Karate for Children and Teenagers....

K.U.A. is dedicated to Karateka of all ages of course, but there are certain considerations to be addressed and special advantages to be gained for youngsters interested in Karate.

On this page, Sensei Elliot Kleiner (3rd Dan) will address your most common questions and concerns about Karate for Kids. Sensei Elliot has been a consultant on teenage issues for over 24 years and currently teaches at our Dojos around Sydney where many of the students range in age from 4 to 16. A father of 2 teenage boys, both senior Karate practitioners with National tournament accolades, Sensei Elliot understands the issues relating to Karate for kids, from both sides of the equation.

The following article, written by Sensei Elliot in 2004, has been widely published globally in many web sites and papers as the most succinct evaluation of the subject.


When you walk into the average Dojo, you'll usually see a fairly diverse cross-section of local society involved. If you were to ask each person you meet as to why they practice Karate, you'll receive an equally diverse range of answers. Some train for fitness or weight-loss, others for self defence, some even for the spiritual or philosophical. These sorts of reasons certainly apply for everyone but there are very many more reasons why youngsters should explore what Martial Arts offer.

To briefly generalise, the following are the things youngsters will immediately gain from training Karate, whether they know it or not....

  • Development of Motor Skills
  • Eye-Hand Coordination
  • Balance and Gravity-related skills
  • Sharpening of reflexes
  • Honing of reflexive defensive skills
  • Greater focus and concentration
  • Greater self confidence
  • Understanding of the importance of etiquette and hierarchy
  • Goal setting and achievement
  • Spirit of friendly competition without malice
  • Understanding the bio-mechanics of their own bodies and their limits
  • Understanding of the causes of feelings of aggression and how to subdue them

This is just a small list and there is a far greater list within and beyond that summary.

Let's now have a look at Parent's most frequently asked questions relating to Karate.

Q:    What is the earliest age my child can begin training?

A:    This answer may vary depending upon who you ask. Many Martial Arts organisations are operated as pure business interests, therefore, some instructors may be willing to accept students of any age, as long as the fees are paid. This is probably not the right motivation.

As K.U.A. is operated mainly as a non-profit organisation, we tend to be a little more selective as to the suitability of students. Not being motivated purely by profit, we can assess more appropriately what's best for the child.

As a good rule of thumb, the average age I believe a child should begin training is 8 years. Although there are some exceptional children who I sometimes receive as young as 6, the difference in concentration skills between 6 and 8 are usually vast.

Any younger than that and there is a risk of the child learning only the choreographical properties of this art, without any real meaning, as yet, to apply "reason" or "consequence" to those skills. That is to say - at 5 years, Billy can easily learn to inflict harm on others but does not yet have the ability to know when is an appropriate or inappropriate time to use that skill. The result can end up being broken noses in the sand-box at Kindy over a spade. This is certainly not what we want to promote.

My advice is, start them at 8, when they have the ability to reason better.

If little Billy seems to want to get into some form of activity, and, as a parent, you'd like to sharpen some of the motor skills while he's still too young for Karate, I'd be inclined to introduce the child to Gymnastics. This will produce many of the same physical results, and would serve as a reasonable preparatory activity that will assist Karate when the child is old enough to begin training.

Q:    I have a 14 year old boy who  seems to be a little uncoordinated and self-conscious. Does that mean he'd be no good for Karate?

A:    Quite the contrary in fact. This is quite normal.

When a boy reaches that crucial hormonal minefield between 11 and 16, the most obvious sign that things are changing will be a spurt of physical growth.

As this growth is mainly skeletal, his motor-skills, however impressive prior, will take a bit of a downturn at this time. That's because the skeleton will grow faster than the motor-skills will be able to adapt to the physical change. They will eventually catch up but here's the good news... Karate training throughout this period will assist in a number of ways. 

It will sharpen those motor-skills and accelerate that "catch-up" process. It will assist in the development of those muscles that begin to take shape during this time. It will assist in maintaining the youthful flexibility of the joints while the growth occurs. Most of all, it provides an excellent understanding of the affects of the chemical changes occurring, which lead to feelings of anxiety, confusion, aggression that are associated with this period, which will help your "young man" maintain control and self-esteem. Of course, there's also the friendly environment where a young-adult can feel he belongs, and be himself with total comfort.

Q:     I want my daughter to learn to defend herself but my first thoughts of Karate are very "Gung-Ho". Will she sacrifice her femininity in order to protect herself?

A:    Certainly Martial Arts are portrayed in Hollywood and on TV as merely ways for people to beat each other up. Like most things in the movies, that's all fake and couldn't be further from the truth.

In my Dojo, we have lots of females. I have one 8 year old sweetheart student with big blue eyes that could melt your heart. If you catch her at the right moment, she could also take down a grown man and teach him a lesson or two. So could her mother, an attractive, slim, 30-something Brown Belt tournament champion.

Have no fear! Girls remain very petite while they learn to take good care of themselves, when necessary. 

Q:    I've tried numerous activities and sports my children show an interest in but they never stick to anything. What if I spend all the money on gear and they don't like it?

A:    I won't lie to you, Karate is not something guaranteed to hold their enthusiasm always either. It's a personal choice.

What I recommend is that you and your child go along and watch a class in progress first. If your child likes it, by all means join in and just wear shorts and t-shirt for the first month. If after a month of dedicated attendance your child is still enthusiastic, you're on a winner and you can go ahead and buy the uniform. The uniform (Gi) will probably serve to fuel the fire and make them want to keep it up once they look the part.

If you want a really valuable tip, why not begin Karate with your child? There's no restriction on skill, size, shape or age.

In my Dojo, the membership is made up mainly of families training together. I have my 2 sons. I have a Mother with 3 sons, Father with 2 sons, Mother with one of each, Father with one of each, Middle-aged Mother with 21 year old Daughter and a Father and son team. They're all different ages and shapes but they all agree with me when I say that training with your kids is one of the most priceless bonding experiences you'll ever have. You don't have to be a "sideline" parent. You can get involved and get some benefit for yourself too.

Q:    Is there a chance my child could get hurt doing Karate?

A:    Yes! I can't be more honest however, there are statistically far higher incidents of injury in jogging than Karate. Your child can get hurt playing scrabble although the chances are in your favour. Karate is very safe so long as good concentration is part of training.

To put your mind at ease, we practice "Non-Contact" Karate. That is to say, there are no "strikes" or "blows" delivered greater than "touch-only" to the body, and none at all to the head or neck area. We teach "control" in all defence situations and when there's any risk of contact occurring during an activity, we use specially designed protective gear to be extra sure there's little chance of an injury.

If the remote possibility of an injury occurs, all of our Dojo Instructors and Coaches are trained and experienced in basic Sports Medicine and First Aid.

In all honesty, my kids have sustained greater injuries rolling over in their beds asleep than ever in the Dojo. That also includes gradings and competition at the highest levels.

Q:    My child needs lots of encouragement and a feeling of either "achievement" or "Advancement" to go on. How does your Karate deal with these needs?

A:    The grading and advancement policies of each Dojo differ slightly from place to place. There is also the development speed of the individual to be considered.

Essentially, we understand the importance of the child's development, and how praise and reward nourishes them as much as the training itself.

The requirements for each grading are very realistic and can easily be achieved by any student, provided they keep up the attendance and the practice.

To safeguard against a student's hopes or expectations being squashed, a Dojo Instructor will carefully monitor the progress of each student individually during each training period (usually 3 to 4 months between gradings). During this time, the Instructor will easily identify any potential shortfall of the students requirements, and work with them to ensure they'll be ready for their next grading. Only those students who are truly capable of passing the examination or assessment will be invited to attend.

Q:    I have a child that is, well, a bit defiant. Can Karate help set this attitude straight?

A:     OK - yes there are going to be times during the raising of any and all children, where they develop a slightly over-inflated sense of self. This is completely normal also. Don't worry - and to answer your question - Yes Karate will help.

To help illustrate just how this works, I'll quote a colleague of mine who's opinions I respect on this issue. Sempai Jake Umbers of the United States says "Karate is no substitute for good upbringing, but it sure does lay the path for a smoother ride".

What Jake's saying is that the regimented way we train, and the etiquette and philosophies we instil in our students regarding respect, character, humility and so on, will certainly build a secure framework that parents can use to help keep kids travelling in a straight line.

Don't think anyone is better equipped to mould the personality of your child than you. Karate is merely a good tool to help you along. 

We don't want you to drop your kids in to us, use the Dojo as a babysitting and character laundering service, then expect to pick them up a better person. That's not the idea at all. This is why we promote the idea that becoming involved in the training experience yourself as so valuable to both the child, and to your relationship. Even if you merely watch the class, and take note of how you may assist in home-practice later, that's going to do a lot to steer the attitude of your child the right way.

Although I've probably overloaded you with information just on this page, you may have specific questions of your own.

I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have regarding your own training, or your children's training at any time.

This e-mail address will connect you straight with my PC - elliot.kleiner@kua.com.au and I promise to get back to you straight away.

Remember - "If God had intended us to fight,

he wouldn't have given us the ability to negotiate" - Sensei Elliot Kleiner 2004

Enjoy Your Karate!

Sensei Elliot