The Risks and Benefits of Martial Arts Classes for Teens

The benefits of martial arts stem beyond physical.
Jupiter images / Stockbyte / Getty Images

Does karate promote violence? Will my teen learn self-defense skills? How likely is my teen to get injured while doing martial arts? These are only a few of the questions many parents have when they consider signing their teen up for karate lessons.

Karate, like other forms of martial art, can be really good for teens. But there are several things you should consider before signing your teen up for classes.

Forms of Martial Arts

Before you sign your teen up for any type of class, make sure you and your teen have a basic understanding of that particular style of martial art. Find out what your teen hopes to gain and try to understand their expectations to find the best fit. 

More than 6.5 million children in the United States participate in some type of martial art.

Here are the most popular martial arts:

  • Karate Karate is a stand-up martial art that involves punches, kicks, and open hands to block strikes. 
  • Tae kwon do – Tae kwon do involves 80 percent kicks and 20 percent hand techniques. Training involves blocks, punches, and open-hand strikes.
  • Judo – Judo is about using an opponent’s energy against them. It involves takedowns to the ground and submission holds.
  • Muay Thai Kickboxing – Muay Thai kickboxing involves kicking, sparring, and punching with boxing gloves. It’s performed with different levels of protective equipment.
  • Kung fu - Kung fu is a stand-up martial art, known for its powerful blocks.
  • Mixed Martial Arts – Mixed martial arts may involve a combination of boxing and wrestling with a variety of submission holds and takedowns.
  • Aikido Aikido teaches a non-aggressive form of self-defense. It involves joint locks, restraints, and throws, rather than kicks and punches. It is not a competitive sport.
  • Jujitsu Jujitsu allows smaller fighters to overcome larger opponents. It's a grappling style martial art that incorporates karate, judo, and aikido.

Also make sure your teen knows that competition may or may not be part of the class. Teens who have seen someone perform Tae kwon do in a movie or who have watched a Mixed Martial Arts fight may expect to compete right away.

How Martial Arts Benefits Teens

Whether you want your teen to gain some basic self-defense skills, or you’re hoping she’ll learn self-discipline by repeating the same moves over and over again, martial arts can be a great teaching tool.

Health Benefits

Here are a few of the physical and mental health benefits of martial arts:

  • Improved muscle strength
  • Better balance
  • Enhanced flexibility
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Higher self-esteem
  • More self-respect
  • Better self-awareness

Martial arts may be a great physical outlet for a teen who isn’t interested in traditional sports, like baseball or soccer. Your teen won't be cut from a team and martial arts don't require any prior experience or specific skill set. 

Your teen can set goals for herself, such as earning the next color belt or mastering a new move. Over time, she'll learn to see how her effort can help her accomplish her goals. 

The Most Common Injuries From Martial Arts

Like any other physical activity, martial arts pose some risk of injury. Here are some of the most common injuries your teen may experience while participating in martial arts:

  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Contusions
  • Fractures (from falling)
  • Hyperextension of the joints
  • Nosebleeds

While less common, participation in martial arts may put your child at risk for more serious injuries, such as head or neck injuries. Many of these injuries can be prevented with appropriate precautions.

How to Reduce the Risk of Injury

Before enrolling your teen in the study of any martial art, talk to your teen's pediatrician. Discuss which specific form of martial art you are considering and ask the doctor if your teen is healthy enough to participate.

Here are some other things you can do to reduce the risk of injury:

  • Talk to the instructor first. Call the instructor and ask questions about training, experience, and philosophy before signing your teen up for classes. Look for an instructor who only encourages competition once students display adequate emotional and physical maturity, as well as adequate skills.
  • Start with lower contact forms of martial arts. Look for a martial arts class that doesn't involve a lot of contact. Then if your teen shows self-discipline and maturity, consider moving into a more competitive environment, if she is interested.
  • Only allow your teen to compete in a safe environment. Competitions should discourage blows to the head and should deduct points for illegal and dangerous moves. Make sure your teen is being taught proper defensive blocking moves before allowing him to enter a competition.
  • Talk to the instructor and your doctor about safety equipment.  A mouthguard, for example, may reduce oral injuries. Talk about soft headgear as well. While some studies show headgear may reduce the risk of concussions, other research is inconclusive.

The Emphasis Should Be on the Art, Not on Violence

Many parents are hesitant to enroll a teen in a martial arts class due to fear that it will promote violence. It’s an important consideration. After all, you don’t want your teen practicing his roundhouse kicks and karate chops on his little brother.

You also don’t want your teen to become a bully merely because he knows some basic martial arts moves. And you certainly don’t want him starting fights just because he thinks he can win.

When taught appropriately, martial arts aren't about promoting violence. Instead the practice of martial arts is about learning self-discipline and self-defense.

A true martial artist should want to avoid unnecessary conflict. But that’s not to say martial artists don’t ever fight—they reserve fights for causes they believe in.

Studies have found that, overall, teens who participate in martial arts don't become any more aggressive than teens who are involved in team sports. They may (or may not) show more externalizing behavior—such as aggression, bullying and conduct issues—than teens involved in other individual sports, like swimming or golf.

Don’t Allow Your Teen to Enroll in Mixed Martial Arts

Some martial arts are better choices for teens than others. Some studies show significant differences between the types of martial arts and the amount of externalizing behavior. For example, teens taking karate lessons are less likely to become aggressive when compared to teens taking judo. Not only is it important to take the kind of martial art into account, perhaps more important is the role played by the instructor, whose teaching interpretation can influence different styles within a single martial art, as noted in one review of the psychosocial effects of teens training in the martial arts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages youth participation in mixed martial arts. The risk of injury is much higher in mixed martial arts than in other contact sports, including collegiate football.

Teens who participate in mixed martial arts are at a high risk of concussion and asphyxia, due to chokeholds and hard blows to the head. Lacerations, upper limb injuries, and fractures are also common.

Be Cautious of Media Portrayals of Martial Arts

Professional mixed martial arts has become sensationalized in the media. Reality shows and movies about mixed martial artists may make it seem like fighting is an easy way to become rich. Such shows often glorify violent moves, like choking someone out or kicking an opponent in the head.

Video games may glorify the violent aspects of martial arts by emphasizing injuring and killing opponents.

There is evidence that exposure to media violence can increase aggressive behavior in kids. Watching violent acts may also desensitize youth to violence.

Limit your teen's exposure to media that portrays martial arts as violent. If your teen has a strong interest in violent media—despite your clear objection—talk to your teen's doctor or a mental health professional before enrolling him in martial arts classes.

Encourage Your Teen to Participate Under the Right Conditions

Overall martial arts can be an overwhelmingly positive activity for teenagers. So if your teen is interested in signing up for karate class, it’s most likely something you should encourage. Just make sure you find a good class with an excellent instructor.

If your teen has a history of physical aggression or he has a mental health condition, talk to a mental health professional before enrolling your teen in a class.

There is some evidence that martial arts can be good for kids with ADHD and other behavior disorders, but it's important to discuss your child's situation with a mental health professional.

One of the best things about karate lessons or Taekwondo class is that it is suitable for people of all ages. A martial arts center may offer classes the whole family can join.

Of course not all teens want to take martial arts with their parents. But if you have a shy teen or one who is reluctant to get involved in physical activity, joining together may be a way to encourage participation in physical activity.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Demorest RA, Koutures C, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Youth Participation and Injury Risk in Martial Arts. Pediatrics. 2016;138(6):e20163022. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-3022

  2. Berkeley University of California Wellness. The Art and Science of Martial Arts. Updated November 16, 2017.

  3. NY Martial Arts Academy. Understanding the Meaning of Karate Belt Colors. Updated May 19, 2020.

  4. Vitale JA, Bassani T, Galbusera F, Bianchi A, Martinelli N. Injury rates in martial arts athletes and predictive risk factors for lower limb injuriesJ Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018;58(9):1296-1303. doi:10.23736/S0022-4707.17.07536-3

  5. Galic T, Kuncic D, Poklepovic Pericic T, et al. Knowledge and attitudes about sports-related dental injuries and mouthguard use in young athletes in four different contact sports-water polo, karate, taekwondo and handballDent Traumatol. 2018;34(3):175-181. doi:10.1111/edt.12394

  6. O'Sullivan DM, Fife GP. Impact attenuation of protective boxing and taekwondo headgear. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(8):1219-1225. doi:10.1080/17461391.2016.1161073

  7. Harwood A, Lavidor M, Rassovsky Y. Reducing aggression with martial arts: A meta-analysis of child and youth studies. Aggression and Violent Behavior. 2017; 34:96-101. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2017.03.001

  8. Ziaee V, Lotfian S, Amini H, Mansournia MA, Memari AH. Anger in Adolescent Boy Athletes: a Comparison among Judo, Karate, Swimming and Non AthletesIran J Pediatr. 2012;22(1):9‐14.

  9. Vertonghen J, Theeboom M. The Social-Psychological Outcomes of Martial Arts Practise Among Youth: A ReviewJ Sports Sci Med. 2010;9(4):528-537.

  10. American Academy of Pediatrics. New AAP Report Encourages Safer Participation in Martial Arts. 2016.

  11. Anderson CA, Suzuki K, Swing EL, et al. Media Violence and Other Aggression Risk Factors in Seven NationsPers Soc Psychol Bull. 2017;43(7):986-998. doi:10.1177/0146167217703064

  12. Kadri A, Slimani M, Bragazzi NL, Tod D, Azaiez F. Effect of Taekwondo Practice on Cognitive Function in Adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(2):204. doi:10.3390/ijerph16020204