Martial arts programs help kids develop different mental and physical skills than the ones they learn at Saturday morning soccer practice. “[We teach] self-control in a context that other sports don’t,” says Syed Ahmad, PhD, a board member of the United States Martial Arts Association and an associate professor of occupational therapy and neuroscience at St. Louis University in Missouri. “For example, we always teach the kids that you can only practice in the dojo or in serious cases of self-defense—not on your little brother.” Looking to find a great class? Here are a few top-notch studios that will sharpen her skills and grow her confidence.
American Jiu Jitsu of Maplewood
530 Valley St., Maplewood
This non-competitive dojo specializes in jiu jitsu. Tiny warriors ages 5 and up learn about self-defense and anti-bullying techniques and set personal goals, all while squeezing in a good workout.
ATA Martial Arts & Fitness Center
67 Church St., Flemington
ATA’s “Tiny Tigers” program uses taekwondo to improve motor skills, attention and listening skills. Kids ages 4–7 work on the technical aspect of combat, problem-solving and perseverance in “Karate For Kids,” and teens (ages 13–17) test their skills in self-defense, mixed martial arts—and even weapons-play.
Blue Life Karate & Martial Arts
1882 Springfield Ave., Maplewood
Students get familiar with concepts like concentration, control and flexibility in the “Little Ninjas” class, perfect for kids ages 3–5. Kids 6 and up combine traditional martial arts with exercises that build confidence.
359 Rte. 34, Matawan
This boxing-based program puts a new spin on traditional martial arts classes. Kids 5–15 learn basic boxing and kickboxing moves and build endurance through jumping rope and strength-training.
Elite TOMA Martial Arts Academy
1572 Sussex Tpke., Randolph
3–6-year-olds practice moves that improve listening and self-esteem. Sessions for big kids emphasize high-paced skill drills in small groups.
Glen Ridge Taekwon-Do
133B Glen Ridge Ave., Montclair
Students ages 4–6 learn basic taekwondo moves in the “Mighty Lions” program. Kids 7–14 enroll in the “Junior” class, where they progress at their own pace and earn belts along the way.
*Iron Temple Mixed Martial Arts
1 Camre Dr., Hampton
Preschoolers ease into self-defense in the “Little Dragons” class, then advance to “Tiger” (ages 6–8) or “Eagle” status (ages 8–12) once they’ve masted some basic skills. Instructors can work specifically with ADD/ADHD kids on focus.
*Karate World NJ
753 Boulevard, Kenilworth
Kids 3 and up start working toward a black belt in traditional karate at this studio. Instructors can work specifically with kids who have physical disabilities on coordination and muscle control.
Main Brothers Academy
41 Pine St., Unit #12, Rockaway
Whether she’s interested in mastering taekwondo (ages 3–12) or jiujitsu (ages 6–14) she can get hands-on instruction that teaches the right swings and high-kicks, plus the importance of mental strength.
Mercer Academy of Martial Arts
191 Scotch Rd., Ewing Township
Younger kids ages 3–5 learn simple karate moves in the “Little Dragons” course before graduating to lessons in tang soo do (traditional Korean style), katas (a more aggressive form) jujitsu and even weapons training.
Princeton Academy of Martial Arts
51A Everett Dr., Princeton Junction
She’ll work towards different belts and sashes at this karate-centric dojo. Classes are broken up by age, so kids of all levels can master the art while making new friends.
Real World Martial Arts
27 East Main St., Denville
With a focus on “Bully Busting,” this mixed martial arts program aims to build confidence. Kids develop good technique and master the arts of self-defense and mental strength.
*Training Grounds Jiujitsu & MMA
24 Booker St., Westwood
With a focus on anti-bullying and confidence-building, the masters who run this studio specialize in jiujitsu due to its emphasis on easy movements. Instructors work with ADD/ADHD kids on focus.
World Class Martial Arts
562 Union Ave., Belleville
Students get the basics in taekwondo while practicing the five tenants of the black belt—courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and an indomitable spirit—at these weekly lessons for kids ages 3–12.
4450 Bordentown Ave., Old Bridge
Whether they’re into mixed martial arts, jiujitsu or kickboxing, the “Little Warriors” programs offers small class sizes in each discipline aimed to help him improve.
The JC Taekwondo & Kickboxing Academy
150 Newark Ave., Jersey City
Kids 3 and up learn taekwondo kicks and blocks in the “Little Dragons” class. Once they master the basics they test their skills in the “Juniors” program.
Martial Arts and Special Needs
Martial arts classes are especially beneficial for kids with special needs. “You learn things in specific steps, and everything is very structured and sequential, which really helps those with learning disabilities understand the concepts and excel,” says Syed Ahmad, PhD, a board member of the United States Martial Arts Association. Kids with ADD/ADHD in particular do well, since martial arts also teaches control and focus, two attributes that may be underdeveloped in those with attention issues.
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