So you want your child to learn Discipline in Karate?

karate disciplineDiscipline

One of the reasons many parents enroll their children in martial arts classes is to learn discipline. But what is discipline? What are we expecting children to learn in Karate class?

There are at least two meanings to “discipline”:

  1. Diligence
  2. Obedience

Fortunately, Karate helps teach both diligence and obedience.

Let’s break it down and look at each of these meanings and how they relate to discipline.


Discipline is not just about recognizing authority (we will cover that below in the next section), but undertaking a task with diligence. No one wants their children to grow up to be “a quitter.” Why is sticking to something important? Because we want our children to learn commitment and promise-keeping.

This specific kind of “discipline” is self-discipline.

Recently, I saw a quote recently that I liked:

The first discipline in the martial arts is showing up to class.

Fortunately, commitment is something that can be taught by example. Do you keep promises? Do you follow through on commitments?

In addition to modeling behavior, goal setting is a way to teach self-discipline. With goals in place, children can develop the habit of self-discipline. Start with small goals and build up.

So that I’m not too redundant, you can read our previous blog posts dedicated to goal setting. In the martial arts, goal setting is a big deal.


Obedience feels like a strange word to use. It is not a term often used anymore – especially if we are talking about teaching children.

It is important to help children develop a sense of individuality, self-sufficiency, and decision making skills, but those qualities must be balanced by an ability to listen and follow directions. This ability to “obey” one’s parents and teachers is important because, ideally, it teaches a healthy level of respect for authority (be it parent, teacher, police, or employer).

We want our children to grow up to be independent, critical thinkers who have a healthy ability to question authority. Shying away from teaching obedience/discipline is not going to make a child a great critical thinker.  Teaching critical thinking skills will take care of that – at a time that is age-appropriate. In the meantime, obedience/discipline helps curb that unappealing whine that comes from every child’s mouth, “But I don’t waaaant tooooooo!

So, how do we teach obedience?

The Five Steps

First, we have to have a routine. Children need to understand what is expected and they crave structure. Structure and routine create an atmosphere of security. Children act out most when they feel the least secure.

Second, we need to have clear communication. Children are very concrete thinkers. Adults can be very abstract thinkers. If you tell a five year old they will earn a prize for “following directions” and then ask that child why they should follow directions, they will answer…

“To get the prize!”

Not “because it’s the right thing to do”.

If you explain something in very specific, concrete terms, the child is more likely to understand you. So, instead of saying, “be good”, explain what is expected: “You need to brush your teeth and put on your red pajamas. You may color for ten minutes before going to bed.”

Third, there need to be clear consequences.

“If you do not brush your teeth and put on your red pajamas, you cannot color.”

Fourth, we have to implement those consequences.

“You got out the crayons without brushing your teeth and putting on your pajamas. You are going to bed and cannot color tonight.”

Fifth, there has to be consistency in implementing steps 1-4.

This is the toughest one. Exhaustion and a lack of clarity are the biggest challenges in succeeding with The Five Steps.

When it comes to obedience, I believe 100% in The Five Steps. There are times when children will not meet expectations; there are times when adults have to re-think how directions are given (concrete vs. abstract explanations) – but The Five Steps are the backbone to teaching obedience in our Karate school and can help you at home.


Winder Barrow Karate

Matt Pattillo is a fifth degree black belt, master instructor and owner of Master Pattillo Martial Arts, Inc. which operates in Winder, GA (Barrow County). Follow us on Facebook and Twitter




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