The Benefits of Martial Arts for Kids Who Learn and Think Differently: by Keri Wilmot is an occupational therapist who works with children of varying ages and abilities in all areas of pediatrics.
There are lots of reasons martial arts might be a good match for kids who learn and think differently. Here are nine benefits.
They focus on individual growth, not on team competition. Many kids struggle with the pressure of competing with other kids. But in martial arts, the focus is on self-improvement. There’s no “letting down the team.”
They work toward specific goals. Some kids who learn and think differently feel like they never “win” at anything. In martial arts, kids work at their own pace. They earn a different colored belt every time they reach a new skill level. This can boost self-esteem and keep them motivated.
Routines are broken down into chunks. A technique or form in martial arts can have dozens of different movements. But kids learn gradually, repeating and adding steps as they go. They learn to anticipate which step comes next. And eventually, they put everything together into fluid movements.
They emphasize self-control and concentration. Attention is central to martial arts. Kids have to stay focused to learn and to do the movements. When a child’s focus drifts, instructors often ask them to take the “ready stance.” This lets them reset and get ready for what’s next.
They help with coordination. Doing martial arts movements can help kids get a better feel for their body in space. This is good for kids who struggle with motor skills. It also helps kids understand the power of the mind over the body.
They provide structure. Good martial arts instructors have clear rules and constantly reinforce them. They also emphasize good behavior in and out of class. Some even send kids home with behavior charts for parents and caregivers to sign.
They’re a safe way for kids to get out extra energy. It’s a myth that martial arts encourage violent behavior. In fact, instructors often say that fighting is a last resort. At the same time, kicking and karate chopping let kids work out frustration or anger while practicing self-control.
It’s an accepting environment. Respect is a core value in martial arts. Kids have to show it for their instructor and their peers. Negativity is generally not tolerated in class, and students are encouraged to support each other.
They’re cool. Kids who learn and think differently sometimes feel awkward or out of the loop. But lots of kids think martial arts are cool. It’s hard not to feel special when you’re wearing martial arts gear and breaking boards in half.