What are the Physical Benefits of Karate for Children and Adolescents?

Did you miss part one of The Benefits of Karate?  Click this link.

We’re working together to help your child begin cultivating the lifelong habit of an active, vigorous, and healthy lifestyle through the study and practice of Karate.  This isn’t a new concern, by any means – in the 1890s, Teddy Roosevelt wrote and spoke about the importance of living what he called “The Strenuous Life”. He spoke from experience, and from conviction. Teddy had been a weak and sickly child, and knew just how precious and important robust physical health was.  He worked hard for many years to achieve it – and developed the lifelong habit of being physically active to maintain it.

Teddy was also one of the first people in the United States to study Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. As a boy, he learned to box and to wrestle, and continued to practice these with zest as an adult.  As President, he took lessons in Judo and Jiu-Jitsu under the guidance of the Japanese teacher Yamashita Yoshiaki.  Many years later, Yamashita admitted that Teddy had been his most challenging student.  Teddy was so very enthusiastic in their lessons together that Yamashita had to use all his skill to keep both of them from being injured as they worked together.*

Your child isn’t going to be asked to trade Judo throws with Teddy Roosevelt in our lessons together.  But Karate does give your child a way to be up and active – to jump into Teddy’s “Strenuous Life”.  It’s worth doing.  The potential physical benefits of Karate for your child are substantial.  We’ll look at them in greater depth below:

1. Participate Completely:

Our goal is to get your child participating completely in each of their Karate lessons as quickly as possible.  We have a special program for beginning students for just this purpose.

We will meet your child where they are physically – especially if they’ve been fairly sedentary recently.  If this is so – great!  Your child is the ideal beginning student.  Karate as it exists today was created with just this situation in mind.  One of the fundamental ideas that drives Karate as a discipline is to work with people who are leading an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and are seeking a positive, constructive way to be physically active.

Your child also doesn’t need any prior experience, or some kind of pre-existing skill set to participate fully.  This is different from many competitive sports – someone who isn’t highly skilled, or an accomplished athlete often doesn’t get to participate much.  Mostly, they sit on the bench and watch others play the game.  Sometimes they get cut from the team.

In Karate, your child isn’t going to sit on the bench or get cut from the team.  Your child is a member of our dojo community, and participates fully and completely in each lesson.

2. Stretching and Flexibility:

We incorporate a warm-up and thorough, full body stretching into each Karate lesson, to build your child’s flexibility and range of motion.  This has several related benefits.

The first is to carefully prepare your child to be physically active.  Warming up and stretching thoroughly helps protect your child from muscle strains or pulls during the course of our lesson together.

The second is that muscles that have been properly warmed up and stretched respond a little more quickly.  Your child will be able to move a little faster, and generate greater power in their blocks, strikes and kicks.

Finally, we’re building your child’s range of motion in all parts of their body.  They’ll be able to move a little further, with greater ease and confidence – your child will feel a little more comfortable in their own skin.

3. Overall Muscular Strength:

The practice of Karate stresses using our body as linked whole in every skill.  For example, when your child learns to perform a block, they’ll learn that it’s not just about moving one arm – their entire body is involved in that block.  We’re not just focused on developing upper-body strength – we’re working the legs and the core as well.

Also, your child will be working to develop strength and dexterity on both sides of their body equally – right and left.  This is different from many competitive sports, that focus only on developing the skills of our dominant side.  If we’re involved in baseball, for instance, and we’re right-hand dominant, no-one is going to work with us on our left-handed throwing skills.  In the context of playing a game this just wouldn’t make any sense.

The idea in Karate is that we have to be capable of using both sides of our body effectively.  We have to be able to defend with our left arm or kick with our left leg at need.  A potential attacker isn’t going to give us the option of letting us pick which arm or which leg we’ll use to defend ourselves.  Our practice of formal kata in our lessons together will help your child to develop this capability.

4. Balance and Co-ordination:

Your child develops and then strengthens their balance and coordination by learning and practicing traditional Karate skills.

Again, this is an area where our practice of kata (in English sometimes called ‘patterns’ or ‘forms’) is particularly important.  Kata are a dynamic series of connected Karate skills we’ll be learning in our lessons together.  Kata are the oldest known form of martial arts training, and are fundamental to many of the benefits of Karate.

Working with the individual skills involved in kata helps your child build solid body mechanics as well as good posture.  The formalized stances, blocks, strikes and kicks we learn together demand precise placement and movement of our entire body.  As your child practices these skills they’re also building both their balance and co-ordination.

Learning and performing the entire dynamic sequence of a kata enhances your child’s kinesthetic sense. This is the sense of our body’s location and movement in space, relative to other people and other things.  Our children are still in the process of developing this sense – which is why they sometimes struggle with balance and co-ordination as they move.  Performing the dynamic skill sequences of kata gives your child the means of further developing their kinesthetic sense.

5. Low Risk of Injury:

This may take you by surprise at first.  However, the classical approach to the discipline of Karate is to avoid injury by careful preparation and equally careful practice.  There are two reasons for this.

The first is to make sure your child is able to consistently participate in Karate lessons, so they can learn and develop their skills and understanding properly.  That means staying healthy and uninjured.  The thorough warm up and stretch at the beginning of every lesson helps protect your child from injury.

The second is to make sure that your child is physically able to protect themselves properly at need – meaning strong and uninjured.  We’re very mindful of how we use our skills in our lessons together, so that we don’t inadvertently damage each other.  The modern training equipment we use allows us to practice powerful strikes and kicks without inflicting harm on each other.

Up to this point, I’ve used the words injury and damage.  The concussions and knee ligament tears so common in football are injuries – serious, perhaps permanent, physical damage.

Let’s talk instead about hurt – about experiencing pain.  That can and will happen from time to time as your child participates in Karate lessons.  A few bumps and bruises now and then are normal, and to be expected.  They will certainly hurt for a few moments – but are typically nothing more than a minor annoyance, quickly forgotten.  I do think that there is some benefit to learning that hurt is something transitory that we can shrug off without losing our composure or self-control.

6. A Sound Mind in a Sound Body:

This principle is an ancient one, that has been borne out time and again by modern research – our psychological health and our physical health are strongly linked.  You’ll still see the Latin expression used sometimes:  Mens sana in corpore sano.  The Roman poet Juvenal wrote this about 100 AD in our reckoning, as he considered what made for a truly good life.  The idea was an old and proven one even in Juvenal’s time.

Our kids want – and need – to be active.  Our Karate lessons together provide your child with a constructive outlet for their physical and emotional energies – vital for their health and development in both areas.  Our children need our help as parents in finding positive, structured outlets for their energy.  Left to themselves, they’ll come up with projects of their own – taking the microwave apart to find out how it works, for example.

Also, children who are consistently physically active tend to be more active and productive long-term.  Our lessons together help your child build their vitality and a taste for being physically, emotionally and cognitively active and engaged.  Karate is a physical and mental discipline your child can potentially pursue all their life, enhancing their physical and emotional wellbeing in the process.

To find out more about getting started as a student at Broadway Family Karate, please follow this link:  3 Lesson Introductory Course.

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© T.R. Booker 2020

* You can read what Teddy Roosevelt had to say about “The Strenuous Life” in many collections of his works, which are readily available both in e-book and traditional print versions.  Teddy was a competent, solid writer and speaker – not a brilliant stylist, but good at making his meaning clear.

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