If you want your child to learn martial arts, aikido is a great option. Though it’s one of the lesser-known martial arts, it’s one of the best for young, developing bodies. It’s ideal for children who do not excel or have no interest in team sports. The combined physical and mental practices enable them to develop in a way that sports cannot offer.
Why aikido? Aikido is a Japanese martial art that focuses on harmonizing energy with your opponent, intending to bring peaceful resolutions to situations that involve conflict. It’s a self-defense system that resembles judo and jujitsu in its use of throwing and twisting techniques. It aims to turn the attacker’s strength and momentum against himself. Besides strength and skills, it also trains the mind.
This martial arts technique is perfect for people of all ages, including children. It offers great fun as they learn skills along the way. A lot of parents ask how young must they enroll their child in martial arts classes. If you’re wondering too, well, it depends! It depends on the current developmental stage of your child, what you want to get out of it, and if there’s a school or instructor that’s a good fit for your child’s age.
Benefits of Aikido for Children
Here’s how aikido can teach valuable life skills to your child:
Kids will increase their focus by giving them clear goals and showing them how to reach those goals through hard work, being consistent, and being accurate with their moves. Children with special needs (such as those with attention deficit disorder, mild autism, etc.) can benefit from aikido since the structured training techniques can help them monitor their behavior.
2. Physical flexibility and strength
Aikido develops the body in a balanced way as it exercises the body as a whole rather than isolating sections. The art demands a level of flexibility and strength combined, which help prevent bodies from getting stiff, especially during the teenage years, when the body goes through sudden growth spurts.
As kids go through practice and see their techniques becoming stronger and more effective, their confidence grows as well. It becomes invaluable as it filters into other aspects of daily life. And by learning how to protect themselves, your child can have confidence in their abilities to handle life’s challenges. This improved confidence will give them the courage and right mind to say “no” to negative influences.
Any martial art will challenge your self-discipline. As your child progresses through the ranks of martial arts, the fitness, and technical requirements increase, especially in the case of age-specific stages. The children will be taught to safely explore their boundaries and learn life lessons in a supportive and caring environment.
Kids can learn self-control in martial arts in different ways. They learn how important it is to give respect, both for themselves and others. It teaches that in order to earn respect, you must first give it. Once your child learns this important lesson, their self-control will increase naturally.
Combat sports like martial arts give kids an opportunity to test their boundaries and take calculated risks in a risk-managed environment. They can learn the consequences of their actions and that failure doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.
Aikido does not work with competitions, so it avoids bringing the concept to the practice. The only competition that participants have is against their limits. Children are taught dynamic techniques where they can be encouraged to cooperate with their teacher and fellow students.
How Young is Too Young to Learn Aikido?
There are classes aimed at children as young as 18-36 months. For some, that’s too young, but that depends on the variables above. And for children that are too young, usually, the classes offered are far from the original intentions of aikido, but more of martial arts-themed activities that give your child a good solid foundation of social and physical skills. If you enroll them at a young age, you will be directed to the age-appropriate class. Once you get the difference, there will be very little angst.
The answer to the question “how young is too young” depends on these factors:
1. Development stage of the child
Children don’t grow up at the same rate. Some develop very quickly, while others are late bloomers. Generally, children can start in an aikido class when they:
- Can differentiate between left and right and can follow simple instructions
- Have a developed attention span and can sustain attending a full class of 45 minutes
- Have developed motor skills to perform different variations of kicks
- Can understand constructive remarks from sensei and works to improve themselves
- Have developed social skills like language, receptive understanding, ability to adjust their behavior depending on the situation and in a socially acceptable manner
- Are mentally capable of coping with discipline
Martial arts might still be too early for your kid if he or she:
- Has no basic understanding that his or her behavior has consequences
- Is unconscious of his or her surroundings and fails to understand the feelings of other children
- Skips from one activity to the next easily
2. Sensei and dojo
If your child meets the requirements mentioned above, they can start a martial arts class. However, having a good dojo and sensei is equally important. Some martial arts schools are not fit to teach children and don’t have the teaching curriculum and staff fit for handling educational classes for children of young age.
If the dojo tries to sign you up in a contract without even offering a free trial session or period, then it’s a sign that they know students don’t stick for so long in their school.
A good dojo:
- Offers you a free trial session or period. Those that try to sign you up in a contract without offering a trial period is a sign that children don’t stick with them for so long, and they have poor teaching capabilities.
- Makes you and your child feel comfortable. Good martial arts schools have a friendly and supportive community.
- Teaches children that ranks are not as important as their effort
- Makes every move understood by the child, not just because “it’s the way we do it in this dojo.”
A good sensei:
- Is gentle and takes time to work with children individually, not just as a group
- Can handle your kid at his age really well
- Groups children according to their rankings. When children are grouped only by age or regardless of their progress level might cause slow learning.
- Calls students by their names, not giving nicknames for them.
- Lets kids be kids. Children need funny and competitive games sometimes, not just serious lessons.
- Gives every child the same amount of attention, not just the talented and skilled ones
- Trains the children mentally as well, by leading them through meditation or visualization
Some martial arts instructors don’t recommend aikido for kids before puberty, especially for full-blown aikido training. This martial art uses some moves that put a lot of pressure on the elbows and wrists that might cause damage to underdeveloped bodies. Many recommend karate as an appropriate martial art to start.
However, there are schools with talented teachers that can handle really young kids and the kids learn a lot. For these kinds of classes with young children involved, the sensei is only laying down some basics and practicing basic techniques to make it age-appropriate.
The bottom line is, it depends on your child, the sensei, and the dojo.