Striking arts, whether they be Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, Kickboxing, etc. - all require high degrees of focus on multiple facets of fighting, & self-defense (you can read more on this in my 2015 blog post).
I have spent the past 18 years practicing Mantis Boxing, and the past 5 of those also practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I also spent years teaching kids both Kung Fu, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. My first love will always be Mantis Boxing, but frankly speaking, it is not the best for kids.
This is not only because of the recent knowledge we have into the dangers of concussions, CTE, and other brain injuries; which is extremely important. It also has to do with deeper reasons that go far beyond injuries. One such factor is - results.
However, where striking arts lead to more common injuries in the pursuit of 'real' skills, or are watered down to the point of boredom, BJJ can be a fun way to bring kids to a high level of competence; preparing them for dangers life may throw their way while giving them an opportunity to grow into more confident, physically fit individuals and enjoy their time doing so.
Here are the 5 main reasons Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the best martial art for your child -
1. Natural Art
BJJ is much akin to our natural movements and innate self-defense skills. Like tiger cubs that practice sparring before leaving the safety of their mother, so to do we as humans practice fighting when we are young, pliable, and less likely to hurt one another, and ourselves.
Any parent with multiple children, or adults who grew up with siblings knows this to be true. Growing up in the 70's and 80's, we were always getting in tussles some playful, some not so much.
Watch untrained kids go at it with one another. What do you see? They have a natural predilection towards a rolling around, wrestling modality. If they had fur, a tail, and pink butts you'd think they were monkeys.
BJJ works within the natural instincts we are all born with. It operates predominantly on the ground where it shines above all other martial arts.
2. The Great Equalizer
The bare truth of self-defense is - size matters. In order to beat size and strength, you must have superior skill. The stronger they are, or the more skilled they become with strength, the better your technique must be.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu uses leverage and physics to equalize this disparity. Kids learn to flip and roll larger opponents, like a chef flipping pizza dough. Except after they flip the dough, they rip it up and choke it out. :-D
Nothing gives a child more confidence than watching their skills progress and being able to do things they never would imagine.
Watch this video with BJJ Black Belt Robson Moura battling a guy that walked into his school and challenged them to fight. Here you will see how size was neutralized with BJJ.
3. Physical Fitness
With regular training in BJJ, you get unmatched core strengthening, and overall functional full body strength. With each movement you are engaging your entire body to perform an action.
Here are a few examples of how BJJ makes you stronger, faster, and in better shape.
Upper body - using your arms to support your weight and maintain 3 points of contact at all times, activates the arms, shoulder, chest, back, and core. Over time, the upper body will gain muscle and tendon strength.
Making grips on your partner's gi, will also increase hand and forearm muscle and tendon strength.
Legs - when on your back, you are using hip flexors, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, feet, and back/core muscles to maintain guard, and perform sweeps and submissions. This may all be jargon to many parents, but know this - it's an incredible muscle engagement platform that rolls over into other sports and activities that kids perform in their lives.
Cardio - in BJJ we have something called rolling. Rolling is sparring, but we're mostly on the ground. When learning to roll, and move, the cardiovascular system is working hard to put our bodies through a range of movements, as well as activate muscles that don't normally get taxed in this manner. A typical match is 3 to 5 minutes for beginners.
Early on in the training process, when a match ends, you will typically see people are breathing hard, and sweating like they were working out for an hour.
4. Bully Prevention
This is one area that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu shines above almost every other martial art for kids. There is much confusion with how to deal with the bullying problem in schools, and out. Even adults can have bully problems in the workplace.
The focus seems to always be on the bully, and how to stop them from doing what they do. This is like trying to stop the earth from spinning, or an avalanche from falling. You're pretty much wasting your time unless you can completely change the environment, background, parenting, siblings, or whatever other reason or reasons is causing the bully to be a jerk.
What we CAN change, is us. A bully targets a victim subconsciously based on visual cues they pick up. This can be an obvious physical trait that is difficult or impossible to change - height, skin complexion, deformities, etc. The other criteria a bully uses, is body language.
Human communication is 93% non-verbal (why email and text messaging are such horrible mediums for trying to talk to one another). Most of our communication is through body language. How we stand, sit, walk, can send hidden messages to those around us about how we feel about ourselves.
Take someone who is shy and walks with their head down and their chest concave. This shows a bully we are insecure, lack self-esteem, confidence, and are easy prey to their wicked whims.
Take a stance that exudes confidence, even when we don't feel it, and the secret cues are telling the bully - "Hey, maybe we shouldn't mess with that person." Bullies want easy victims, not those who are going to fight back verbally, mentally, or physically; making everyone around them aware of THEIR insecurities and weakness.
Where does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu come into play? Simple. By empowering people to be able to defend themselves, they walk around with more confidence and self-esteem. Just by believing in themselves, and their skills, they exude an aura of defense that shuns most predators from wanting to partake in a duel of any sort.
This leads to the final reason in this article...
5. Results = Confidence (Belts)
Results are first and foremost in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There are no forms (kata), or synchronized choreographed (A + B) from my partner = (C + D) response from me. There is no standing in weird postures for minutes at a time to prove some arbitrary goal of perseverance, or discipline.
Jiu Jitsu for kids is extremely tactile, fun, and engaging. Everything is done with partners, and stress tested to ensure you can make it work. When a child evolves in Jiu Jitsu, they are doing so through real feedback.
Belts in Jiu Jitsu are much harder to come by. Even though it is far easier for kids to move up ranks than adults, it is still far more difficult than many other styles of martial arts. If a child is ranking up in Jiu Jitsu, it is due their constant participation, and skill advancement. They don’t just wear the accolades, they feel the improvement.
There are no 'child Black Belts' in Jiu Jitsu. Period. You cannot even attain a Blue Belt (first rank after White for adults) until you are 16 years old. You cannot be a Black Belt under the age of 19. This makes a huge difference for kids. Kids are smart, and incredibly aware of status and real achievements. They know when they are getting participation trophies vs real rewards for real work.
When it is time for a promotion, the kids in Jiu-Jitsu are awarded their new belt. Then they go right back to training, and rolling, and learning with their friends. They submit others, get submitted themselves; staying humble.
Do they play games and have fun? Yes, they play games in class, but you won't stay to watch and find your son or daughter playing dodgeball, running around cones, playing tag, or some other unrelated martial art exercise to burn up a majority of the class time. The games are all built around fundamental Jiu Jitsu movements that reinforce their skills and build their physical form, and inner self.