The Unspoken Lessons Kids Learn in Karate by Andrea Harkins

Karate Kids

One of my students drew me a card complete with a picture of me performing a side kick with a smile and wearing my signature pony tail. It said “I love karte.”Yes, karate was spelled wrong, but it didn’t matter; everything that he was trying to say was just right. His message was clear. He enjoys class. He has fun. He learns. And, he likes his instructor.

Kids don’t just learn karate skills when they come to class. They establish actions and thoughts that can only be formed by martial arts training. Unlike any other sport, martial arts become much more than a series of skills to be practiced. At its core it teaches how to believe in others, what friendship means, how to focus, what is important in life, and why routine is so important. Here’s a few of the lessons that often go unnoticed:


In karate class, kids learn how to trust and what trust means. I’m an instructor because I have an innate desire to help kids achieve, excel, and learn to defend themselves. I want them to grow and be healthy, just like my own children. The children I teach trust me because I show a willingness to help them understand skills, I answer their questions, and I show compassion and a true interest in what they are doing. They need someone who wipe tears while at the same time will push them toward the next part of class. In order for an instructor/student relationship to flourish, trust must evolve. Parents can sit and watch class if they choose; therefore, trust does not mean that kids need to be distanced from their parents; rather, they should know that they are safe and protected by both their parents and their instructor.

Gaining trust is easy, but keeping it is another story. My behavior gives the students an idea of whether or not they should believe in me. The more consistent I am, the more likely the student will trust me. Because I truly find joy in teaching children, trust naturally follows. When trust is established, kids learn better.


Where else can kids run and yell and kick and punch with their friends and peers around? Karate kids like to cheer for each other and they genuinely get excited about their classmate’s accomplishments. Because individual achievement is encouraged, instead of frustrating competition, even shy children will step forward to showcase their talents for their friends.

I often remind students to show their appreciation for each other when they demonstrate skills. They are allowed to support each other by clapping and cheering.

Students need to make friendships. I try to allow small bits of time where they can talk with each other for a moment, or compare what they have learned. If they need to pair up for any partner work or drills, I always make sure each gets a partner. This is a new friendship in the making; a friendship worth making.

Better Focus

Chun-Bi! – Standing in attention is a moment of attention and reflection. The beginning of class starts this way and throughout class this command is used to help pause the rhythm of the class. I may use the attention command as a transition method or as a way to control the flow and behavior of a group of kids.

When the children hear “Chun-Bi” beckoned, they stop and take the attention stance, toes curled up, and eyes straight ahead, clenched fists held out in front of the body. They are learning how to calm their minds. By slowing down they can move ahead. When kids apply moments of attention or Chun-Bi to their daily lives, especially when they are feeling nervous or upset, it enables them to handle stressful situations better.

Values & Virtues

Many dojos have a mantra or saying that is exclusive to that school, words that generally convey a positive message about respect and responsibility, or courage and commitment. Our program includes a “mat minute” where anything from junk food to setting goals to appreciation is discussed. It is a good opportunity in the middle of class to refresh with a quick drink of water and a tidbit of good advice or an interesting story for the young ones.

During the mat minute, kids often raise their hands to share what is on their minds. Often they express how they have helped a friend feel better, what they love about their parents, or why they like to give gifts. These moments are precious and by listening, we are teaching them how to patient, take turns, and listen to others. A few words in a few minutes can help them learn about goodness, friendship, sharing, and treating others with respect.

Good Habits

Kids thrive on routine. If you are a parent you know that when routine is broken, naptime is skipped, or a new environment is introduced, well, things can get a little crazy! Even adults, when removed from normal routines, find it difficult to cope in some situations. Routine is comforting.

Children who attend karate classes regularly develop good habits. Eventually they crave the routine of coming to class, meeting up with friends, and having fun. Students tend to keep coming to class when they are happy about what they are doing; but, the most important part of routine is that it provides a strong life-long pattern of learning. My goal is to help kids create a love for karate so that it becomes an integral part of their lives. Hopefully, these habits will stay with them and keep them going in a good and positive direction for the rest of their lives.

The unspoken lessons that are learned by kids in karate cultivate strong and confident personalities. They may be too young to execute a skill perfectly right or perform a kata from beginning to end, but, they are not too young to gain tremendous benefits from learning a martial art. What they learn now can be applied to their lives as they grow older to teens and then adults.

Karte may not be the right way to spell karate, but I don’t think it matters. If a child loves class enough to draw a picture of his teacher smiling while doing a side kick, then I think it’s probably spelled exactly right.

Andrea Harkins is a second degree black belt in tang soo do.  She and her husband own and operate their karate program, Family Martial Arts in Parrish, FL. Andrea is a published author of karate magazine articles and a motivational writer/blogger on her website, The Martial Arts Woman.  You can reach her on LinkedIn; Twitter at @aharkins1; or via her website


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