The American T'ai Chi Associates recommends looking for a school that adheres to the original principles of the martial art it offers, rather than one that dilutes them by, say, pairing jujitsu with kickboxing: The purer the teaching, the more your child stands to gain. Here's a quick guide to help you choose the right class for your child.
A system of self-development using kicks and punches. Its quick, sharp actions involve snapping movements of the joints, which means that kids need to warm up carefully.
Tae Kwon Do (Korean)
A form of karate developed as a military art, which has become one of the more popular martial arts in the U.S. It uses kicking and punching movements to energize the body, and breathing and meditation techniques to provide focus.
Taught as a competitive sport, judo teaches kids how to throw a partner using balance and leverage and helps them learn self-control and respect for their opponent.
A competitive form of self-defense that teaches students to use their opponent's weight and strength against him. Having a partner fosters cooperation.
Uses many of the same movements as jujitsu but is gentler and noncompetitive. It, too, is an excellent discipline for teaching children how to work with a partner.
Kung Fu (Chinese)
A rigorous and physical form of karate that involves more fluid movements than its Japanese cousin, making it easier on joints. It's fast-paced, so kids get an aerobic workout.
T'ai Chi (Chinese)
Focuses on balance, stretching, and weight-bearing moves. T'ai Chi is easy on the joints, boosts flexibility, and improves concentration skills.