Karate or judo? Choosing a martial art for your child


Martial arts can be great for your child’s fitness and confidence. But when your child comes home begging to learn how to be a “ninja” or wants to learn Kung Fu like everybody’s favourite panda, how does a parent who has never had any experience in martial arts know which is the best style to choose for their child? Rose from  Philotimo Freestyle Jujitsu in Hunters Hill explains.


Martial arts fall loosely under the categories of sport styles, traditional styles, modern styles, hybrids, combat styles, mixed styles (and more!). For the most part, and as a very beginners guide (not a definitive analysis) you can define a martial art by whether it is a competitive, or wholly focussed on self-defence.

Sport: Sport styles (such as Judo, Taekwondo and Karate) often open up lifelong opportunities such the Olympics or the international University Games. Other styles include Brazilian Jujitsu, Olympic Taekwondo, Karate, Boxing, Muay Thai / Kickboxing.

Traditional: These styles emphasise the tradition, history and historical aspects of study. Classes focus on etiquette, formalities, hierarchy and respect. There may also be cultural tie-ins around festivals, special days and celebrations – dragon dancers are always kung fu students, for example. Traditional styles (some of which are also combative) include Aikido, Okinowan Karate, Kung Fu, Capoeira, Ninjutsu, Wing Chung, Tai Chi, Daito Ryu, Kendo, Gatka.

Combat: Combat-based styles focus on practical fight skills, sparring, self defence, and fight science. Emphasis is often on “Randori”  (one-on-one sparring). Styles include Coreeda, Boxing, Jujitsu, Hapkido, MMA, Krav Maga, Jeet Kun Do, Arnis, Savate, Pankration

Child jumping at martial arts

There are so many martial arts schools, how do you pick which one?

Remember within each martial art there are MANY versions, and often only one version will have access to international competitions such as the Olympics – so parents with ambitions should choose the school and its connections carefully.

Grading of styles and the famous ‘black belt’

Everybody has heard of the famous “black belt”, which is meant to signify ultimate mastery. But what does a black belt actually mean?
A black belt means different things in different styles and the grading is not necessarily the same between arts, styles, or even within some organisations.

Some styles will let you obtain your black belt in under three years – others will take over ten years. Some styles let you obtain them online!

I am an old-fashioned instructor. I don’t believe in giving out black belts unless the wearer is over 16 and can defend themselves in a street-realistic attack. As an instructor, it is my duty to give students the skills they require and faith in their abilities.

Choosing a style for your child

When choosing an instructor and style, consider:

  • Your child’s personality & body type
  • The instructor
  • Your budget

Working with your child’s personality

Weigh up whether your child enjoys active, noisy classes, or a more restrained structured class, and seek that environment. Consider their ability to concentrate, how competitive they are, their flexibility and their creativity.

  • Super flexible kids will love Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, Kung Fu too.
  • Strong kids are suited to Judo, Shotokan Karate and BJJ
  • A child who likes personal space will hate grappling styles like Jujitsu, but will be suited to Karate
  • Sport martial arts are great for competitive kids who win trophies – but make sure the message is that self worth comes from within
  • Creative children are well-matched with traditional non-sport styles that focus on things like kata/ forms or traditional weapons
  • Athletic kids will love judo but will also love Hapkido, Kung Fu, Jujitsu, BJJ and Capoeira
  • Serious, focused kids will adore Kendo and Aikido as classes are structured, with a clear hierarchy and focus on history and tradition

Choosing an instructor

After finding the right style, you need the right instructor to nurture and guide your child’s learning.

Top Tip: Figure out if YOU like the instructor. If you don’t feel they’re the right fit, trust your instincts.

Visit the school, see classes in action. Look at how the instructors interact with the kids and the kids themselves. Is everyone focused, or lots of mucking about with a few star pupils at the front making everyone look great? Ask the same questions you would ask yourself when visiting a primary or high school.

Are instructors experienced and educated?Just because you *learn* a martial art does not mean you know how to teach it. Do the younger instructors have the emotional maturity to deal with difficult students, assess potentially dangerous situations or understand when a child is afraid or nervous?

Howe is the learning journey managed? What motivation is offered when a child hits a plateau and wants to drop out? Does the instructor support the parent and child while the plateau is worked through? Of course it is also the work of parents to keep their kids going even when they do not want to go – but you need support from the instructor as well.

Young girl at martial arts class

Judo, Taekwondo and Karate are all styles with a pathway to future Olympic Sports competing

Your wallet

Many commercial dojos have introduced 12 month contracts and the fortnightly billing model. New members get pulled in with offers of a free uniform or a free month’s worth of training. The thing is, nothing is ever really for free, so you are paying that back somewhere!

  • Look carefully at a contract if you are being asked to sign one.
  • Check for hidden costs: Will you be charged for every single belt-test, every patch and every belt on a regular basis?
  • Consider enrolling in a system that is less progress-focused and more skill focused (potentially you’ll save a lot of money)

Most importantly check the school has WWCC, insurance and first aid certification for ALL instructors. That way, you know your child is off to a good start.


Philotimo Freestyle Jujitsu offers classes in Hunters Hill  for ages 3 years to adult.

If you want a fun, energetic, and practical activity for your kids, Jujitsu is a practical martial art that gives students a sense of strength, calm, and mastery over their own bodies. On joining, parents train free with children enrolled in the programs.

Free trial classes are available on the first Monday of every month (except December and June).

Find out more on the Modern Warriors website or phone 0444 577 608.


Rose Smith is the founder of Philotimo Freestyle Jujitsu in Hunters Hill.

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