The Benefits of Martial Arts

If you’re looking to encourage both physical and mental discipline in your child, martial arts may be just the right sport.
Martial arts helps kids “transform their lives for the better – physically, mentally and spiritually,” says Grand Master Instructor Ernie Reyes, a ninth-degree black belt who opened his eponymous West Coast World Martial Arts studio in 1978 and now has schools throughout the Bay Area and beyond. “When you see a lot of martial arts on TV, there’s a lot of fighting. (But) the primary focus is to teach respect and discipline.”
Those core values are interwoven with instruction, and every physical movement is associated with a different life skill, Reyes says, from the bow which signals respect and an openness to learn to the ready position, which teaches students to prepare to take action not just in martial arts but to reach their goals in life.
Add to that the necessary physical conditioning, and the martial arts promote an entire package of well-being, advocates say. It can improve children’s fitness, confidence, discipline and focus, as well as socialization skills.
Reyes says parents should not be put off by thinking that the sport promotes violence.
“This is for self-defense purposes and not to bully people,” says Reyes, whose schools teach a mixed martial arts system based on Taekwondo to children as young as 4. “At all of the schools, the thousands of children we’ve developed have never learned to be aggressive and use martial arts in a negative way. It’s our culture.”
“We have all different colors and races and creeds coming together to (reach) peace and harmony through the martial arts,” he adds. “We talk about the indomitable spirit, to never quit on your goals and life dreams.”
While there are many varieties of martial arts, most share some common basis and many have similarities, from progressing through different levels or “belts” to controlled sparring. Following are some of the most popular forms of martial arts:
Aikido originated in Japan and means “the way of unifying (with) life energy.” It teaches its practitioners to protect themselves while also ensuring the safety of their attackers by using movements that redirect an attacker’s momentum.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu: Derived from Japanese judo, jiu-jitsu became popular in Brazil in the early 1900s and is now often known as Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It is designed to allow a smaller person to overcome a larger opponent with ground fighting, using grappling and arm and leg attacks.
Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of music, dance, acrobatics and self-defense.
Judo, Japanese for “gentle way,” focuses on taking down or throwing an opponent to the ground and holding her or him there until submission. Judo has been part of the Olympics since 1964.
Karate comes from Okinawa, Japan, and uses punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes and open-handed techniques. It’s practiced for self-defense, discipline and as a sport.
Krav Maga, best known for its use by the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as other military and police forces, is also taught to children for self-defense, discipline and sport.
Kung Fu (or wushu) is a blanket term to describe a variety of Chinese martial art styles. These styles can include animal mimicry, Chinese philosophy and a focus on the manipulation of qi, or life energy.
Mixed Martial Arts: As Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has become a popular televised sport, particularly the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), more schools have begun offering mixed martial arts for kids. Classes typically combine elements of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, judo, boxing, kickboxing and other disciplines, but do not resemble televised cage fighting.
Muay Thai is a Thai martial art known as “the art of eight limbs,” using fists, elbows, knees and feet in combat.
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that uses kicks, punches and blocks. Training usually involves learning forms, sparring and sometimes participation in competitions. Taekwondo has been an Olympic sport since 2000.
Tai Chi: While many people think of tai chi as a slow and peaceful form of exercise (often seen being practiced by groups outdoors), it also can be taught for combat, in which the defender uses a flowing motion to redirect the force of an attacker.
These martial arts classes were voted the area’s best by Bay Area Parent readers in our 2016 Best of the Best issue.


Guide to Historic San Francisco

When tourists check out the sights of San Francisco, it often involves taking a couple of snapshots and moving on to the next landmark, museum...

Best Places to Learn about Bay Area History

Families can follow the Bay Area’s history from thousands of years ago with the Miwok, Ohlone tribes to the Spanish and Mexican era, the Gold Rush and the advent of computers.

Surfing Moms

Moms Bond Over Waves and Friendship For many new moms, staying home with a baby can lead to feelings of isolation and even to postpartum depression....

Help for Youth Sports

Since its humble beginnings in a Stanford University closet in 1998, the Oakland-based national nonprofit Positive Coaching Alliance has gone on to reach more than...

Follow us on Social Media


Most Popular