Karate For 2 Year Olds? What Can They Learn At 2?

At 2 years old what can we expect a child to learn from Karate? You would be surprised at what benefits are tailor made for them in the martial arts at this age. To be honest, at 2 there will be a small percentage of them that are not ready for classes like this. Development has its own pace in different individuals, but for the most part it will benefit all 2 year olds.

There are many positives to using Karate to help with 2 year old milestones, but there are also many other aspects that can be aided by these types of classes. There is character development, non-violent conflict resolution, and personal safety from other children, environment, and strange adults.

Helping children reach milestones for age 2 is right in the strengths of a good Karate program with a quality instructor. That plus the other benefits should be explored so you can find the right teacher and class for your Little Ninja.

Milestone Goals and How Karate Can Help A 2 Year Old Develop

At this crucial age in a child’s development, there are many emotional, language, cognitive, and movement goals that parents hope their child can achieve. These are not minimums, but base standards to shoot for in order to know that a child is on track with other children their age.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on their website has listed the milestones for an average 2 year old in many categories. These are a range of activities and outcomes that most children can do by this age.

What can Karate do to help a child reach these goals? Let’s find out…

Emotional And Social 2 Year Old Milestones

2 Year Old MilestonesHow Karate and Other Martial Arts Can Help
Copies other kids and adultsMimicking is an essential part of learning most all movements, drills, and techniques in Karate
Is excitable along with othersCelebration of their own accomplishments, the accomplishments of others, and the new goals in each class will directly support this milestone
Becomes increasingly independentKarate and other martial arts are essentially an individual journey of each student. This intrinsically develops independence in each student.
Will become defiant and need correctionDiscipline is a major part of any good Karate class. A competent instructor will use these defiant times and turn them into teachable moments.
Increasingly includes other children in their playPartners in drills and games in a 2 year old level Karate class will directly help develop these interpersonal skills that will aid them in their social development

Communication Milestones In 2 Year Olds

2 Year Old MilestonesHow Karate and Other Martial Arts Can Help
Can identify pictures or things when namedThis certainly will be included in any martial arts class for this age group. Everything from types of techniques, to uniforms, equipment, and people will directly develop this.
Recognizes body parts and people’s namesLearning left from right and all the body parts are essential elements of a young child’s Karate class. Knowing other members of the class and instructors will also be key.
Uses 2 to 4 word sentencesStudents of Karate and other martial arts have patterned responses, greetings, and even memorized creeds. This will definitely be covered.
Simple command style instructions are followedThere are many instances of this that will occur in a normal Karate class. There are obstacle courses, patterned actions, self defense scenarios, etc.
Repeats phrases and words from overheard conversationsWith this one you are going to want these conversations to be character filled and about appropriate topics. That is exactly what you will get in a Karate class.
Identifies objects and characters in a bookThere are many times coloring pages, good character development books, and virtue based story books are used with this age group in Karate classes.

Problem Solving and Thinking (Cognitive) Milestones For 2 Year Olds

2 Year Old MilestonesHow Karate and Other Martial Arts Can Help
Can find objects hidden under 2 or 3 other objectsObstacle courses, listening drills, grappling, padded weapons practice, clean up, all will have this type of practice in abundance
Starts sorting colors and shapesThere are ample drills in Karate using pads and other equipment that help develop these skills in toddlers.
Finishes rhymes and familiar sentencesThere are many memorized responses, creeds, and even stories that kids will be responsible for in many Karate and martial arts systems.
Can participate in simple make believeSelf defense situations such as stranger awareness, bully safety, taking care of other friends, etc. will all have this sort of role playing. Then there are also tons of other scenario based activities
Can build tower-like structures 4 or more levels highThis is a part of many Karate curriculums using pads and training equipment of all kinds. This will also happen in many classes regularly through cleaning up before the end of class.
The beginnings of right or left handedness appearsThere is extensive work with children in Karate and other martial arts on distinguishing between and using the proper side of the body. There is also special note given to dominate versus ‘weak side’ hand.
Can follow two step instructionsFrom much experience, I have seen Karate students at this age far exceed this goal.
Can name common items even in picturesThere is ample opportunity for kids to develop this skill in the martial arts.

Physical and Motion Developmental Milestones For 2 Year Olds

2 Year Old MilestonesHow Karate and Other Martial Arts Can Help
Can stand on toesThis and many, many other coordination building activities and achievements are included in the martial arts.
Can kick a targetWell, uh… yeah. This one is gonna get knocked out of the park.
Can run at a basic ability levelOh, there will be running in a Karate class, lots of running.
Can climb on objects as large as furniture unaidedDoes climbing on an instructor like a jungle gym count? There is that and many other climbing opportunities in grappling and obstacles courses. Not to mention, you can’t keep them from climbing freestanding heavy bags.
Uses stairs and climbing holding for supportThere are tons of climbing opportunities and to be honest, there really won’t be any need for support while doing it.
Throws objects with overhand techniqueTry and stop them from throwing overhanded during evasion drills, padded weapons training, and much more.
Can draw or trace lines and circlesMost good Karate and martial arts dojos have some form of writing, coloring, and reading (being read to) practice that students do and return to class.

Why Do Many Karate Dojos Make Kids Wait Until 4 or 5 Years Old To Start?

One of the largest reasons many martial arts schools don’t take children as young as 2 years old is the experience, training, and knowledge of the instructors that will be teaching the class. Two year olds can be adorable little bouncing fun balls, or they can be tyrannical, selfish, oozing monsters.

It takes specific skill sets to be able to see the little treasure that each toddler’s parents see in them, know how to help their development, and understand the role of discipline and how it is implemented. This narrows the field of professional martial arts instructors, that is already slim, to an unmanageable level.

Many times the head instructors of Karate schools

  • Do not intend on teaching all the classes themselves.
  • They hire usually younger, part time or low paid full time instructors
  • These instructors barely have the training to teach the martial arts required of them
  • They rarely have the experience or knowledge necessary to serve the needs of such young children.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some good instructors out there for little kids at this age group. I have seen them and worked with some. I have also seen some disastrous train wrecks. There are some specific requirements that are needed to fulfill this type of sensei position.

Note: If you like this article about 2 year olds, check out my article about 3 year olds and the benefits of Karate and martial arts classes.

Many Instructors Are Not Professional, Full-time Martial Arts Teachers

There is a problem in the martial arts when it comes to instructors and practitioners. There is the assumption that just because one gets to the 1st Dan black belt level, they are automatically a capable instructor.

This could not be further from the truth. You may find that anyone at a black belt level in their respective styles can show some people the techniques they know, and due to the spectator’s unique ability to self teach, they can replicate it. We all know that is a rare thing indeed.

There is much more to teaching than just showing what you can do. I learned this first hand training with high level cage fighters in grappling and striking. I also learned it dealing with high level weapons fighters who could expertly perform some movements, but couldn’t seem to get anyone else to repeat what they had done accurately.

Many times these competitors and practitioners at high levels of competency have spent so much time on how THEY can better perform, they have never given a thought to how to bring out that same quality in others. It is understandable. They are going to be standing across from someone in the near future who’s only goal is to defeat them. That comes first.

Now, let’s relate this back to toddlers. Just because someone can perform, or even teach others in older age groups who can somewhat self teach and replicate what they experience, has no bearing on their ability to get younger children to learn. Toddlers, and especially 2 year olds have very specific and special requirements for learning and developing.

Simply having achieved a proficiency level yourself, does not mean you have the know how or experience to teach small children to do the same.

It Usually Takes An Experienced Parent To Understand How To Deal With Toddlers


I have seen many wide eyes and panicked looks on the faces of adults thrust into the position of controlling a room full of 2 year olds. It can be like herding cats.

To be clear, we are not talking here about keeping their attention or entertaining them for a few minutes. When it is time to get them onto a task that will take an extended period of time, their natural reaction is… ‘nope’.

The experience needed to wrangle them together and get them onto a goal that will teach or mold their little putty filled minds is quite substantial. This is important to note when selecting an instructor to teach your child in this age bracket.

Parents know by experience what it is like to handle many times multiple kids around this age range at the same time. It is done out of love, necessity, and usually bearing a hefty load of frustration. These little guys can bring joy and pain. If they smell weakness, they will choose the way of pain.

It is a great plus to have an instructor that has spent years with these sorts of little monsters… I mean ninjas. There is no better experience than parenting for this. You have to do everything with the understanding that no matter how loud, defiant, or gross they can become, they are still intrinsically valuable and loved.

Young adults and even older ones without this experience are hard pressed to keep in mind how to deal with this age group when the going gets a little rough, and it will.

It is understandable that some dojos choose not to handle this delicate age group. They either don’t have the manpower or the will to tackle it. A real problem occurs when a school owner decides to take on this challenge without the know how and simply buys into a pre-packaged program that simulates experience and expertise. That is just wrong.

Will A 2 Year Old Toddler Have Fun In A Karate Class?

Fun is more or less a relative term. What one little boy will experience who is still clinging to a mother’s protection from the outside world is much different than what a rolling tornado of toddler energy will perceive of the same Karate class.

There are many different body and personality types to consider. Yet, there can be a way to look across the differences and tell what will be fun for most 2 year olds.

All kids like to do two things. They like to accomplish goals (intrinsic and subconscious) and they like to be entertained (overt conscious desire). If we then add rewards to the goal achievement and goals to the fun, you have a mixture for a room full of happy toddlers.

The great thing is, all of that is inherently within the martial arts. If you add in the right instructor with the ability to teach and guide 2 year olds, you have a winning combination.

Play As Learning For 2 Year Old In Karate

There is a fundamental notion that must accompany this situation, ‘Play as Learning’. My wife and I have both been developing this teaching style and following the research as we implement it in our respective fields. My wife has been a public school teacher for decades and I have taught martial arts for over 30 years.

In a study published in the journal Early Child Development and Care, Göteborg University, Sweden researchers examined children as they specifically were tasked with learning and also when play time was their central focus. They found some interesting and overlapping correlations between the two.

They found that play is an integral part of learning especially for preschool children and it is virtually inextricable from the process. Though the adult intent of varrying situations called for different outcomes, children intermingled the concepts of learning and play.

Though we as adults may categorize and compartmentalize our activities, small children do not feel the need to be bound by those rules. They try to find the fun, satisfaction of improvement, and knowledge simultaneously.

This brings up another point the researchers in Sweden discovered. The amount of positive results that a child can attain from any given situation tends to depend on the skill of the teacher or parent and their handling of their responsibility to add both play and learning equally.

Research showed that for 2 year olds, play centered around the teacher following the child’s lead and aiding in learning opportunities through self guided play. Next was how the child interacted with learning. When specific goals were set and learning objectives determined, elements of joy, creativity, and creation of meaning could be facilitated by the teacher in order to illicit much higher forms of engagement from the child.

One thing is clear from the study. It highlights the teacher as integral in the development of the interplay between joy and learning. Their role determines how a child will view the situation.

2 Year Olds Love Karate Belts And All Other Achievement Based Structures

Here is an example of how we all know this to be true.

When recovering from an injury at one point, I decided to join a local health club to help with recovery and supplement my cardio and competition training. I went in to speak with one of the trainers. We had a long conversation about the health club business versus the martial arts studio model.

He leaned back in his chair at one point and said, “You guys have it made with that belt thing. You have a built in reward and goal setting system that most of us in this industry wish we had.” I immediately saw his point. He and his team worked feverishly every month trying to spur people out of their ruts and get them excited enough to work for results.

His problem was primarily an industry that is based on hoping you don’t show up to the gym and still pay our monthly payments. We both agreed that was a big issue. That is a topic for another post.

What he was trying to do though, was to get that group of regular people to attain results and meet their goals. This worked for his clients and him. He would get more referrals and the bottom line rose. The problem was getting this unconnected group of people to all join together in chasing the same sets of standards and care about them.

The martial arts has this in its core. This is how 2 year olds can just seemlessly flow right into the mix. They are simpler with their motivations than adults. If you tell them they need to smack this piece of wood to get that cool looking white and gold belt to wear… off they go… *smack*.

Adults tend to weigh the pros and cons, energy output, time, and money concerns. That carrot has to be integral to the system. This gym owner knew that anything he did seemed external and forced. He couldn’t get adults to bite.

Achieving has a unique sense of accomplishment and fun. Kids love the rewards, but if you just give them a box of old medals someone won a long time ago, they will use them as toys for a while and later they will just be left on the floor. Yet, if they have to push themselves to earn it, they will want to show their grandma and even the guy in line at the grocery store.

Setting and reaching goals is a huge benefit of Karate and martial arts as a whole. If you are wanting to hit the fun quotient through the roof, you can’t simply add in a bunch of stimulation, there has to be the learning and goal directed element as well.

Can Even Younger Ages Than 2 Years Old Benefit from Karate?

For me, having taught young children for decades, this is a touchy subject. On the one hand I have developed a set of techniques and skills that has enabled me to teach 2 year old very effectively. On the other hand I have seen some people botch it totally when they tried to replicate it.

That is at 2 years old. When you just go down a couple of months at this age, the developmental abilities of those toddlers drops drastically and their mental facalties are exponentially more limited.

For example, you can tell most 2 year olds ‘don’t hit’ or ‘we keep our hands to ourselves, not on friends’. They will understand and make a choice to listen to you or not. Under two, they just may not get it. Teaching kids that young to kick in the air may be relegating that child’s friends to swift kicks to the shins.

It is my experience, that 2 years old is the bottom of the ladder for Karate or martial arts instruction. You can do cognitive and exercise skills training with them below two, but that tends to be so basic that it is not something they don’t already get from teachers, parents, and play with friends. It is not really ethical for someone to charge for something that has no separate value than what they are already getting in their everyday routine.

I have seen some programs offer classes for 18 month olds, but they will openly state that it is basic coordination, balance, and other skills. To be honest, they really are going to get plenty of that on any playground or in any backyard setting.

Though, there are whole business models based on this, and parents sign up their kids for public school gym class style games and drills. I say it is a waste with no added value like Karate delivers, but to each their own.

Note: I talk a bit about martial arts school contracts and the trend toward balance and coordination training for 18 month olds in a prepackaged model here in this article.

The 2 Year Old Karate Takeaway…

I can tell you from years of experience. 2 year olds can gain so much from a good Karate program with the right experienced instructor. I would suggest to make sure they are not in with other kids older than 4. If the situation is right and the instructor is good, they will have a blast and gain a lot in their developmental process.

It takes a lot to motivate adults to do what is best for them. They get stuck in ruts and their brains train them not to move out of comfort areas. Toddlers don’t have any idea what any of that is. They are simple exploring machines. We as parents and teachers need to develop environments that allow them to explore learning and play together.

Given the current research and the growing availability of younger kids classes, it is a good idea to look into the options in your area. The difficulty comes when trying to determine the best instructor for your child. The style of martial art doesn’t matter nearly as much as the instructor that will teach the class, especially at this age.

Karate is a great resource to use if it is the right school and instructor. You could be giving your Little Ninja something that will change their life for the better. Check into it.

I would be more than happy to answer questions on this subject if you are having trouble. Two year olds and their development is a pretty important issue. Just email me using the email on my contact page. I will try to get back to you as soon as I can.

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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