Question: How young can a child join a Tae Kwon Do class? 

Answer: There's no universal rule - all kids are different.  But here is the acid test.  If your child can affirmatively answer these questions, they can join.

         Is he or she toilet trained?

         Can he or she maintain attention for the full class (most classes are about 1 hour)?

         Are there no disciplinary problems?

Well, then that means that some 4-year-olds can join.  Indeed, they can - and do!  

Question: When can a person who joins at 4 expect to get to black-belt? 

Answer: It's not uncommon for 8 year-olds to receive a black belt.

Question: Wow!  An 8-year-old black belt?  Can she kick my butt?

Answer: This question has many disguises, like "Why doesn't she know how to do [some-fancy-kick]" or "Yeah, like she can really fend off a kidnapper", etc.

There's a lot of differences between an 8-year-old, an 18-year-old, and an 80-year-old black belt.  To achieve black belt, you have to perform techniques commensurate with your ability.  To say an 8-year-old is too young to achieve black belt is to also say that an 80-year-old 9th degree black belt should be stripped of his belt simply because each may not be able to perform the same feats as an 18-year-old.

There must also be a balance: you can place a 4 year old in a class, but if you expect them to attain black belt traditional-style, then the child will have to wait until they become 16 - a full twelve years, with about 8 of them just waiting to get to black belt.

Most Tae Kwon Do schools wouldn't turn away a 4-year old by saying "Sorry kid...   come back in 12 years. We'll wait for ya!"

So what many schools do is take them in, and when they perform the techniques they are required to for that belt, then they receive that belt - even if they take twice as long as everyone else.  Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen, and when it does, you often experience the "McDojang Factor".  These are the belt factories; they simply hand out belts by reason of tenure and not quality of technique.  What happens is that the student eventually cannot perform the advanced techniques, get frustrated, leave, sign up with another school, and that school has problems trying to correct what went wrong.  So the student loses because s/he lost out on learning the foundations, and the school loses out because they can't keep their black belts in - a lose-lose situation.

Other schools cater to the young-age-black-belt-turned-older-age differently.   While younger students find it difficult to remember older forms, so what happens is that they may be required to learn, say, half the form now, and the other half at the next belt.  That comes at a price when the student nears black-belt candidate when they must double- or treble-up on forms.  Older kids can probably handle that, so it's a neat way to keep the kids in without getting them bored, without losing them to a belt factory, and by the time they get to black-belt candidate, they are already in the mindset of having to know all forms anyway.

Question: Can my child get hurt taking classes?

Answer: Yes, if you are not careful about the school you take your child to.  Children are still growing, and their muscles, tendons and bones can become damaged if the instructor is not careful about the kinds of things they are doing.   A good school will not allow children to employ aggressive joint locks, or to break bricks; or even break the same boards as adults do.   A good school will be particularly careful about sparring - reflexes are slow to them and a blow to the head or eyes can be devastating.  The school should insist that all sparring gear be worn and that the students know how to put on all equipment.

For this reason, you do not find youngsters throwing curve-balls in baseball, or playing tackle football, or bodybuilding.  All sports can open opportunities for injury - it's up to the instructor / coach to ensure that the child is kept out of danger, and it is up to the parents to find the instructor / coach who realizes this. 

Question: Will my child learn to be aggressive?

Answer: Absolutely not!   Children become aggressive, abusive, and bullies because they either learn it at home or because they have psychological problems (are/were they being abused, for example?)

Children become no more aggressive than when they learn to box, play football or hockey, or play cowboys and Indians.

Tae Kwon Do not only doesn't teach aggression, but it does teach self-control.  So if you have a child that has aggressive tendencies, a contact sport - like football, hockey, and karate - can help the child relieve and channel the aggression in a positive way.  These sports help channel aggression into a healthy and useful task, thus satisfying the aggression.

Also, children who are victims of bullies often do not know where to turn or what to do.  A good Tae Kwon Do school will teach children how to look the other way or avoid trouble before it starts.

Question: If a child bully victim learns karate, won't that further endanger the victim by giving him or her a false sense of security?

Answer:  Short answer: Absolutely not!  Longer answer: Better make sure the school you enroll in is well versed in self-defense.   Longest answer, read on:

Administrators and social workers for battered women and children shelters sometimes point out the ironic answer that yes, the child (or battered person) can become endangered with false senses of security.  Hitting an abuser back would only draw the ire of the abuser and make a bad situation worse.

I totally disagree!

Batter and bully victims often lack self-confidence, and Tae Kwon Do is superior to any other sport for building self-confidence.  Self-confidence will guide them emotionally through difficult situations.  At the very least, the victim should at least know how to fall, scream, block or run (and know where to run!)

I would suggest, though, that someone who enrolls in a school and who is also in this type of abusive situation should make the instructor aware of the situation. A good instructor may offer private classes, special classes, or even be up-front in suggesting that maybe another school would be better.