FUNdamental Movement Skills for children’s martial arts

Often abbreviated to FMS, FUNdamental Movement Skills describe the ability to move the body in specific patterns using different body parts. They cover both gross and fine motor skills and are usually broken down in to three groups; locomotion, balance and object control. These skills are the building blocks the children will need to be able develop Sports Specific Skills (SSS) or in the case of MAPLE, Martial Arts Specific Skills (MASS).

There are masses of studies that show that those that master FUNdamental Movement Skills usually have higher levels of physical activity. Children developing FMS increases the likelihood they will still be taking part in sport beyond their mid-teen years while also increasing their performance as adults. Whether you are a social or performance based martial arts club, incorporating FUNdamental Movement Skills can have a positive effect on your membership.

It is widely accepted, that childhood offers a key window of opportunity in which children can develop their FUNdamental Movement Skills and increase the muscular force to enhance motor skills. This does not mean that FMS cannot be developed at older ages, but just that development should be emphasised between 3 and 8 years old. This aligns well with a young children’s martial arts programme starting at 3 or 4 year olds.

UK Coaching highlight that the development of FUNdamental Movement Skills can also increase competence and confidence while reducing injuries. As MAPLE is focused on engagement and long term retention, all three of these points are important to us in the mission to develop martial arts students for life.

Developing FUNdamental Movement Skills

While children can develop some of these skills in unstructured play, research shows that a comprehensive development programme can help create variety and increase development. As many FUNdamental Movement Skills exercises as possible should be performed in a variety of different ways such backwards and forwards, left and right etc. When we are teaching our martial arts classes, we should try encourage the children to use both side of the body.  Although we are getting children in to basic martial arts at an early age, at 3 years old they will have already have developed a dominant side.

Not convinced? Here is a fun exercise to try:-

  1. Empty a bucket of bean bags at one side of the hall and place the bucket at the other side
  2. Put a belt 1-2 metres in front of the bucket so the children don’t get too close
  3. Ask the students to go and pick up one bean bag in each hand and run to the other side of the room
  4. Standing behind of the belt on the floor they should throw the bean bags in the bucket with the hand holding them

Sounds easy? Give it a try. I can guarantee that with no additional prompting the students will do every right until it comes to throw the beans bags. As if by magic at least 70% will throw the bean bag with their dominant hand. Even if you stand there reminding them, you will still get a large percentage that do the same. I have also done this exercise with adults in the past and although they obviously have better cognitive ability their habits have been formed over a longer period and often struggle as much as the children.

integrating fMS in to your martial arts sessions

So now we know what FUNdamental Movement Skills is, we need to know the basic movements that is covers. Here is a basic list split in to the 3 categorises we mentioned at the beginning:-


  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Hoping
  • Skipping
  • Side stepping
  • Crawling
  • Rolling
  • Leaping

Object Control

  • Throwing
  • Catching
  • Kicking
  • Striking with hand
  • Striking with implement


  • Static
  • Dynamic
  • Landing
FUNdamental Movement Skills in action - Girl running in between cones showing agility

It isn’t too difficult to incorporate FUNdamental Movement Skills in to your martial arts classes but like anything else you do well, it does take a little bit of work up front planning. First of all you need to work out what you are going to deliver for what age and then how you are going to deliver it. I know it’s a little tedious but to get the best results you need to plan this out.

If possible, most of the physical skills should be developed through games. As an adult I am not keen on just busting out 20 press ups or 20 burpees, so you will understand in the children don’t find that exciting either. It is more engaging for the children to participating in a group activity of skill development with any seemingly hard physical activity disguised. 

In the past some martial arts instructors have thrown some game based exercises in to their classes just to try and increase engagement. While this can work to a certain degree, having a much more structured approach can help make the most from the time you have with your participants, while also maximising their development.

If your club is anything like mine, you will probably only see the majority of your young martial arts ninja’s between one and two classes a week for 30-60 minutes a time. Everyone is short of time these days so it’s more important than ever to be efficient in your planning. Alternating FUNdamental Movement Skills based games with your martial arts based technical sections will not only help develop their base level physical skills, but will also keep them interested and maintain their attention for the duration of the session. For more information about building engaging martial arts sessions for children, check out our free MAPLE Session Planning Framework for children’s martial arts classes.

age appropriate FUNdamental Movement Skills

When we first started teaching children in this age group we did so with just a single age group (4-6 years). While this seemed to work fine, when we expanded the age group down to 3 years old we found the gap in physical ability between a 3 year old and a 6 year old was just too big. That is without even considering the difference in social and psychological development. After this point we split the groups in to 3-4 year olds and 5-6 year olds.

Although we are quite ridged on children having had their 3rd birthday before they are able to try a class, due to the different development rate of the children, we are more relaxed about when children move up to the next class.

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4 thoughts on “FUNdamental Movement Skills for children’s martial arts”

  1. Sensei Rebecka Southworth

    I always enjoy reading your articles. I wondered if you had any thoughts on teaching online and how this has changed the way we can currently teach. I’m finding that most students have limited space to train and ‘team games’ are very difficult to put into practice online. I’ve introduced ‘homework’ (printed worksheets that I email to parents prior to the class) so that we have a segment of the class where we can chat. Healthy eating, the importance of exercise, bones of the body etc with a supporting worksheet have been well received. We have a limited syllabus for 4 to 7 year olds and trying to think of new and engaging games is becoming more difficult each week! Especially games or physical activities that are different, fun and work when we are all training from home!! I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

    1. Hi Rebecka. Thanks for the feedback on our articles 🙂 I am trying to get one article posted per week but i don’t always manage it. Over the next couple of months i will be sharing quite a few articles on positive psychological characteristics. This should provide ideas to design ‘mat chat’s’ with students but also help improve the development of these characteristics in your coaching.

      I have already started to design a series of 12 sessions (3 months @ once per week) using the MAPLE framework but they are for in person classes. I am reluctant to spend too much time producing content for on online live classes as i think we are only a couple of months off finishing with Zoom classes but i do want to help people during the current tough times. I maybe able to package up the Dragons class content we have been running with our own students on post it online as a product. We have planned 12 classes for the 3-4 year olds and another 12 for the 5-6 year olds. Rather than use the full rotation we usually use in the MAPLE framework we have simplified things and all classes use the physical rotation for the 3-4 year olds. The sessions use every day items such as cushions, balled up socks, teddies, umbrellas, sponges and all sorts of other random items from around the house. If i posted the sessions i am likley to price them at about £2 per session plan (£24 for 12). Does this sound reasonable?

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