Many people have opinions on when is the best age to start Martial Arts. I personally believe it's never too late to start. I've know several older gentleman who are beyond their 50's and only started Martial Arts recently. They happen to also be some of the best students on the floor and can often out-last their younger classmates.
But how young should someone start Martial Arts? This is often a topic of debate among many Martial Artists.
Must be 16 or older. Some teachers and styles insist that a student not start until they are at least 16 years of age or older. These are often the more combat oriented styles. Because of the combat and high potential for getting hurt, there is a desire to wait until the bones have mostly finished forming and major structural damage can be minimized. In addition, it is hoped that the level of maturity of the student is of sufficient capacity to realize that their Martial Arts is dangerous and can maim or kill. Thus, it should only be used as an absolute last resort. Finally, in a style that will inflict bruises and a society that is keenly aware of child abuse, it is often difficult to explain the type of bruises a practioner will have on them when they are on a young child.
Any where from 5 to 10 years of age. This age range is very common these days. The younger bound is set by the idea that if they are old enough to attend school and function there, they should be able to function in a Martial Arts school. It is also the age range that parents are often looking for things to get their children involved in. Many schools offer an after-school program that helps parents to keep children active and off the streets. On the upper end of this age range, children will start to enter into the "rebellious" teenage years. The sense of independence is often in battle with their self-esteem and awareness of their bodies. Parents seeking to help their children learn discipline, confidence, and keep them motivated in a healthy lifestyle will often start their children at this age in Martial Arts.
Age 3 to 4. Rarely does a student start before the age of 3. In fact, rarely do many students start in this age range. There was a time when it was believed that one had to start this early. This is when the body just begins to form and starting this soon will keep the body nimble and fearless. In fact, many Wu Shu programs in China begin to recruit students as early as 3. The success of these children at this age though highly depends upon the child. Some children are exceptional. A criteria that many teachers look for in such young students is: (a) the ability to stand skill for more than a few minutes at a time; (b) the ability to follow simple instructions; and (c) the ability to mimic what is shown to them. Teachers don't expect a lot from students at this age but it is often a joy to see the young toddlers perform.
When to start Martial Arts is truly an individual or parental decision. It's never too late to start, but sometimes it's too early. Understanding your child and the reasons you want to join Martial Arts is an important component to picking what is the right age for your young one to begin.