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  • Writer's pictureSensei Christina Graf

How Martial Arts Training Benefits Children

As a karate teacher and now a parent myself, a predominant question I have been asked is “why karate for my child”?  There seems to be a misconception that training a child in martial arts would contribute to aggression or violent behaviour.  This is simply not the case.  In fact, the opposite is true. 

In the dojo (karate school) the class curriculum and the manner in which students are taught provide students with the skills needed to resolve their differences non-violently.   Karate isn’t about kicking and punching, techniques are only the medium. In Karate-do (the way of karate), the goal is to develop a better person.  It’s about building character, learning self- confidence and self-control and fostering discipline, respect and perseverance.

Sensei Miyagi Chojun, the originator of Goju Ryu, famously states: "Karate-do ni sente nashi" translated in English it means; there is no first strike in karate-do. All katas start with a block emphasizing this. A true Karate ka (student) always does everything to prevent violence. Walking away from a confrontation is always considered a victory.

“Do not be struck by others. Do not strike others. The principle is the peace without incident”—Chojun Miyagi

The dojo offers a great environment to not only understand the value of respect, but also to practice and truly understand its importance. All our karate training begins and ends with respect and is shown from the moment you walk into a dojo. Students learn the custom of bowing.  Although bows are used in prayer in Japan and form integral parts of many religions, the bow used in the dojo is not part of a religious ceremony. In Japanese culture, the bow is used more for business and social interactions than religious ones. It is more similar to a Western handshake than to Eastern religion[1]. The word bow in Japanese is “Rei” which means “respect”.  All students build and practice their skills on a solid foundation of respect for themselves and respect for others.  Karate students are expected to be respectful in all aspects of their training.  It is found in the way we take care of the dojo, how we speak to one another and how we help each other learn and practice. With respect as a foundation, the student is able to build the skills of self-control and self-discipline.   It is the product of a combination of training, repetition, and the desire for improvement and are skills that translates well into every area in life.

"Karate begins and ends with courtesy." ~ Gichin Funakoshi

In the practice of Goju karate, students are provided with a positive environment and activity in which to channel their energy.   As it is a physical endeavor, workouts consist of a good mixture of cardiovascular endurance, strength training and flexibility exercises that are designed to benefit the whole body throughout a lifetime. Through the proper practice of kihon (basics), kata and kumite, one learns the mechanics and techniques of body movements to develop speed, power, balance and coordination as well as concentration and the ability to avoid distraction. Included in the physical benefits, the student learns proper breathing techniques. Proper breathing emphasizes controlling the abdominal area and strengthening the diaphragm. Controlled breathing (ibuki breathing) is the inhalation and exhalation that are performed in unison with the various blocking and striking movements.  This helps to create and maintain calmness, restores a sense of control and prepares the mind and body to execute self-defence techniques. [2]Learning early the benefits and proper practice of these exercises at an early age, help to set the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle.

"Should you desire the great tranquility, prepare to sweat". ~ Hakuin

The practice of Goju karate reinforces life skills and promotes good behavior in and out of the dojo. These include listening skills, following directions and being receptive of positive instruction fortifying the behaviours that contribute to success in the school system and beyond. Through a regimented schedule, students learn through varied methods including modeling, imitation and observation with positive reinforcement and encouragement.   The martial art itself promotes mental calmness, relaxation of the body, adaptation to obstacles and one-at-a-time problem solving strategies, which you will not find in an exercise routine such as weightlifting or jogging[3]. As martial arts are truly an art form, it fosters self-expression and creativeness.  Karate is also a great activity for children who struggle in team sports. In these cases, it helps fill a void for children who struggle to participate in sports because they have limited social skills. Structured physical programs like karate can have a positive influence in developing skills that help with group participation[4]and encourages sportsmanship.  The dojo also provides a safe environment to make and foster friendships and connect with others of like mind and shared values and is a source of positive role models.

"No matter how you may excel in the art of te, and in your scholastic endeavors, nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life." ~ Teijunsoku (Nago Oyakata)

Practices like karate are much more than a means of teaching children to protect themselves from bullies, they are a way to show them how to respect themselves, each other, and learn the kind of discipline skills that will help them in school, work, and beyond. It gives them a solid foundation to cope with the pressures each endures throughout childhood, setting the patterns and behaviors for a successful transition to adulthood.[5]

“The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory nor defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” ~ Gichin Funakoshi

[1]Smith, Darren To Bow or Not To Bow "now that's a tough question" February 27, 2012


[2]Kauffer, Pete Self-Defense Training - 2 Breathing Techniques For A Self-Defense Situation February, 09 2014


[3]Morand, Matthew K. Martial Arts and ADHD Full Study February 10 2014


[4]Marino, Tracy Karate Can Help Kids with Special Needs Grow in Many Ways February 14 2014


[5]Sams, Michael Discipline: How Martial Arts Helps our Kids February 16 2014 <>

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