Taekwondo, a martial art that originated in Korea, is one of the world's most popular martial arts. Mimi Johnson of the of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends 6 years of age as a good starting age for kids taking martial arts, although some classes will take children as young as 3 years old. Taking taekwondo or any other martial art will not bully-proof your child, nor will it necessarily impart practical self-defense skills that can be used in a street encounter. But the benefits it does provide can be enormous.
What Is Taekowndo?
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art, similar to karate, with an emphasis on kicking techniques. The reasoning behind this is the leg is more powerful and has a longer reach than the arm. Translated, taekwondo means "the way of the fist foot." As a sport, it's an event in the Summer Olympics.
Physical Strength and Balance
One of the main benefits of taekwondo is improving a child's strength and balance. Because taekwondo depends on kicking, practitioners learn to balance their weight on one leg to leave the other one free to strike. This also helps strengthen the muscles of the torso. Taekwondo can also help improve coordination. Arm and leg muscles become stronger as a child practices strikes.
Learning the patterns and sequences of taekwondo requires concentration and attention, and sparring requires focus on both one's self and one's opponent. Taekwondo teaches breathing and meditation techniques to assist in learning focus.
Discipline and Respect
Taekwondo students must learn to follow directions from an instructor and are expected to show respect to the instructor. Students are also expected to show respect to their opponents before and after a sparring match. Don't expect taekwondo to turn a hard-to-discipline child into an angel, though. But you might see an improvement in general politeness.
As children dedicate themselves to a goal in taekwondo -- say, learning a particular strike, earning a belt or practicing how to break a board -- they gain confidence as they observe their own progress and increasing mastery. This self-confidence can then be carried over into other areas of your child's life.
Taekwondo will not teach your child self-defense skills to directly deter bullies, but taking taekwondo might prevent your child from becoming a bully. A study published in "Psychology in the Schools" in 2008 showed that martial arts participation reduced aggression in boys. The study also showed an increase in bystanders choosing to intervene in a bullying event after taking a martial arts course.