Children love martial arts because they do things that are normally forbidden at home and school: they yell at the top of their lungs, kick targets, and throw each other to the ground – and get praise for doing it well.

Parents love martial arts because their children do things that they normally refuse to do at home and in school: they sit quietly and wait their turn, respectfully interact with adults, and keep practicing no matter how tired they are. Parents and teachers know that the lessons children learn in martial arts carry over into other activities. Students have to focus on the teacher. Studying the martial arts works on their confidence, balance, coordination, and being able to sit still and practice self-control.

Coming Into Focus

In the martial arts control is crucial especially control over your own body. “We get a lot of kids with ADD and ADHD and the repetition of the classes and lessons helps them,” says Senior Master Marc Jouan, 7th degree black belt and owner of ATA Martial Arts in West Chester, PA. “If you can’t sit still, you can’t learn, but eventually they can go into a classroom and sit still.” Once they have that level of self-control, they learn to focus on the task at hand.

When a martial arts instructor demonstrates a technique, for example, the child has to learn how to move certain body parts in a certain order to achieve the desired result. If he starts thinking about something else, there’s no chance of success. Even after he succeeds, the instructor can help the child focus on his body at a deeper level.

Loretta Brewbaker says of her 7-year-old son, “Roy has learned to focus on tasks thanks to his Taekwondo instructors. They make him feel special and give him encouragement.” She says that his improvement in school is measurable.

Going For Goals

“Just as you set goals for students in martial arts you also want to set goals in life and at school,” says Ruth Hunter, a 2nd degree black belt and author of Everyday Warriors, a book about how children can use martial arts philosophies to handle everyday incidents peacefully.

At ATA Martial Arts schools each instructor is a graduate of an instructor program that teaches them how to help students reach individual goals. Many ATA instructors have programs and testing requirements in their schools that emphasize the academic performance of grade school children and encourage kids to focus and persevere in Taekwondo and in school.

Pamela Jones, the mother of a 9-year-old Taekwondo student says, “his martial arts teachers want their students to set and meet their own goals. They want their students to do their best and to work to their potential. They recognize that learning is a lifelong journey that can be done through joy, laughter, trials, and failures.

Building Confidence

To throw a perfect sidekick is the goal of every martial arts student. They persist towards this goal because they can see themselves improve.

“If you like what you’re doing and are achieving what you want to achieve it gives you more confidence,” says Ray Velasco, a 3rd degree black belt and co-founder of Therapeutic Taekwondo in Cordova, Tennessee, which integrates physical therapy with Taekwondo. “The confidence you get from one thing transitions to others. Math is a subject that you often can’t get after just one time. It takes trial and error. Following the tenets of martial arts, students learn to persevere and do as much as they can to courageously solve a problem.”

Cathy Spielvogel agrees that perseverance is the key that unlocks academic success. She says that her son was very uncoordinated and had a lot of trouble paying attention when she first brought him to Taekwondo class. “Patience and persistence paid off,” she says, crediting his Taekwondo teacher for helping him become the boy he is today – a boy who also plays hockey and baseball, in addition to being a grade level ahead of other students in reading.

Standing Tall

A student’s increased confidence in his abilities will also give him the confidence to avoid using them. “A young man I spoke with was a 3rd degree black belt and a kid challenged him on the stairway in high school,” says Hunter. “He could think of three different ways to take the other student down but instead said ‘no I don’t feel like getting expelled today.’ The ability to say no is a hard one to develop, but with confidence, children learn how to speak up or handle themselves in bullying situations.”

Jouan says the confidence is vital for shy kids who might otherwise disappear into the crowd. “We teach students how to raise their hands and ask questions period they learn to keep their heads up so the teachers can have a rapport with them.” Learning to interact with adults as near equals helps kids feel more a part of the wider world around them.

“Being a martial artist is not just being physically capable, but also mentally capable,” says Hunter. “As kids learn how to do better in martial arts they go out and transfer this learning across the rest of their lives.”