Doing roundhouse kicks and scissor punches are just two motivators when it comes to getting kids interested in martial arts. Turns out, it’s never too early to start going for that black belt. Dojos in and around Chicago have special programs for preschoolers and kindergarteners, teaching not only moves but valuable skills like discipline, self-control, balance and coordination. Check out these local spots that make martial arts educational and fun for the six-and-under crowd.
photo: Enso Karate
Enso Kinder Karate Classes
Parents praise teachers at Enso for being patient, especially with younger kiddos. The flexible schedules at both the downtown and Oak Park dojos are great for busy families. Kids ages 6 and over start with a 6-week intro course, with classes twice a week. The $215 fee includes the 12 classes, a uniform and handbook. They also offer classes for 4-5 year olds, and cover the basics, self-defense and overall karate philosophy. Students in this program take one class per week for 12 weeks and the $280 registration fee includes a uniform.
It’s not too late for summer camp, too! Kids ages 5-12 will love their fun-filled camp held August 14-18, 9 a.m.-noon. The lively activities include learning new and enhancing familiar skills, practicing karate kihon (basics), kata (forms) and kumite (controlled sparring), fitness games and arts and crafts. The cost is $275 for the week and you can register online.
412 S. Wells St.
1045 S. Kenilworth Ave.
The Little Gym of Chicago
Those ages 4-6 can learn fundamental karate blocks, punches and kicks in a positive and noncompetitive environment. Little Gym’s class stands out because it blends gymnastics in the mix. When kids aren’t practicing karate, they are running through obstacle courses, dancing to music, and participating in other skill-based activities and games. That’s not to mention that the entire space is very kid-friendly with padded floors and props. While there are locations in Lakeview and Glenview, the only location currently offering the course is the Little Gym of Barrington. Be sure to check back on the other two locations because classes could be added at any time.
724 S. Northwest Highway
photo: Thousand Waves
Thousand Waves Martial Arts & Self-Defense Center
Offered to 4-5 year olds, this spot’s Little Kicks karate class teaches basic techniques and skills that are not only good for the body, but for the mind. The studio is roomy and mirrors line entire wall so students can check out their technique. Another perk: You can try before you buy; take advantage of a free trial class. If you know you’re jazzed to continue, purchase a membership and get up to 10 classes a month for only $95. Also offered now on their website is a beginner special: 2 months of unlimited classes, plus a uniform, for $100.
1220 W. Belmont Ave.
White Tiger Martial Arts
Try Little Tigers Tae Kwon Do at this neighborhood favorite. Designed for 5-6 year olds, it goes over basic beginner moves and techniques. They even offer a Tiny Tigers class for kids as young as 3 years old. Take advantage of the free trail class. If you stick with classes, it’s totally worth it: At the end of each session, each kid earns a trophy. But you’ll ultimately be more impressed by your kid’s boost in self esteem and control.
1363 W. Fullerton Pkwy.
The Little Ninjas program draws those ages six and up into swift kicks and arm jabs. But even before that, ages three and up can participate in Little Ninjas-in-Training. The Imazaki philosophy is that young ones learn best through play, so part of the classes involve obstacle courses, relay races and other fun exercises. When they get down to business, kids are taught the fundamentals of karate and learn a little bit of Japanese along the way.
1720 S. Michigan Ave.
MBD Martial Arts
The Little Dragons program at MBD welcomes kids ages 3-6 years old. Basic martial arts skills are introduced through games, drills and other fun activities. Some areas of the studio are lightly padded and there’s a nicely sized waiting room for parents. Stick with things and get a better rate: There’s a monthly membership program for as low as $59 per month. Parents rave about this studio for its large size and affordability.
1508 Miner St.
Have you found a martial arts studio that your kiddo loves? Let us know in the Comments section below.
— Maria Chambers & Angie Berthelsen