When our son was five years old, he showed no interest in team sports. He would participate halfheartedly and then after the season we’d prompt him to sign up again. He’d politely say, “No, thank you.”
After a frustrating T-ball season where we spent more time arguing with our son about going to T-ball than actually playing T-ball, and a similarly disappointing stab at soccer, our family was ready to try something new.
We found karate by chance: the sensei (that’s the instructor in karate culture) from one of our local dojos was at a community festival with brochures and a welcoming smile.
Karate seemed like a great way to help our son to be active, without forcing him to play on a team. The brochure outlined what the aims of karate were: self-awareness and body control. The monthly fees for karate were reasonably priced (and it included a uniform!), plus we could try it out for free without any commitment. We decided to give it a shot.
Related read: What to do when your child wants to quit an activity
Our first lesson was great. The sensei was kind but firm, and made the lesson very fun for the group of five- and six-year-olds. They played games, learned how to make a proper fist so as not to hurt their hands when punching, and counted out jumping jacks in Japanese. It was a nice mix of different, age-appropriate activities in the 45 minutes we were there, and our son was hooked right away.
Karate is a cumulative sport: you set your own benchmarks and advance at your own pace from one level to another. Passing a belt test to move to the next level is a sign that you have put in the work to earn it, not simply a reward for participation. There’s always something new to learn that builds on the things you already know.
Over the past six years, my son has excelled at karate. He has participated in other activities too during this time, and we’ve noticed that karate has given him greater self-control and quicker reflexes. He has also learned patience and respect, knowing that everyone in the karate class is learning at their own pace, and that more advanced students are expected to help the younger and less-experienced ones.
I’ve learned a few things, too. Here are a few of my takeaways as a parent of a karate kid:
Take the time to find the right fit
Finding a dojo you love is probably the hardest part. Karate, and martial arts in general, are delivered in lots of different styles. Some are more about grappling and sparring, and others are more focused on weapons or routines. It’s okay to try out a few dojos to find the style you like. Karate Canada’s website is a great place to start, but ask around! Ask your friends what they like about the dojo they attend.
Related read: Find a quality karate program
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Ask the dojo how classes are delivered, how large the classes are, and what a child can learn. Our dojo pays special attention to ensuring all children can participate and offers adaptive instruction to children with special needs. Do ask for a free trial lesson before committing, and find out what the cancellation policy is, too. If the dojo can’t provide these answers to you, move on.
Breaks can be beneficial
As our son has grown, we’ve found it beneficial to take a few breaks from karate. We took time off this past summer, and in a previous year, we skipped November and December. Small breaks have helped him evaluate his level of enjoyment, so that we can return feeling ready to get back to it.
Karate skills are life skills
We’ve also been mindful to verbally connect the dots for him so he sees the benefits of continuing to practice karate. When our son tried archery at a birthday party, it came quite naturally to him, and we made a point of noting that learning to control his breathing and keeping still—both skills from his current level of karate practice—were helping him out.
Activities like karate are great for kids who don’t enjoy team sports, so they can develop active recreation habits and learn the value of physical activity through activities they truly enjoy.