Benefits of Karate for ADHD

Can martial arts help a child with ADHD focus more in school and at home? 


The answer to that question is a resounding


In this edition of the Karate Blog we will discuss the many benefits that martial arts can offer a child with ADHD and how they are achieved.


          According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, ADHD is defined as a highly genetic, brain based syndrome that deals with the regulation of particular sets of brain operations referred to as “executive functioning skills”.  These include functions such as attention, concentration, memory, motivation and effort, ability to learn from mistakes, impulsivity, hyperactivity, organization and social skills.  This is a chronic condition, affecting nearly 5% of the U.S. population (that’s nearly 11 million people), that can be helped with treatment, but currently has no cure and lasts a lifetime.

          If you are reading this blog, you are more than likely a parent or loved one of a child with ADHD or suffer from it yourself and already know everything I just typed.  You are probably sitting there telling me, via your computer screen, to stop telling you what you already know and get on with explaining how a good martial arts program can help.


          In a study performed by Hofstra University, teachers completed behavior checklists for 2 groups of children with ADHD.  One group was enrolled in a martial arts program and the other was not.  After 12 weeks the teachers had noticed a big difference between the groups. 


The group that was enrolled in a martial arts program experienced:

  • Increased the percentage of times homework was handed in
  • Increased academic performance
  • Increased the times they were prepared for class
  • Decreased the number of classroom rules that were broken
  • Decreased the number of times they inappropriately left their seat


          According to the study, while all children with ADHD can benefit from sports and physical activity, a good martial arts program differs due to a systematic influence of many factors.  The focus and importance placed on controlled breathing along with adherence to etiquette, constant group reinforcement, mutual help and criticism and a sense of group cohesion through shared goals, tasks and accomplishments put the benefits of martial arts above sports and other physical activities for a child with ADHD.

          Both adults and children with ADHD sometimes suffer from wandering, chaotic thoughts and the repetitive exercises found in martial arts can greatly help in organizing those thoughts.  According to a recent study, it is hypothesized that studying martial arts causes a change in actual brain activity, which is why children with ADHD see better results from martial arts than other programs or sports.

One key element that a good martial arts program teaches is mental discipline, which is achieved through structure and consistency and children with ADHD have been shown to thrive in tightly structured and consistent environments.


          I know there are some parents that will be concerned about taking a child with impulse control and hyperactivity problems and “teaching them how to fight”.  While it is true that some martial arts “schools” do put most of their emphasis on teaching their students how to fight in tournaments and win trophies, a good martial arts school promotes life skills first and physical self defense as a last resort.  That is why it is very important to find a school and instructor with the most experience and best track record as possible. 


If your car broke down, would you prefer someone with just a few years of experience fixing cars or a mechanic that has worked on cars for over 30 years?  Would you feel more confident with someone who does mechanic work on the side or a professional who only does mechanic work?


          I’m sure the majority of people would want a professional mechanic, who has spent his entire career only fixing cars, to work on their vehicle.  I also know that every parent out there would put more importance on who teaches their child than who works on their car.  That’s why finding the right martial arts program is essential.


          A good martial arts program will focus on life skills such as self-discipline, socialization skills, concentration and self control first.  These life skills will give the child the tools necessary to be able to see the non-physical ways of resolving a conflict.  It teaches them that physical self defense is only a last resort after all other options, including walking away, are exhausted.  This is why parents of a child with ADHD shouldn’t feel worried about their child learning martial arts. 


          Every class will always begin and end with a bow.  This shows respect for the dojo, other members and the sensei (teacher).  It also puts the child in the mindset of doing their best, paying attention at all times and puts a separation between the dojo and the world outside.

           While the average person will look at a martial arts class and only see the students doing warm-up exercises, striking, kicking and standing in funny looking stances, these actually take a lot of concentration and strict attention to learn and perform correctly.  As the student progresses, more complex drills and katas are introduced, requiring even more concentration and discipline from the student.  For all of this to be accomplished safely, tight control is kept over the students.  The classes are structured in advanced and students do only what the instructor tells them to do and only when they are told to do it.  For someone with ADHD, this creates an environment that will allow them to thrive.

          As with all things in life, students will make mistakes and they will have days when they put in less effort than other days.  In a good martial arts program, they will be taught how to learn from their mistakes and will learn how their effort (or lack of effort) directly affects their progress towards their goals.  This has proven to be a great benefit to a child with ADHD.


If you would like to learn more on how a martial arts program can help someone of any age with ADHD please contact us today! 

Dojo Staff