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9 martial-arts studios we love for pre-K kids

Deanna Lee
February24/ 2016

Much more than jumping, kicking and spinning, martial arts teaches kids valuable life skills like listening, self-discipline and teamwork. Here in Pittsburgh, kids have plenty of opportunities to begin training even before starting kindergarten.

Kidsburgh tracked down nine studios in the area offering classes for kids between the ages of 3 and 6—plus a martial arts curriculum offered at several locations. Here is our guide to finding the right program for your baby black belt, no matter where you live!

Kinder Karate (Multiple locations)

Kara and Paul Czerniak founded Kinder Karate in 2012 after seeing the need for more activity options for preschool-aged children. Trained in Tae Kwon Do with a degree in psychology, Kara Czerniak used her experience in those areas—and as a mom of three—to create a program that helps young children physically, but also delivers social and emotional benefits in a loving and positive environment.

At Kinder Karate, students are separated into classes for 3- and 4-year-olds

Kids learn basic kicks, blocks and strikes at Kinder Karate. Image courtesy of Kinder Karate.
Kids learn basic kicks, blocks and strikes at Kinder Karate. Image courtesy of Kinder Karate.

and 5- and 6-year-olds, where they learn basic kicks, blocks and strikes. Then, the kids take what they learn and apply it to a simple self-defense routine. They eventually move on to more advanced skills, such as spinning and jumping.

More importantly, says Czerniak, “kids are learning abstract concepts in a concrete way during our classes. By learning a behavior (like a kick or a block), they can then understand concepts such as focus, discipline and respect.”

Kinder Karate holds classes in McKeesport, Pleasant Hills and Bethel Park. For more information, call 844-KINDERS or visit the Kinder Karate website.

Kinder Karate student practicing a kick. Image courtesy of Kinder Karate.
Kinder Karate student practicing a kick. Image courtesy of Kinder Karate.

Oom Yung Doe (Squirrel Hill and Mt. Lebanon)

Oom Yung Doe combines the teaching of eight martial arts in order to develop the mind and body to its fullest potential. For its youngest students, this Squirrel Hill studio focuses on Tae Kwon Do and judo/jiu jitsu skills.

In addition to self-defense movements, kicking, rolling and falling safely, Oom Yung Doe’s classes also help to develop strength, flexibility, balance and coordination, and emphasize positive mental qualities like determination, perseverance and patience.

Jeff Weise, the main instructor at Oom Yung Doe, describes the approach: “We don’t emphasize defeating another but rather ‘winning over oneself,’ which means to overcome negative qualities in oneself and striving to reach one’s full potential in life.”

Oom Yung Doe offers kids’ classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, ranging from $70 to $120 per month. Parents can call the school at 412-421-7311 to schedule a free introductory lesson and discuss training options.

Ryer Martial Arts Academy (Shadyside)

This Shadyside studio teaches classes with a focus on bullying prevention. The physical component includes maneuvering, blocking, striking, stand-up grappling and more. In addition, a verbal element helps kids develop a calm demeanor, learn to be good listeners, have empathy and develop verbal skills.

Ryer Academy's self-defense philosophy builds on preparation. Image courtesy of Ryer Martial Arts Academy.
Ryer Academy’s self-defense philosophy builds on preparation. Image courtesy of Ryer Martial Arts Academy.

Ryer Academy’s approach to self-defense is all about preparation:In order to prevent anything,” says Joshua Ryer, the owner of the studio, “you must prepare for it. In our lessons, we teach kids the skills to de-escalate (a bullying situation). And through these classes, they also gain physical benefits like balance, flexibility and strength.”

Every new family is invited to try a free week at Ryer Academy before enrolling. You can find more information on the website or by calling Joshua Ryer at 412-621-7937.

Rothrock’s Kung Fu & Tai Chi (Multiple locations)

The “Little Dragons” program at Rothrock’s Kung Fu & Tai Chi, for children ages 4 to 6, encompasses physical, social, intellectual and emotional learning to address total development.

One of the first—and most vital—skills that kids learn is eye contact. Charles Machinist, manager and instructor at Rothrock’s South Side location, describes it as hugely important to a strong foundation in self-defense.

Eye contact is an essential life skill taught at Rothrock's Kung Fu & Tai Chi. Image courtesy of Rothrock's Kung Fu & Tai Chi.
Eye contact is an essential life skill taught at Rothrock’s Kung Fu & Tai Chi. Image courtesy of Rothrock’s Kung Fu & Tai Chi.

Instructors build on this foundation with lessons on focus, discipline, awareness, evasion and more.

And no matter what the kids are learning on a given day, the staff emphasizes inclusiveness and success for every kid. “We want (parents) to know that their kid can succeed—even if he or she has special needs. Every kid is different, and we embrace that. We’re here to teach them all.”

Rothrock’s also develops classes on a case-by-case basis for children under age 4. In addition to its South Side studio, Rothrock’s has locations in Wexford and West Mifflin. For more information on scheduling and pricing, call 888-434-0104 or email [email protected].

Steve DeMasco’s Shaolin Studios (Regent Square)

Shaolin Studios’ Tiny Tigers program teaches kids from 3 ½ to 6 years a simplified version of Shaolin Kung Fu. The classes use fun and dynamic activities to engage the kids and help them focus, learn how to listen and

Shaolin Studios classes help kids to focus and control their bodies. Image courtesy of Shaolin Studios.
Shaolin Studios classes help kids to focus and control their bodies. Image courtesy of Shaolin Studios.

follow directions, control their bodies and be respectful to others. The physical skills taught include basic kicks, punches and blocks, simple self-defense techniques and chin na (moves to get out of grabs and holds).

All Shaolin Studios instructors are required to engage in education on physical and cognitive development as it relates to martial arts. “A very important character requirement for our instructors is patience and empathy,” says Steve Nakamura, the owner and chief instructor at the studio.

Free classes are available so that kids and their parents can experience a session before enrolling, and the class schedule is flexible. More information on the Shaolin Studios teaching philosophy can be found at sdsspgh.com.

Students at Steve DeMasco's Shaolin Studios. Image courtesy of Steve DeMasco
Students at Steve DeMasco’s Shaolin Studios. Image courtesy of Steve DeMasco.

Rising Sun Martial Arts (Baldwin)

Rising Sun Martial Arts offers SuperKids Karate classes for kids from 3 to 5 years old. The students play games to maintain focus and attention, and every three to five minutes, instructors change the training format to keep it interesting for the little ones. Listening is the central theme of SuperKids.

SuperKids classes are offered in 16-week seasonal sessions for $180. For more information, call 412-882-8440 or email [email protected].

PRO Martial Arts (Bridgeville)

Through drills, skills and games, PRO Martial Arts’ “Little Rhinos” learn the basic skills so that they can continue the journey toward a black belt. Along the way, students also learn important values like self-esteem, assertiveness and teamwork. The class schedule is available online, where parents can also sign up for a free trial.

USA Pro Karate (Squirrel Hill) 

The Tiger program at USA Pro Karate in Squirrel Hill is karate training for 4- and 5-year-olds. Each class focuses on one of eight early skills—such as kicking, blocking, hopping or rolling—as well as a monthly life skill or safety skill. Students also learn how to translate what they hear and see into what they can do.

Stout Training Pittsburgh (Strip District)

Stout Training in the Strip District offers two programs for young children: “Little Super Heroes” (ages 4 and 5) and Kids Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (ages 5 to 8). Kids start out by playing games that teach them how their bodies move, how to empathize with others, as well as the fundamentals of self-control and focus. The main objective is to give kids a safe place to play, roll, run and learn.

ATA Tigers Program (Multiple studios and locations)

The ATA Tigers Program is a martial arts curriculum designed specifically for children ages 3 ½ to 6. Several studios, including Steel City ATA in Bridgeville, Steiger’s TKD in the North Hills and Cranberry ATA in Cranberry Township, offer the curriculum.

The program teaches basic martial arts and self-defense using fun animal characters. Students earn stars, patches and other awards for positive behavior as they progress through the program—preparing them to advance into the belt-ranking system.

Deanna Lee

Deanna earnestly covers all the people and events that make Pittsburgh the best place to raise a kid. When she's not writing, you might find her running the streets of the East End. cooking big meals in her tiny kitchen, and spending time with her family.

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