There are a lot of movies with martial arts made for kids. Here, I will focus on the more popular, higher-rated ones and the martial arts lessons they promote. Note: I am talking about the word lesson as in the moral of the story, or the take-away. I am not comparing watching a movie to attending a karate class. Please do not think Hollywood martial arts moves would help in a life-protection situation.
Good Old Karate Kid Movies
- The Karate Kid– (PG, 1984 [these were made before the PG-13 rating and would probably be PG-13 if made now],) (with Ralph Macchio) Teenager Daniel is new to town and is bullied. He learns martial arts to defend himself but also learns the value of training and perseverance. His neighbor, Miagi (Pat Morita) teaches Daniel that karate is used for self-defense. Kids also learn that underdogs can win and that hurting people is not a good thing.
- The Karate Kid, Part II – (PG, 1986) (with Ralph Macchio) Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi travel to Japan. This movie has themes of mercy and forgiveness. Also, the Japanese culture and travel is interesting.
- The Karate Kid (2010)– (PG, 2010) This remake of the original Karate Kid stars Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. However, this time it takes place in China, with an American main character. It teaches, “…Kung Fu is not about fighting. It’s about learning to make peace with your enemies.” The clear message is that martial arts are about respect, honor, using physical defense only when necessary, and making peace with your enemies.
We Love Kung Fu Panda Movies
- Kung Fu Panda – (PG, 2008) “Big fat” panda learns the value of perseverance and becomes a legendary warrior. Po is a great role model who shows determination through all circumstances. This movie also has great messages about being yourself and about self-empowerment.
- Kung Fu Panda 2 – (PG, 2011) Overall, has great lessons: honesty, helping each other, respecting your friends and family, being true to yourself and teamwork. Another message is to let go of the past: what matters is what you do right now. Po continues to show determination, making him a positive role model.
- Kung Fu Panda 3 – (PG, 2016) Po trains a village in order to defeat an evil opponent. This movie teaches children to be themselves and accept who they are. In addition, it promotes community, with every panda — big and small, young and old, male and female — playing an important role.
Popular TMNT Movies
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – (PG, 1990) Martial arts movie focused on four mutated turtles. We can learn good leadership from the turtle Leonardo. He really cares about his brothers even if they sometimes disagree, and they value teamwork.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – (PG-13, 2014) The Turtles consistently show teamwork and brotherhood, and they work hard as a team to defend the city against Shredder. Another lesson is to value family and friends and take care of others.
These Movies Stand Alone
They may not have sequels or remakes (or even a rating) but these movies are enjoyable and noteworthy for their lessons.
- Wendy Wu: Homecoming Princess – (NR, 2006, parent reviewers say it’s appropriate for ages nine and up.) High-schooler Wendy Wu starts as a homecoming-queen-hopeful she later learns that she is the descendant of a warrior who must save the world. She learns about accepting responsibility, persevering and embracing her heritage. She is also shown with a family with good values who support her in her trials.
- The Forbidden Kingdom – (PG-13, 2008) This film features Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The fun movie shows an American teen who is transported back in time to ancient China. He learns Kung Fu in order to defeat an evil warlord. The young man discovers his own strength and will by helping others. The movie also promotes that in the grand scheme of things, good always prevails.
Martial arts movies are fun for kids. They have action and adventure, and often a deeper message to take away. They can inspire us to work harder in karate class, as we see all the effort put into the characters’ moves. We also may see our own techniques in a different light when comparing them to the scenes of Hollywood martial arts in the movies.