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Is karate good for young kids?

karate kid The other night, I was reading the girls an alphabet book we got out from the library with somewhat “advanced” words for each letter. Words like “earthquake” and “jetty” and “factory.” The “K” word was karate, and when the girls asked what it meant, I found myself stumbling a little. You can’t really tell three-year-olds that karate is an ancient martial art form, because that would require them knowing the words “ancient,” “martial,” and “form.”

So, I said, “It’s a kind of fighting.” Then added, “But it’s also sort of a way of doing exercise.”

This seemed to satisfy them, and we moved on to L. (Labyrinth!)

Then, today as I was driving the girls to preschool I saw a sign in the window of a Karate studio near us announcing that they now had classes for three- and four-year-olds: “Mighty Mites!” (Cute, eh? Your child, the fighting tick!)

Whenever I see that a class — anywhere, for anything — is being offered for three and four year olds, I contemplate, however briefly, whether we should sign the girls up for it. We have them in a gymnastics class now, which they love, but it only runs for a couple more weeks, and I know that Alastair really appreciates having activities to bring the gals to during the week when he’s looking after them.

So I thought maybe we ought to check it out. Martial arts are supposed to build discipline and focus and confidence and all that. It’s good exercise. And how cute do little kids look in the outfits? (Exhibit A., above).

But then I thought: Wait. Do I really want to bring my daughters to a place where they’ll learn how to kick, punch and otherwise inflict bodily harm? My daughters, who get into a physical altercation of some sort with each other at least two or three times a day?

It’s Elsa in particular I worry about. She’s a very physical kid — strong and boisterous and energetic. And she loves as hard as she fights: more than once she’s knocked me off balance with a sudden embrace or hugged me around the neck with all the tenderness of a boa constrictor. I worry that if we signed her up for a karate class, she would only become more dangerous. Possibly unstoppable.

On the other hand, maybe it would be good for her to have the outlet. If she were given a sanctioned, disciplined place to kick ass, in a safe and mediated way, she might be less inclined to bop her sister on the head every time they get into a toy dispute. And maybe it would help her understand when fighting is and isn’t appropriate. (That’s part of the whole martial arts thing, right?)

Still, I’m very curious as to how instructors manage to convey to children so young that kicking and punching (and yelling, for that matter) in a class is one thing, but practicing on your siblings and friends is another. Are “mites” mature enough to make the distinction?

Has anyone out there had their 3-5 year-olds take karate or the like? What has your kids’ experience been like? Has it been a good thing for them? If nothing else, have they offered to paint your fence or wax your car?

 

Jumping cowboy, grinning dragon.

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Lead Photo: Steven Yeh

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