Martial arts programs are becoming more popular all the time, and if you’re hesitant to enroll your teenager in one of these workouts, just know that it’s a great activity for teens of all ages with many benefits more conventional sports don’t offer. In the past, many people misunderstood these types of workouts, but these days, many authority figures agree that the best way to improve yourself both physically and mentally, while also acquiring valuable self-defense skills and mature mental development is through a martial arts course. In fact, if you have a teen who needs a boost of self confidence, martial arts might be the solution, so we’ve detailed some of the best martial arts for a teenager below.
What Are Martial Arts?
A lot of people think of “fighting” when they hear the term “martial arts,” but that is a misconception. While martial arts practitioners work hard to be the best martial artist possible, the main point behind martial arts is to improve your body, mind, and soul. Indeed, martial arts challenge you in every way, including physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. Improving your martial arts skills also helps you improve your entire sense of self, which is why it offers a great experience for teens in their formative years as they come into their own identities and learn how to stand up for themselves in appropriate, professional, respectable ways.
In Chinese, the character “mu” translates into “to put down your weapons,” proving that martial arts are not about physical altercations. In fact, the ultimate goal of martial arts is peace, as the word “arts” in martial arts always means skill and the expression of creativity and beauty. Today, martial arts are taught to all age groups (from young kids to adults) and offer different belt ranks, with the black belt being the highest-ranking belt. You always start out with the white belt, and you move up from there as you learn and demonstrate new techniques.
The Many Advantages of Practicing Martial Arts
The martial arts program was originally designed for self-defense purposes, but it offers so much more than that. In fact, these days many people choose the programs for other reasons aside from self defense, such as goal setting and the fact that it offers a nice physical contrast to students playing video games all evening after school. Practicing martial arts is of course a great way to get a good workout, but let’s take a look at some of the benefits of martial arts in more detail:
First of all, it can lower your blood pressure and even your heart rate. While you’re learning all of the techniques and participating in various sparring sessions, it increases your heart rate and improves your cardiovascular health. It provides enough physical activity that the heart gets a good workout, and this in turn improves the heart’s overall condition, which means your heart rate and blood pressure are both lowered significantly.
Second, it can make you stronger physically. In martial arts training, one of the goals is to improve your overall power and strength. Since the training involves your entire body, you can improve overall body strength quickly. One of the reasons this happens is because the training builds up your muscles, and when you have strong muscles, your overall strength and power greatly improves. Martial arts work nearly every muscle in your body, and the result is a much stronger body, which is better for your overall health, injury avoidance, metabolism, and longevity.
Martial arts also offer a way to become more flexible, and when you’re more flexible, your muscles can relax when they’re not being used. This, in turn, results in less pain, fewer headaches, and a simpler way to participate in other physical activities. Flexibility and coordination go a long way in helping you feel better both physically and emotionally, which brings us to another advantage – martial arts can greatly reduce the stress in your life, lower your cortisol, and help you relax a lot more easily.
It’s been proven that exercising on a regular basis increases the number of endorphins in your brain, and these endorphins reduce stress and result in a feeling of elation and happiness, which can be helpful to combat the rising depression and mental health ailments that have been increasingly plaguing teens and stressed out high school students in recent years. While getting good at the sport requires hard work, you’ll reap the benefits by being able to relax more, enjoy your free time more, and worry a lot less. And it doesn’t take a very long time for this to occur because even practicing martial arts for a short time will allow you to improve your overall mental health, happiness, and resulting interpersonal relationships and demeanor.
What Are the Types of Martial Arts?
Learning the best martial arts disciplines can help you decide which one is best for your teenager. Once you learn what each of these disciplines is all about, you can make this decision much quicker. Here are the main types of martial arts:
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) involves the use of moves that are found in both judo and Japanese jiu-jitsu. Originally developed as a way to defend oneself against large individuals and is recommended for both young children and adults. That being said, most experts recommend waiting until the child is at least 8 years old before they start their classes.
- Kung Fu
This form of martial arts is great for kids, especially kids who are hyperactive. It is a very old form of martial arts and is very rigorous and fast-paced, which is why it is usually the best choice for kids who have a lot of energy. It allows the participants to be physically active yet it teaches them patience and how to remain calm regardless of what is happening around them.
- Krav Maga
Krav Maga, pronounced krahv me-gah, originated in Israel in the 1940s for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Its main advantage is that it is both very efficient and a very practical, real-life way to defend yourself. It is also easily learned, which makes it perfect for teens and young adults, and it combines various forms of martial arts, including boxing, karate, judo, and wrestling, among others.
- Muay Thai
Also called Thai boxing, Muay Thai includes various moves, including clinching, stand-up striking, and emphasis on activities of the participants’ elbows, fists, knees, and shins. It is a great workout and allows for activity amongst all body parts, making it a good thing to do if you want to be in good shape. This type of martial arts improves your motor skills and your coordination, since it takes your whole body to participate.
- Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
To learn mixed martial arts, you might have to find a good MMA school, as not every martial arts school teaches it. MMA is a full-contact combat sport that includes ground fighting, striking, and grappling, to name a few. This is not always the right sport for people in their teen years and in fact, many schools teach it only to people who are already experts in some type of martial arts and who are a little bit older, as it can be more complex and require a bit more prior knowledge or experience of other martial arts techniques.
Karate is probably the martial arts type that most people are familiar with, and it is incredibly popular. It is the perfect sport for anyone who wants to participate in physical fitness activities, while simultaneously helping them develop self control and improving their social skills. One of the main benefits of learning karate is that it teaches kids how to respect others, and kids consider it so much fun in the meantime, due to its interactive, but also performance-like nature (at least in classes and exercises required to advance to the next belt color). You can start learning karate at age 4, although it’s best to wait until the child is 8-10 years old instead.
- Tai Chi
In the study of martial arts, you run across lots of different types. Some are perfect for the teenage years, while others are not. Tai Chi involves slow and deliberate motions and was originally thought of as the perfect activity for older adults. The thing is, Tai Chi is also perfect for kids and teens because it improves focus and flexibility, and it stresses good balance and proper breathing. Its slow repetitive movements make it perfect for teens and even younger kids, particularly those who need to work on their hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
Taekwondo emphasizes punching and kicking, but its core value is the ability for these kids to breathe, meditate, and improve both their mental and physical strength. As a result, kids’ memory and concentration greatly improve, which can help them immensely in the classroom. This modern martial art form is something many teens continue practicing well into adulthood.
Judo is such a popular sport that it is featured as an Olympic sport, and it focuses on throws, among other things. If practiced regularly, it can greatly improve a person’s stamina, strength, overall fitness, and sense of balance. It is a great place to start martial arts for both kids and adults, although experts recommend that no one under the age of 8 participate.
- Tang Soo Do
Although not everyone is familiar with this form of martial arts, kids as young as 4 years old can participate in it, so if you want your kids to learn self-discipline and other important life skills from a very young age, Tang Soo Do is a good way to start. It started in Korea and combines several types of martial arts, and its main goal is to teach kids how to master their own bodies, not how to take down an opponent.
Why Are Martial Arts Good for Kids and Teens?
One of the best parts of kids and teens taking martial arts classes is the activities’ ability to teach kids how to make new friends, improve their mental and physical health, and to avoid caving into peer pressure or being taken advantage of by ill-intentioned adults or bullies. It gives them more confidence and helps make them independent as well. There is little resistance in these activities so they are not difficult physically (and less likely to result in injury than other higher-impact, higher-resistance combat sports). Even better, you never have to enroll in a long-term contract with most classes, which offer you to either sign up and pay by the class or in a shorter-term session (perhaps 4, 6, or 8 weeks), so kids can opt-out anytime if they find the sport isn’t for them without having sunk a huge investment of money or time into the early lessons.
Another huge perk for many people is that it doesn’t matter when you start because going from a white belt to a black belt takes a different amount of time for everyone. Kids can go at their own pace and not feel pressured to go through the ranks faster. They can start in grade school or in high school, and even many adults are beginners at the sport. It is also a great sport to participate in when you’re older because martial arts have something to teach everyone, particularly young adults who are living on their own for the first time and still lack adequate self-defense skills to protect and defend themselves from predators or attackers
Therefore, there is no “best time” to get started in martial arts classes, as there isn’t a specific sport “season” that young people have to make nor a strict deadline to begin or advance to the next belt level. When it comes to mastering the sport and advancing, your only limitations occur when you’re not committed or decide not to work hard enough to attend lessons and practice to improve your skills. The self-paced nature of advancing in martial arts and the extent to which mastery is a solo pursuit also encourages kids and teens to take control of their own martial arts journey, as it will require their intrinsic self-motivation to progress, rather than the peer pressure of team mates or the commands of a coach.
There are various martial arts facilities and lessons offered in pretty much every state and city, so you’ll likely have your pick of options. That said, you may want to sit in on other students’ lessons or opt for a test lesson if they allow it to assess the class structure and pacing, the teacher’s style, and the overall environment at the facility. Having familiarized yourself with the best martial arts for a teenager, as well as the tips to identify which particular sport, school, and teacher would be most-suited to honing your teen’s martial arts journey, you should realize that there isn’t one “best” type or martial arts for all teenagers to pursue. Instead, the best version of martial arts is different for everyone, though all of them offer tons of benefits for teens’ physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Moreover, if your teen decides to switch from one martial arts discipline to another, many of the skills and techniques they’ve learned may be transferable to another type, so there won’t have been any time or money wasted in their first foray into the sport, regardless of the outcome. At the very least, they’ll have gained massive confidence, autonomy, and the ability to protect themselves as they go out on their own in the future.