degrees of positive and negative effects. So, which martial art class should your kid attend?


Which is the best martial art for children?

Below, we elaborate further on the benefits and impacts of learning martial arts in relation to children’s development by comparing among different types of martial arts:    

Based on 27 studies, learning martial arts has more positive than negative impacts on personality development, and is able to reduce hostile and aggressive behaviors. However, the effects are often different across different types of martial arts. Interestingly, the best martial arts for kids are karate and taekwondo. First, learning karate and taekwondo over several years with advanced levels has many benefits to children’s character development and well-being. Second, unlike most people's perception, most studies show that learning karate and taekwondo does not lead to aggressive behaviors. Third, many other types of martial art, including jiu jitsu, aikido, and judo, DO NOT lead to aggressive behaviors either. Fourth, however, learning boxing, wrestling, weight lifting, and oriental martial arts may have negative effects on children’s antisocial and violent behaviors.

Again, studies show that the recommended martial arts for kids are karate and taekwondo.


The details of benefits of learning karate and taekwondo

(1) The impacts of learning karate:

     1. Advanced levels of karate increase children's physical well-being, enhance children’s self-confidence, and regulate anxiety.   

     2. Success in karate has positive effects on self-esteem.

     3. Even less successful learners of karate gain anger management skills.

     4. Learning karate over several years does not lead to aggressive or hostile behaviors.  

(2) The impacts of learning taekwondo on children’s well-being.

     1. In general, learning taekwondo is able to reduce anxiety, enhance self-esteem, and promote social adroitness.

     2. Advanced levels of taekwondo can even enhance independence, self-regulation (thinking and emotion), better classroom behaviors, mental math, and prosocial behaviors (helping others, volunteering, sharing with others, and collaborating well with others)

     3.Learning taekwondo over several years and levels does not lead to children’s aggressive behaviors.

So in conclusion, karate and taekwondo are the best martial arts for kids to learn self-defense, discipline, and exercise.




Experts' Opinions

Remark #1

from Professor William T Hoyt, Department of Counseling Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The martial arts group demonstrated greater improvements than the comparison group in areas of cognitive self-regulation, affective self-regulation, prosocial behavior, classroom conduct, and performance on a mental math test.


Remark #2

from Professor  David T. Burke, Harvard University, School of Medicine, Department PM&R. (Currently Professor and Chair, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Emory University)

“A review of the medical literature that demonstrates some of these health benefits is included, with Tai Chi Chuan as the most studied of these. The health benefits discussed include strengthen and self-efficacy of the elderly, reduced falls, increased exercise capacity, and benefits to the immune system and autonomic nervous system.”


Remark #3

from Professor Eric Reynes, Université Claude Bernard Lyon and Professor Jean Lorant, Université de Nice Sophia—Antipolis

“After two years of practice, karate training seemed to have neither positive nor negative effects on aggressiveness scores, while judo training seemed to have a negative effect on anger scores. However, the results suggested the importance of kata or meditation in training sessions on self-control acquisition for such young boys.”


Remark #4

from Dr. Inger M. Endresen and Dr. Dan Olweus, Research Center for Health Promotion (HEMIL), University of Bergen, Norway

“The total pattern of results for this two-year longitudinal study strongly suggests that participation in power sports (boxing including kickboxing, wrestling, weightlifting and martial arts when combined with other power sports) among preadolescent and adolescent boys leads to an increase or enhancement of antisocial involvement outside the sports situation.”

Created on January 17 2016 at 07: 07 PM

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Details of Scientific Answers: Click on each bullet to Read References


1: "The social-psychological outcomes of martial arts practise among youth: A review," Journal of sports science & medicine, 2010, by Vertonghen, J., & Theeboom, M. . (Citations: 40).

Martial arts involvement among the youth has been described in controversial terms. Studies regarding the effects of martial arts practise on youth show contrasting images. While some refer to enhanced personal and social opportunities for those that participate, others warn against increased levels of aggressiveness and antisocial behavior among its participants. The aim of the present review is to provide, firstly, an overview of the major findings of studies concerning the social-psychological outcomes of martial arts practise. Secondly, the limitations of those studies are discussed. From more than 350 papers, collected during a two-year lasting literature study, 27 papers met all criteria to be included in this study. This review revealed that even though a considerable amount of research on social-psychological outcomes of martial arts practise has been conducted over the years, to date, it has not brought clarity in the existing duality regarding the possible effects of martial arts involvement. It is proposed that a better understanding can be provided if specific influential factors are taken into account in future research (i.e., participants' characteristics, type of guidance, social context and structural qualities of the sport).

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Best Martial Arts for Kids: What Research Shows?

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