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Can Toddlers Do Karate?

toddler and karate

At least once a month, sometimes twice a week, I'll get a phone call from a parent asking if we offer karate for their two year old. "Can toddlers do karate?" they ask, hopefully.

The answer is, as it has always been, aaaaaabsolutely not.

Usually they call because their toddler is too energetic, or undisciplined, or they're at a loss for how to entertain them. Which I get, having had a toddler, and now I'm back in the thick of it again, with boys both times. Toddlers, and especially boys, have Red Bull instead of blood. They don't have an off switch. They have no fear. They have no self-preservation. I turn around to grab something, and Child the Second is at the top of the grocery cupboard. He can run, climb and jump for hours, barely stopping for a snack before he is back at it again. People often look at me with pity and say "he's busy, hey?" He is as unstoppable as he is adorable.

Again, I get it. I really do.

But the dojo isn't the place for a toddler. It's only recently become a place for school-going children, at best. Chojun Miyagi, founder of Goju Ryu, wouldn't take anyone under 16, and even then, they had to formally introduced and a request made for tutelage. None of this 'walk in and train' thing we have going on. People were taken in only on recommendation, and they trained like Navy Seals, comfort and recovery be damned. Karate, and martial arts in general, were only taught to older teens and preferably adults, because the material can be used in dangerous ways, and requires maturity of mind and spirit to be used correctly and appropriately. Sometimes, I think they were on to something.

So of course, we teach a more sanitised version to kids, giving them the self-mastery of karate without the sharp bits. And even then, we still are very careful to reinforce what they can and can't use on the school bully, because lawsuits are real and the last thing they need is an assault charge because they choked out another kid.

And now, introducing a toddler to the mix? Someone who can't even catch a ball? Now we want to teach them how to punch, and just hope they don't punch the cat (or other kids at crèche?) They also can't concentrate longer than about 2 minutes per year of age, so at best, maybe six minutes and they're off again. Our dojo, like many other dojos, is full of heavy equipment, metal things, and shelves full of intriguing delights that will absolutely harm a child if they pull it down. Having a class of toddlers is like eating a bowl of California reapers – technically possible, but ill-advised.

Our own toddler is growing up in the dojo, because childcare is expensive and we have our dojo attached to our home. He is already punching everything, with no formal instruction. We haven't lined him up and showed him how to punch, or block. He just does it. And he really does punch everything, because he's a toddler and toddlers are basically feral.

So its not that we don't want your money, or that we don't think your child is the next Karate Kid. If they're going to be talented, then the right time will come. But toddlerhood is not that time.

The best thing for toddlers is unstructured play with plenty of opportunities for gross motor coordination. Running in open spaces, climbing playground equipment, pushing chairs around, hauling a watering can around the garden – all of these are much better ways to tire them out than taking them to karate. You can play wrestle with them, do deep pressure exercises (big hit with the sensory issue kids) and play tug of war. Hang a towel over the door and let them hang from it, whatever engages their body. A brief Google search (or a deep-dive on Pinterest) will give you hundreds of ideas that don't involve a screen.

But please, don't bring them to the dojo. We're not equipped for that, and neither are they.

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