9 Benefits of Martial Arts for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues

Words from an Expert

By Troy Clayton, Renshi of Battleground Martial Arts in Alabaster, Alabama January 15, 2019

Exercise is beneficial to every kid. But, children with special needs, such as learning and attention disorders, can have a hard time finding a sport or physical activity that suits their needs. While some kids lack the social and/or physical attributes to excel in a team environment, other children may not have the coordination for certain activities such as dance, gymnastics, etc. Still others may just find it hard to follow rules or directions. Any or all of the before mentioned can lead to your child being left out of group activities or even make them a target for being BULLIED.


  • Unlike team sports, martial arts focuses on individual progress, rather than group achievements.
  • Martial arts develops self esteem, confidence, coordination, discipline, executive functioning, as well as teaches the benefits of physical fitness.
  • Martial arts teaches self confidence, which can be a huge factor in bully proofing your child.

There are a lot of reasons Martial Arts can be a perfect match for kids with learning and attention issues.

1. It focuses on individual growth rather than team competition.

Many kids with learning and attention issues struggle with the pressure of having to compete with other kids. Therefore, traditional sports may not appeal to them. But in martial arts, the focus is on self improvement. There’s no “letting down the team” pressure that can lead to depression and self pity.

2. It offers concrete, attainable goals.

Children with learning and attention issues can feel like they never “WIN” at anything. In martial arts, kids learn at their own pace. They’re awarded a new colored belt every time they reach a new skill level. This achievement can boost self-esteem and keep them motivated.

3. Routines are broken down into manageable chunks.

A set of prearranged techniques, or “Kata,” in martial arts can have dozens of different movements in it that are learned gradually, repeating and adding steps in a process. In this way, kids learn to develop their memory skills, as well as learn to anticipate which step comes next, eventually putting everything together into fluid movements. All of this builds their working memory in a way that kids find easy and fun.

4. It emphasizes self-control and concentration.

Attention is a key factor in martial arts. Students must stay focused in order to learn and to perform techniques. When a child’s focus drifts, the instructor will ask hem to take the “READY STANCE.” This will allow the student to reset and ready themselves for further instruction.

5. It develops coordination.

The deliberate, repetitive movements of martial arts helps kids develop better coordination, and motor skills. This can also help kids understand the power that the mind has over the body, which is a key factor in teaching kids with ADHD.

6. It provides structure and a clear set of expectations for behavior.

Good martial arts instructors will have clear rules for proper behavior, and will be constantly reinforcing those rules. They will also emphasize good behavior inside and outside of the DOJO as well.

7. It provides a safe outlet for excess energy.

A common parental worry is that martial arts training will encourage violence or aggression in their child. With rare exception, the opposite will prove to be true. Children discover an inner confidence and strength, which enables them to move beyond the need to prove themselves physically. They frequently find they have the courage to walk away from an explosive situation. They also develop a higher tolerance to frustration. Remember, physical aggression is channeled positively in class and tempered with strict discipline and control. What surprises many parents is how the discipline, control and increased concentration carries over from martial arts into everyday life. You may find your child more organized in school, more respectful to others, and more goal oriented.

8. The environment is accepting and communal.

Respect is a core value in martial arts. Students are expected to show respect to their school, their teacher, and to their peers. Negativity is not tolerated in class, and students are encouraged to support each other.

9. It's just plain cool!

Kids with special needs, such as learning and attention disorders, can often feel awkward or socially segregated form others. Most kids feel that martial arts are cool. Its hard not to feel special when you are punching and kicking like a superhero and breaking boards in half at a demonstration in front of their peers.


  • Martial arts focuses on engaging the mind as well as the body.
  • Martial arts emphasizes Respect, Self-Control, Focus, and Individual Achievement.

Things to be aware of when looking for a Martial Arts School

  • Your neighborhood may have many martial arts programs available. Not all programs or schools know how to teach kids with special needs. Just because they claim the focus on the same skill building attributes doesn’t mean that they know how to teach a child with special needs.
  • Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is not Real Martial Arts. MMA is a fighting sport. Just like any other sport, the key goal is to win at all costs. Therefore, their main focus is not on personal development, but rather on pure, competitive fighting skill.
  • A common misconception when looking for a martial arts school, is that the style of martial arts is not as important as the approach the school takes in teaching your student. This is a falsity in the fact that if you are looking for long term goals in martial arts aside from just personal development and life skills. Self defense is also a key factor. You want to make sure that if your child does have to use self defense, it will not fail them.
  • Be cautious of any school that does not do a personal evaluation of the student in a one on one session, before introducing them to a class learning environment.

For any further questions on Martial Arts for Special Needs Children Please contact Renshi Troy Clayton. Owner and Head Instructor of Battleground Martial Arts in Alabaster, AL.  205-732-2064

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