One thing that I think often confuses people that are not involved in the martial arts is how much variety there is to it. Martial arts have as much variety to them as team sports do, and different forms of martial arts can be as different as hockey and baseball.
So that said I want to break down a few of the more common forms of martial arts and what they involve.
Karate: Karate is a form of martial arts that comes out of Japan
/ Okinawa, even within “karate” there is a fair bit of variety between different branches. Modern karate generally involves forms practice (preset routines), self-defence and a type of lower contact kickboxing. It tends to be fairly regimented, and a times resembling military drill. Karate gained popularity for kids in the 80′s due largely to the “Karate Kid” movie.
Tae Kwon Do: This is very similar to karate, with a focus more heavy on kicks. Tae Kwon Do has it’s organs in Karate and was marketed as “Korean Karate” by a lot of schools. Tae Kwon Do has become very popular with school age kids and is an Olympic sport.
Judo: Judo is a Japanese style done in a “gi” or uniform that is designed to be grabbed. The primary focus is throwing your opponent and having them land on their back. With secondary emphasis on pinning and submitting your opponent through arm locks and chokes.
Kung Fu: Similar to Karate and Tae Kwon Do, however of Chinese origin. Kung Fu heavily influenced the development of Karate. Kung Fu has a huge variety in it’s styles, from direct and to the point to flashy and acrobatic.
Boxing: Boxing is a western martial art, an olympic sport, and something most people are familiar with, however it often is not thought of as a martial art. Competitive boxing is frequently under fire for head trauma, but lower / no contact gyms have been become a major player in fitness.
Kickboxing / Muay Thai: Similar to boxing, in competition they get a bad rep for head trauma and other injuries. Western Kickboxing was largely about combining boxing with Karate, where as Muay Thai is a sport originating in Thailand using not only punches and kicks, but knees and elbows as well.
Wrestling: Wrestling, (“real” wrestling, not the WWE form) is a hugely popular sport worldwide. Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the world, is a part of the physical education program in a lot of places, and has been a part of nearly every culture in some form. Currently their are two styles of wrestling in the Olympics, Freestyle is the most practiced, especially amongst youth. The objective is to take down, or throw your opponent then pin their back to the floor.
Fencing: Sword fighting, another form with a long history that is a Olympic sport. Several forms of fencing exist, in the west Epee, sober and foil are used (these are the guys and gals in the white suits and mesh masks. In Japan “Kendo” uses “Shinai” (a bamboo representation of a katana) along with much heavier armour.
JuJitsu: A Japanese style that emphasizes joint manipulation and chokes. Jujitsu is more of a “traditional” style then Judo, which took the safer elements and used live training to create a sport version where techniques could be applied against full resistance.
Aikido: Aikido was the combination of a branch of Jujitsu with strong philosophical and religious beliefs surrounding pacifism and Chi / Ki energy.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Based in Judo, BJJ focuses more on the ground work aspect of the martial arts. With less emphasis on throws and more on submissions. BJJ gained popularity in the 90′s the Gracie family dominated in No-Holds-Barred fights to promote their family style. This culminated in the creation of the UFC. BJJ has become a increasingly popular sport outside of full contact fights as well.
Mixed Martial Arts: This is where our bias is going to kick in, as this is what we teach… Anyways, MMA has been around in some form as long as we have history to look at. “Pankration” was the name used in Ancient Greece where it was an Olympic sport. Modern MMA developed in parallel in multiple places (largely Brazil and Japan) as frustration with how many other forms where drifting away from practicality and becoming unable to deal with a full range of situations. MMA basically means it combines aspects of all sorts of styles, to create something more inclusive. Instead of training exclusively in striking training is done in striking & grappling.
So which style should your child do? Well, as I said, I’m biased, but here’s my answer:
In most cases MMA. Different kids will have different needs and things they hope to get out of training, and the same thing is not best for everyone.
But, MMA, despite it’s reputation as a professional sport is one of the safer options, and one that I think offers the most benefits in terms of building confidence in children.
In a striking art (karate / TaeKwonDo / etc) kids will learn to strike. Perhaps some basic releases from grabs and things, but the majority of what they do is going to be around hitting another person. If pinned they won’t have the tools to deal with that, and if getting hit their trained response will be to hit back. In MMA they are taught to escape pins, and if someone is hitting them how to take that person down and control them.
MMA also has some safety benefits as well for kids. Looking at grappling styles, Judo and wrestling both reward takedowns that hit the ground hard. For us this doesn’t matter, a safer takedown that leaves good control is more valuable then a hard one that doesn’t. Judo and wrestling both emphasis putting people on their back. And in fact landing on your back is the safest way to fall, it is trained in both. Except in practice the safest way to fall costs points or even the match, so rather then land safe participants often try to land in ways that keep them off their back which can result in injuries.
We also have the benefit of a larger set of curriculum, keeping people learning new things for a very, very long time. With this comes a lot more freedom for personalization.
The huge range of things also allows a lot more safety persuasions to be put in place at carrying levels and ages. Kids in our school do not hit the head, they don’t push to the head, they don’t kick to the head, it just doesn’t happen. Removing head shots in a sport like boxing or Tae Kwon Do is a lot harder as it is a large chunk of the style.
Hope that helps