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Developing your child’s confidence with martial arts

Martial arts are about so much more than just punching and kicking. They can help children develop their confidence, their resilience and their self-control. Mary Stevens, experienced martial arts instructor and author of the new Warrior Monkeys series, tells us how martial arts can help children develop valuable new skills.

When my son was bullied in pre-school 16 years ago, I made the decision to take him to martial arts classes to help him learn to avoid being a target. This was a life-changing moment because I learned so much about how to help my children relate to others and be confident without becoming aggressive. And I began my own training! Martial arts have been a fundamental part of my life ever since, and my daughter will take her own black belt very soon. I can’t think of a better way to equip her with the skills she’ll need to tackle university later in the year.

I have seen first-hand how effective martial arts can be for helping young people develop confidence and self-control, not only in the UK but also in the challenging environment of Varanasi, Northern India. I work for the organization FairFight, providing karate training for young girls rescued from extreme poverty and human trafficking. We have seen timid and isolated students thrive on the regime of physical and mental development. Discipline, stability and a sense of self-worth are the magical dimensions of martial arts – so much more important than just punching and kicking.

The inspiration behind Warrior Monkeys

Watching my children (and later my students) develop their self-esteem and resilience through martial arts inspired me to write my new series, Warrior Monkeys, where martial arts traditions and philosophies are used to entertain and educate a range of readers under 10. The values underpinning the series include perseverance, self-control, teamwork, responsibility and independence. Volcano Adventure is my first book and aims to engage readers with fast action and relatable characters in a mythical island setting.

The heroes are shown to struggle and to learn the benefits of following the values they have been taught. There is plenty of magic, excitement, and adventure; but the basics of loyalty, fun and friendship supersede the fantasy elements.

The characters are relatable role models for this age group in different ways. Suki is impulsive and restless, disorganised and disobedient. I deliberately chose a lead female character to embody more stereotypically ‘male’ characteristics to counteract the social conditioning of girls to be more fearful, less assertive and less adventurous.

The main male character, Bekko, has aspects of autism which are woven into his daily life and choices. Although we explore how this can make his life harder, we also celebrate his depth of specific knowledge and make space for him to be different and fully accepted by his friend and teachers. He experiences some issues with other students during the series and gains insight into how to handle his emotions effectively.

Today’s blended families might have all sorts of positive adult role models beyond birth parents: step parents/siblings, grandparents as carers, single parents with friends around… so it helps that the monkeys live in a community with a range of older role models as opposed to specific parent-figures. There are both male and female leaders and the main ‘nurturing’ figure is a male guard bear – dexterous at managing plaits for Suki’s wild hair, and patient at listening when training is tough.

If you’d like to find out more, you can download a sample chapter of the book, read the Rules of the Warrior Monkeys or print out this colouring sheet. I hope you and your children love the adventures of the Warrior Monkeys!

Tips for developing confidence

If you want to help your child develop their confidence, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Ask for (and listen to!) stories about how their friends behave in the playground – kids often need help to manage early unsupervised social time.
  • Praise them for the achievements that matter to them, not just the ones that matter to you.
  • Encourage them to sing, shout, climb… fall… then get up and do it all again.
  • Try a martial art!

If you would like to access the key concepts of martial arts for your child, you might be interested in reading A Dad’s Toolbox for Better Parenting by Dave Kovar, whose work as an educational martial artist has had a huge impact both in the US and the UK.

More from Oxford Owl


Books by Mary Stevens

Please note: all book links lead to more information on Amazon.co.uk

Warrior Monkeys and the Volcano Adventure

The Shanti Islands are under threat and the Warrior Monkeys are coming to the rescue!

Could it be an old enemy seeking revenge on Senshi Castle? What is behind the strange clouds? The earthquakes? And the mysterious meerkats? Suki and Bekko must test their warrior skills to save their home and their friends from the deadly volcano. It’s a race against time…

Buy on Amazon >