What Is The Most Fun Martial Art For Kids to Learn? Top 10 Ranking

Let’s be honest. You want your child to learn respect, discipline, and a useful form of self defense. But the fun quotient has got to be high or they are not going to stick with it and who really wants to torture their kids with boring or overbearing activities? You are spending your hard earned money, you want quality and fun. So what is your best martial art style option?

There’s two main determining factors that need to be considered to find the martial arts style most kids find fun. One is the amount of offerings a system has and the other is the interest shown by parents who know their kids. Karate leads all the rest by a wide margin using both metrics.

Let’s look at the differences in each of the top children’s styles according to what they offer and how excited it makes kids to practice them. I have personally taught over 25 thousand kids around the world. Kids from Australia and New Zealand, to Europe and America usually find the same sorts of things fun. This is also supported by the data of the most popular martial arts that kids regularly study.

The Data Declares a Clear Winner For the Most Fun Martial Art For Kids

With the popularity of Tae Kwon Do as an Olympic sport, it may come as a shock to many that it does not make the top two spots in either chart here. This also goes for Brazilian Jiu jitsu with the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts and Judo with its own Olympic sport. What kids enjoy does not simply follow what is popular in main stream adult circles.

It should be noted here that interest is very subjective and there are thousands, and even millions of children participating in many of these systems. Many are enjoying their time studying them without question. This study is an honest look at the data of which style ‘most’ children do or will enjoy.

What Does Each Martial Art Style Offer To Keep Your Kids Engaged?

This chart rates the range of offerings of the most popular kids martial arts styles. Individual portions are rated from 0 meaning non-existent to 10 being the most comprehensive curriculum.

Systems are given partial credit for incomplete or secondary offerings according to their training and application. Read on to find out more about why each category was scored in the way it was.

#StyleStrikeGrappleWeaponTourneyDemo TeamTotal
2Kung Fu1005101035
4Tae Kwon Do700101027
5Tang Soo Do700101027
7Brazilian Jiu jitsu010010020

What Style Do Parents Research Consistently More Than Any Other?

So with the offerings established, we need to find a metric for how many people are interested in getting their kids into each of these martial arts styles. One way to do this is to rely on the choices that parents make. They know what their individual child will like.

A reliable way to do this is to consult the largest set of search data collected in the world. Google keeps track not only of what has been searched, but through its Google Trends™ feature, we can compare what people are interested in side by side. The results here are overwhelming.

Google makes this graph based on the highest result recorded scoring 100 and everything else in relation to that score all the way down to 0. When the graph above was produced it was measured as far back as Google has kept data: 2004. The problem for reading this chart is that spike you see in 2010.

The data doesn’t change in this next chart. We just start in January 2011 in order to zoom in on the data in order for you to get a better picture of how these styles stack up when search result volume is compared. Parents, knowing what their kids will like, overwhelmingly chose to research Karate and the trend hasn’t changed in 16 years.

Here we have a closer look at what families are choosing when it comes to martial arts and what their kids will enjoy.

This search data is based on the highest performing search phrase associated with children. Kid’s Karate, Kid’s Kung Fu, etc. It is noted at the top with each term. The data is clear from the amount of offerings and total search data for over 16 straight years. Karate is the most fun martial art for kids by far.

For a great online option for Karate classes for you Little Ninjas… Check out all the information on my Little Ninja Home Dojo Online Karate Classes here.

Striking, Grappling, and Weapons Training Data Determine Karate Is The Most Fun Martial Art For The Most Kids

First we need to look at the amount of different avenues a child can go down when choosing a style to participate in and study. This is important due to the multi year path all martial arts set children on and anyone familiar with teaching children knows that variety is king.

Another note needs to be made here about what this does and doesn’t say. We are not taking about effectiveness of a style, self defense applications, or overall merit of any of these systems. We are simply judging likability for children. This is what the average person will mean when they ask how fun it is to train in a style for their child.

How Does the Comprehensive Curriculum In Each Portion of a Style Matter?

Striking Affects The Fun Quotient

Let’s start with how comprehensively teaching striking can add to the fun for children in any style. First off, if there are no strikes taught, no boards to break, no targets to kick, you are not only limiting the variation of training, but you are taking out a main component kids expect to find in a martial arts system.

Judo and Brazilian Jiu jitsu both are guilty of this. Again, they are both very effective self defense and competitive styles in their own right. Though, the first question I hear kids asking each other when they learn this Judo class will not have any kicks or punches is, “Why can’t we kick?

Then we can move on to those styles that restrict the availability of strikes children can become proficient in. Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do for example teach hand techniques, but severely limit their usage in sparring, tournaments, self defense, and forms. Yes, they do teach hand strikes, but these are mainly kicking based styles and it is noticeable to all students.

On the other end of the spectrum is boxing. There are literally no kicks allowed, period. Kickboxing comes to the rescue with kicks, but there are many other factors that keep it toward the bottom of the offerings chart.

Grappling Can Add To The Fun

When the drills become repetitive, it is a great help to be able to spice up training with practical and completely different training techniques. Many Karate styles like Okinawan Isshinryu Karate incorporate Judo style throws and grappling techniques directly into their training methods.

Yes, some instructors cross train and can add them in themselves, but here we are interested in the styles that inherently have the techniques within them. Those schools that offer many styles can overcome the deficiency of any one particular one by supplementing with others.

Styles like Judo, Brazilian Jiu jitsu, and wrestling all have excellent grappling systems, but again, none have true striking systems within their traditional curriculums. Other complete systems will have to be studied to compensate, which adds many years and lots of tuition payments to the totals.

Some styles do a better or worse job at teaching grappling, and that is noted in the chart above. Incomplete systems can add to the fun in the short term, but one has to consider the long term enjoyment of accomplishment and abilities gained from more comprehensive versions.

Weapons Training Is One of the Most Exciting For Kids

If you watch most any kid’s martial arts show, you will immediately see that these writers and producers know this to be true. I have a great resource on the best kid’s cartoon series here, take a look. Kung Fu Panda™, Ninjago™, Ninja Turtles™, they all are toting weapons, and many times ‘super duper special ones’.

I have experienced this around the world. If you give a kid a safe version of a weapon and teach them how to wield it, the coolness for them goes through the roof. It doesn’t matter to them if they can’t carry a bo staff strapped to their backs down the halls of their school. They can tell everyone what they can do with one, which in a kid’s world is even better.

I have taken the most shy and scared students, put a padded weapon in their hand and padded weapons gear on them. After a slight push in the right direction, they might as well be named Raphael or Donatello. The Ninja Turtle in them leaps out and their super powers they always knew they had in their minds roars with a vengeance.

I am telling you from tons of experience, if every martial arts school had seen what I have all over the world, they would be rushing out to find an instructor to teach them Kali. By far, this is the most fun weapons based art for kids. It offers a wide variety of striking and grappling as well. Its fatal flaw is that it emphasizes weapons too much for the taste of many parents.

Read about the best kicking bags for kids here in my article ranking them for martial arts style and age groups.

How Do Tournaments and Demonstration Teams Add to All of The Martial Arts Fun For Kids?

Not All Tournaments are Created Equal Or Even Fun

You and I both know, those medals and trophies lined up on those awards tables all shiny and bright are why kids want to go to tournaments. They may like the attention and they may even like the challenge, but the number one reason they will enjoy it is for the prize.

To be honest, some of the most tortured experiences of my martial arts career have been spent at poorly run, all day wait fests masquerading as a martial arts tournament.

On the other hand, in the hands of competent tournament promoters and organizers, they can be exciting and highly memorable events for child and adult participants, along with their families and friends. It has a lot to do with the style, the intent of the event, and the experience of the organizers.

When they are done right, the challenge and reward of these tournaments can be the highlight of a child’s martial arts experience. They can offer a chance to perform in front of large crowds with all eyes on them and push themselves in a controlled and safe environment.

Tournaments are definitely not for every child though. Do not let an instructor looking to make a cut on entry fees or to sell a set of gear or a special Gi push you and your child into it if it doesn’t seem like the right way to go.

I’ll admit, I lost a few students in my younger years as an instructor, not because of pushing sales of items, but because of pushing kids to compete that should never have been there. We are talking here about having fun.

This also applies to learning an art in general. If the training is not fun at least in some way, the child will not want to train any longer and nothing will be learned.

One last note about tournaments. Boxing, Kali, and Kickboxing received lower scores in the offerings chart above not because they tend to have unorganized tournaments. The score is frankly due to the violent nature of these sports and though precautions are taken for kids, it is very understandable that most parents want nothing to do with them. I can’t say I blame them.

Martial Arts Demonstrations Are A Blast For Many Children

Many styles do have the option of exhibitions. Some systems like Judo, Brazilian Jiu jitsu, Boxing, and Kickboxing are primarily sports without this option. Can they have exhibitions? Sure. Are they going to be very satisfying for the kids? Probably not.

Demonstrations with boards to break, weapons to swing and hit together, and lots of people to say ‘wow’ at their attempts at jumping kicks is what makes these events glorious in the eyes of children. I have had these at olympic parks, schools, malls, libraries, and town squares. The kids don’t care. If there are people to watch, they will want to show off their moves.

This is an amazing opportunity for shy kids and those with confidence problems. Video tape them and let them watch themselves succeed. It is an amazing teachable moment. We are all looking for those moments with our kids and these are perfect.

Demo teams come in all shapes and sizes. If there is one, then it is a plus. That is why some styles are higher up in the enjoyment rankings. Yet, some can take these too seriously and suck the fun right out of them. Sometimes instructors and parents live vicariously through their children and expect perfection.

Sometimes, instructors see this as advertising and take mistakes or bad showings as black marks on his business. If you notice that these situations are occurring, run. That can ruin the future of your child in the martial arts. They will quickly associate all martial arts with these attitudes and can sour on the whole thing indefinitely.

The Martial Arts Fun Takeaway…

We can see from what it offers and what parents ultimately pick for their kids that Karate is head and shoulders above the pack when it comes to offering fun. Other styles will definitely appeal to many children and parents. All have some sort of enjoyment to offer if taught in a safe and professional manner.

It is obvious that some may be geared more toward Adults or even teens. Most any system has something to offer most any age, but kids seem to gravitate toward Karate and maybe Kung Fu and Tae Kwon Do the most. Kali would fare much better if it were not based on weapons, but that is its strength and weakness it seems.

What are the elements that you should look for when deciding if your child will have fun in a type of martial art?

  • Does the style offer kicks, punches, and blocks equally?
  • Does the system include grappling to a decent degree?
  • Is there the all important weapons training involved?
  • Are there tournament opportunities for children that may enjoy them?
  • Are some sort of demonstrations or demo teams available?

There is one option that can be found in most cities or towns. If a single style does not include portions of these, it may be the case that the school or instructor offers supplemental styles to make up for the portions missing in others. This can make for a good alternative, as long as the time commitment and/or increased tuition rates are not a problem.

Now, you should be prepared to go out and pick a system based on what your child will enjoy. If you are interested in what the martial arts can do for your child in the good character department, then check out my article on virtues and ethics the martial arts can teach.

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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