Tae Kwon Do

My daughter, who is six years old, recently earned her yellow belt in tae kwon do. I practiced tae kwon do for eight years, stopping about fifteen years ago with a second degree black belt. I didn’t encourage my daughter to take it up, but she knew that I had done it in the past and I’m sure that had some influence.

I’m ambivalent about teaching martial arts like karate and tae kwon do to children. Motivated children can learn the forms, but before adolescence they have a hard time generating much strength. A result that I’ve often seen is that they move through the forms very quickly, but with a lack of focus. Adding the strength and focus later requires unlearning some of what they have practiced.

On the other hand I do think there are benefits to practicing any martial art. They teach you how to pay attention to the world around you and how to live in your body rather than your mind. For children they bring an additional advantage of discipline and self-control. And of course there is the pleasure of learning a new skill.

Tae kwon do can also be useful for self-defense for children. It’s not a very useful self-defense skill for a large man like me–nobody is likely to try to hit me, and tae kwon do doesn’t help against a gun. But children do hit each other, and learning controlled self-defense can help. And, sadly, women can sometimes benefit from learning self defense techniques.

I stopped studying tae kwon do mainly because of aging. As I got into my thirties, I started getting worse instead of better, which I found frustrating. That doesn’t happen to everybody, but it happens to a lot of people. So that is another advantage of studying martial arts: it reminds us quite precisely that we are only here for a limited time.


  1. ncm said,

    August 19, 2008 @ 10:09 pm

    Mortality lessons aside, isn’t it time to move on to something you can keep improving throughout your life? Isn’t Qi Gong (“Tai Chi”) supposed to be such a discipline? And aren’t there disciplines good for kids, that don’t rely much on one’s own strength? I don’t know much about it myself.

  2. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    August 21, 2008 @ 5:24 am

    Tai Chi isn’t bad. It’s really hard to learn to do it right. Other softer martial arts, which are easier to do when older, are aikido and small-circle jujitsu.

    I think aikido would be a good choice for most kids. There is a lot of rolling around on the floor. The techniques rely on precision rather than on strength. It takes much longer to learn how to do aikido well than it does a “hard” (in the sense of strength) martial art like tae kwon do.

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