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Taekwondo originated in Korea more than 2,300 years ago. Translated, it means "the way of the foot and fist," and as that name suggests, it was originally developed by warriors. But this ancient practice is about more than just physical defense. Children learn symmetrical body exercises for unarmed combat, including kicks, punches, jumping and dodging.
More importantly, though, taekwondo practice develops persistence, self-discipline and kindness. Many participants find an increased feeling of peace and balance. Master Dan Vigil, of Dan Vigil's Academy of Taekwondo in Northville, Michigan says the right coach will teach taekwondo as an empowering way of life, encouraging students to apply the social and character skills learned in the classroom to their home and school lives."
As a child, he was the kid everybody picked on. He was so harassed, he recalls, that he was afraid to go to school. Discovering martial arts was a turning point for Vigil and gave him the confidence he needed to confront bullies. About the benefits of taekwondo, Vigil says, "Many modern children's taekwondo programs now focus primarily on character development. Couple this growth with a positive, motivating coach and you have the makings for a wonderfully beneficial experience."
A high-quality taekwondo program teaches children to focus and persist at a task. Highly energetic children and children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, especially benefit from the structure and expectations of taekwondo, but the benefits extend to all children.
Attorney and child advocate Laurie Gray, founder of Socratic Parenting, LLC, says, "My 11-year-old daughter is a second-degree black belt in taekwondo. In addition to the physical aspects of the sport (balance, coordination, strength and endurance), my daughter has developed confidence and perseverance. She has learned to set goals and to work toward achieving them. She is enrolled in the leadership class, where she's learning how to teach classes, encourage other students, and talk to their parents in a respectful and knowledgeable manner."
The world can be an overwhelming place for kids, and anger is a common response. Kids don't always know how to express anger and frustration, but participating in taekwondo can help. While it's not OK for a child to punch or hit a younger sibling, it is OK to kick and punch during a taekwondo lesson. Children learn to harness angry feelings and use them productively.
Jennifer Little, Ph.D., a teacher, educational psychologist and founder of Parents Teach Kids in Milwaukie, Oregon, points out that "Taekwondo offers an appropriate (and structured) outlet for psychological anger and aggression that works to responsibly control aggressive urges and develop self-control over those urges."
Taekwondo offers a vigorous workout for kids while improving coordination and balance. Susan Chung, a sixth-degree taekwondo master and co-owner of Bruce Chung Tae Kwon Do in Harrison, New York, explains that "Core strength develops through kicking (lifting the leg). Overall strength develops in a martial arts program as well."
According to the University of Vermont, injuries are rare because children naturally pace themselves to their current level of physical fitness. Taekwondo doesn't require special equipment or weights, and children can practice anywhere.