What Is A Good Age To Start Martial Arts For Kids And Adults?

Anyone wanting to start the journey of learning martial arts for themselves or for their kids will be faced with the consideration, “Is it too late or too early to start training?” There is some great news for most everyone.

Depending on the style of Martial Art, a good age for kids to start martial arts could be as young as 2 to 3 years old and adults can begin well into their 70’s with good health. This all depends on the style, instructor, purpose for training, and safety measures in place.

Most looking for classes at the upper and lower end of the age spectrum will have already taken many of these factor’s into account. Now, the question here if taken more narrowly is, “What is a good age for YOU or YOUR CHILD to start?”

That answer becomes much more complicated and dependent on the individual. Let’s look at several of the factors that can contribute to the answer.

Health Benefits For All Ages Starting Martial Arts Training

To accurately look at the positive health effects associated with martial arts training, we have to at least discuss the difference in the upper and lower age ranges of beginning students.

It will come as no surprise that these may be vastly different, but what should be noted is that there are good benefits for all ages in starting the martial arts. With the proper instruction and precautions, it could be a life changing endeavor.

Martial Arts Benefits For Middle Aged to Senior Adults

This Youtube clip is worth a watch. I love these guys. Bob and Brad – ‘The two most famous physical therapists on the internet… in their opinion of course.’

For middle aged and older people they go over some of the health benefits and stretching required to stay safe in the martial arts. Honestly, I just like having a reason to have one of their videos on my site. The ‘dad jokes’ with these guys are through the roof.

As a side note, I have had some great advice from these two ‘hams’ for caring for the many injuries I received from competitions that still plague me today. A thanks goes out to Bob and Brad.

In general we all understand the negative effects of aging on the body. There is decreased balance, coordination, strength etc. Here is where consistent training in the martial arts can be a tremendous help.

In a study conducted by researchers from Laval University, Quebec, Canada and others, data suggested that adapted Karate training could be a successful tool in combating these degenerative outcomes.

I have worked at several nursing homes in my career. I taught martial arts as a way to combat loss of balance, coordination, and strength in seniors. The number one question I was asked was, “How do I regain balance?”

They loved the exercises and techniques that helped to retrain their brains to use their bodies and strengthen weak areas.

Some of the other benefits associated with seniors and safe martial arts training are improved cognition, alertness, and reaction times. With the proper instructor, environment, and precautions taken, beginning martial arts training in the senior years is a great time to start.

Positive Health Outcomes For Younger Children

In a study conducted out of several universities in Brazil children in preschool ages (2 yrs to 5 yrs old) were found to have increased loco-motor skills, comprehension, and object control when participating in martial arts or similar activities.

The development in which children undergo at these stages can be enhanced by regular martial arts training. As they develop, the direction that proper and adapted martial arts instruction can bring proves to be invaluable.

In order to understand how to complete physical and mental tasks, children are using cognition and motor skills together. This is exactly what is trained in the martial arts.

Granted, some instructors don’t have the skill sets to teach younger children and students are best served if these instructors are honest with them and themselves. There is nothing wrong with specializing in an older age group.

For those that are trained and experienced in dealing with younger children, a good Karate or other program can be a great tool for parents to give their children an early advantage.

Kids were found in the above study to be markedly more able to perform a variety of tasks that require balance and coordination if they trained regularly in the martial arts. This was noticeable when compared to those who didn’t participate.

Here it needs to be mentioned that these classes need to be specifically designed for younger ages. One size definitely doesn’t fit all in the martial arts.

It gives me an involuntary twitch every time I see the frequent attempts at instructors trying to teach small children in the same way they would older ones, or even adults!

Take a look at my Little Ninja Online Classes where I teach kids as young as 2 years old right in their own living rooms and homes. Click here to find out more.

Good Health Results For Everyone In-Between

There are numerous health advantages to training in many types of physical activities for those in between these extremes. What is specifically gained from the martial arts that is much less prevelant in other sports or workout regiments is the sheer scope of benefits.

They range from the mental cognitive to the physical and emotional.

Here we are talking about a wide range of coordinated skills and advantages afforded those studying the martial arts.

Some of the benefits are…

  • Increased self esteem
  • Increased strength
  • Increased coordination
  • Increased balance
  • Increased reaction times
  • Increased cardio -vascular health

And the list goes on and on. The overall benefits of the martial arts really deserves its own article.

The Martial Arts Style Can Determine What Is A Good Age To Start.

Let’s look more closely at the different types of martial arts and the styles within those categories. This will help determine not only a good age to start in a martial art, but also which style may be best for each person’s individual situation.

It should be noted here that these styles also should be modified by qualified instructors to the age group being taught. Nearly all styles have techniques too advanced for younger students and too physically demanding for much older ones.

The Best Age To Start Grappling Styles Is Between 5 and 55 years old

Why is this age range optimal? It comes down to the falls really. Falling is by far the number one way people get injured.

In younger children, the size of the head is largely disproportionate to the size of the neck and the rest of the body. They have a particularly hard time performing proper technique.

In older adults, the risk of taking repeated falls can seriously outweigh the benefits of a rigorous grappling style.

This is not to say that younger and older age groups can’t benefit from a modified system of grappling, tailored to their needs.

For younger children, along with the positioning and other mat-work, teaching proper falling technique can be profoundly helpful. The caveat here is that extreme caution should be used.

The lack of control of the head in toddlers through Kindergarten students is a cause for serious concern.

Similarly, elderly students most definitely should be taught proper falling form and technique. It literally could save their lives. Yet, repeated falls without extensive precautions could do way more harm than good.

Some styles considered in the ‘grappling’ category are…

  • Judo
  • Sambo
  • Aikido
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Japanese Jujitsu
  • Wrestling
  • Catch Wrestling
  • Submission Grappling

A Good Age To Start Striking Styles Is Between 2 and 70 Years Old.

It should come as no surprise that this age range has a stipulation. A modified set of techniques and a wide variety of safety precautions must be in place for the upper and lower ends of these age groups.

This adapted environment is much more easily accomplished in a striking style setting due to the fact that no falls or ground wrestling need be attempted. There will also not be anything to swing around, because we know what will happen if you give preschoolers something to swing.

Striking is a standing, balance based, and reaction time oriented activity. This has benefits for all age groups.

The techniques of striking arts can be done in the air, on pads, or with a partner. Many modifications can come from this wide range of training options.

Many styles and systems add in self defense drills in order to simulate these situations, but in a safe and controlled environment. This can be modified specifically for the individual.

Here are some of the styles associated with striking that are good for nearly all ages…

  • Karate
  • TaeKwonDo
  • Tang Soo Do
  • Krav Maga
  • Kung Fu
  • Boxing
  • Kickboxing

Acceptable Age To Start Weapons Based Martial Arts Training: 2 Yrs to 70 Yrs Old

Photo By: Cpl. Neysa Huertas Quinones

Weapons based training is surprisingly adaptable for near the same age range as empty handed striking based styles. With the proper care and equipment, it can be even more accessible than those styles without weapons.

Why? The answer is simple. In a weapons based system, the weapon does most of the ‘heavy lifting’ instead of the body. This opens up training to many more people with health problems and varying body types.

How could this be?

When most think of weapons based styles, images of sharp objects or dangerous looking tools being swung around come to mind. Yet, this is not actually how most train weapon based systems.

Padded weapons are a great and extremely fun way to practice these techniques. All weights and sizes are on the market and many are not that hard to make yourself with one trip to the local home improvement store.

Here are some of weapons based martial arts styles:

  • Kali martial arts
  • Escrima
  • Pekiti Tirsia
  • Kendo
  • Iado
  • Budo
  • Many Japanese Karate systems include a few weapon Katas

Want to see how this works for kids, even younger ones? Click here to find out more about my Little Ninja Live Online Karate Classes for Kids.

Instructor Ability To Maintain A Safe Environment Is Vital For Younger and Older Students.

The difference between average and superior martial arts training has much less to do with the style or the facilities than it does on one simple factor: the instructor.

This can make or break the chances of a student reaching his or her future goals. Though effort and dedication come from the student, there are countless variables that rely expressly on the ability of the instructor to set the environment, inspire, and convey the techniques.

This also holds true for judging whether a particular class has a wide or narrow age range that is safe and suitable for intended students. The instructor of that class is the key.

  • For young students, safety and age appropriateness is paramount.
  • For teens and young adults, having properly difficult goals can inspire those ages to excel without exceeding limits.
  • For middle aged adults, practicality for their body types becomes essential.
  • For the elderly, safety can make or break a class.

One problem is that many instructors want to teach what they like to train in and what is good for their age, body type, personality, and ability level. This is the opposite of what should be focused on for a good class.

The student’s needs, goals, enjoyment, and safety should be the center of all activities. When this is not the case, it is usually because of an instructor that is running a class or owning a school for the wrong reasons.

For smaller children, experience with the age group is a must. It is also very important for the instructor to have kids of their own. There is no better way for someone to understand that each one of their students is a valued treasure, than to have valuable treasures of their own.

For much of the middle of the curve in ages, motivation through fun and achievement is only able to be offered by instructors that put the time in to learn for themselves and how to teach effectively. Each age range has its specific needs.

When a group of teens or young adults fill the class, there may be a regulatory role that needs to be filled. Emotions can get high at times and egos bruised. An instructor capable of handling this age range can see it coming and stave off trouble.

Another problem with teens and young adults is the fact that they think that they are invincible. Keeping them safe is sometimes a monumental task.

For middle ages and older, wiser students, safety takes on a more accident prevention role. The instructor must evaluate everything from environment, the techniques taught, and the capabilities of individual students.

Though they may not be attempting 540 spinning kicks over broken glass, they could injure themselves by not stretching properly before a simple front kick.

There is an important point to remember about injuries and safety. If you are training for self defense or fitness and you get hurt, you have failed at being healthier or defending yourself. You are less healthy and injured.

Desired Outcomes Play A Major Role For Seniors And Parents Of Young Children.

Expectations of what one will a gain from martial arts training at any age will determine if training should be undertaken in the first place.

If a dad is pushing for their 5 year old to be the next cage fighting champion, just don’t. Society and especially that child’s life will be much worse off.

If on the other hand, good character, self defense from bullies, and good overall fitness is the goal, by all means, sign up for classes ASAP!

The same goes for expectations of elderly folks. If you are wanting to perform in the martial arts the way a 20 year old will, you will be sorely disappointed. Expectations are key.

We also shouldn’t expect children holding higher ranking belts to be comparable in skill or ability with older teens or adults. We don’t do this in any other area of life.

For a good discussion of this, see my article on kid black belts here.

I can give you a good example everyone will be able to relate to… math.

When you are in preschool, you are not expected to do long division. Simple number recognition and value comprehension is celebrated.

We still call it math.

So, why then would we expect a small child that has been practicing the martial arts for a year to be anywhere near the proficiency of a teen or adult in the same time frame?

The belt colors are there for goal setting and are subjective with regards to age, maturity, sex, size, personality type, etc.

The same goes for teens. Some are anomalies, which many like to hold up as the standard. But this is dishonest. Prodigies are just that.

The vast majority of teens will not have the same skill and execution as an adult in their mid twenties with the same proficiency. This goes for math and the martial arts.

A teenager in 99% of cases will not hold a candle to a mathematician with many years of experience.

It may not seem ‘fair’ to some, but life has never promised you fair. The person that promised you fair in life has openly lied to you.

Expectations are simply taking into account advantages and disadvantages that are inherent with each group or category to which one belongs.

People in their fifties and above will have to recognize the limitations that advancing in age puts on all of us. Are there exceptions? Sure, but only for a short time. Age overcomes us all. You are not the exception.

Expecting to perform acrobatics in your 60’s is not only unrealistic, but foolish. Your goal of self defense, good fitness, and overall well-being has immediately failed when you get an injury trying to perform in a way not befitting your body’s abilities.

Some styles that may not be suitable for the elderly are…

  • TaeKwonDo – The emphasis on head level kicking is just not necessary nor advisable for elderly students.
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – Some will have no problem, but others with joint issues can find it horrible for the back and hips. Knee problems can frequently prohibit this training as well since the majority is done from the kneeling and crouched positions.
  • Judo – Here we are talking about the majority of training, though the falling instruction here is absolutely invaluable. Find an instructor to gently teach you falling techniques. These are the most valuable of all martial arts techniques. The problem with training in Judo is the full speed falling that is done repetitively. This can have devastating effects on older students.

These are just some basics to consider. Can even these styles be modified in a way that most people can practice them? Sure. The problem comes when you realize what makes a style worth the effort to learn.

All martial arts styles have merit and are effective for the purpose they were created for. If you are modifying a style to an extreme, it begins to not even be applicable for its original purpose.

This is where expectations and proper style selection is essential for upper and lower age groups.

Environment Can Be An Issue For Some Ages Wishing Begin In The Martial Arts

This can be vitally important for many people. Large groups, small groups, and private instruction are all options to take into consideration.

There are also options for distance learning like my Little Ninja Home Dojo Karate Classes that are great for timid children and young ones that would otherwise be too intimidated in a large Dojo filled with unfamiliar faces.

I teach them in an age appropriate manner, right in their own living rooms or playrooms.

Check out all the information here for my Kids Online Karate Classes.

You can also see a problem with loud and warehouse style ‘training gyms’ for elderly students. They simply may not feel comfortable regularly training in a converted garage.

I know this first hand. I had a school years ago that was successful in a converted multi-bay mechanic’s garage. What was my population of older adults? Abysmal.

In other locations with more polished and finished ascetics, my older population was much higher. Environment does play a significant role especially in an activity that will be undertaken several times per week.

There is also the safety factor to consider.

When training for international competitions in LA, many times we would train outside, full contact, full ground grappling, and wearing little protective gear. This has reeked havoc on my joints, but we thought it gave us an edge.

Older students, some women, and many teens would try the training and… we would never hear from them again. No mats, not much in the way of protective gear, and having to wash dirt from your eye just doesn’t breed long term students. Go figure.

The Good Martial Arts Age Takeaway…

If you are looking to start the martial arts and are wondering what is a good age to begin, the answer is ‘your age’.

Of course, the work on selecting a style and finding the right instructor is 99% of the job. Some instructors and some styles may not be the right fit for your or your child’s specific situation. Just take your time and test the waters.

You will eventually find the right option for your family and if you have done your homework, you could be on the road to the many benefits that the martial arts has to offer.

Happy hunting, and I will see you on the path.

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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