The REAL karate kids who've been black belts from as young as five

Meet the REAL karate kids! They’re all black belts – and have been since they were as young as five. And as their parents have discovered, flying kicks and lethal chops are the perfect way to blow off steam in lockdown

  • Parents tell stories of their karate kids, as some achieved black belts by age five
  • Among the success stories is Jake Frood, who is diagnosed with juvenile arthritis
  • The 12-year-old’s family say karate helped to save his life after a difficult start  

Eye-watering jumps. Sweeping kicks. An unbeatable rush of adrenaline — all from your living room floor.

No wonder karate has seen a rise in interest during lockdown.

Unlike other sports such as football, rugby and hockey, which have come to a halt because of coronavirus restrictions, karate is flourishing thanks to the fact it can be practised alone.

Just ask 12-year-old Tom Klemz, ranked second in the world at the under-13 level in the kata discipline of the sport, who made headlines last week after his devoted father Tim built a £3,000 dojo in the back garden of their home in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, so he could continue the sport during lockdown.

Jane Naylor-Jones, national administrator of the Karate Union of Great Britain, which has 300 clubs, says: ‘We have seen a rise in interest during lockdown. A lot of kids are training. You’d think they would get bored, on school classes all day then Zooming in the evening, but they’re doing really well.’

So what’s it like to be the parent of a top karate kid? 

We talk to six families of children who have already achieved their black belt — the highest level — who say there’s no better way to give boredom the chop!

Six families have shared how their children have achieved black belts in karate at incredibly young ages – with parents saying there’s no way better way to give lockdown boredom the chop


Jaye Kirkham, 11, lives in Norwich with her mum Janine, 37, an NHS healthcare assistant, dad Jon, 39, a supermarket manager, and siblings James, 17, and Jemima, nine. 

Janine says: ‘There’s something about watching your little dot of a daughter sparring with a 5 ft 8 in hulk of a boy that doesn’t come naturally. 

‘Most of the time I can’t watch. I have to hide behind my husband.

‘But Jaye shows no fear at all — she’ll compete against anyone.

‘She always wanted to do karate. She had been carted around her brother’s karate clubs since she was a baby.

‘At five, she joined the Tiny Tigers, a separate part of the club for younger children. 

‘Then she started on her belts at around six. You must train for a minimum of three months to be graded for a new belt. 

‘Grading involves three elements: Kihon, which are basic karate moves, Kata, which involves a sequence of moves, and Kumite, which is fighting steps. 

‘You have to pass all three to gain a new belt.

‘The belts in order are: white, red, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, purple/white, brown, brown/white, brown/double white and then (after a minimum of ten months more training) a black belt. 

Jaye Kirkham, from Norwich ‘shows no fear at all,’ when she’s competing, according to her mum Janine

‘This has a further 10 degrees (or dans) to work through. She got her black belt aged just ten. It’s an extraordinary achievement.

‘With black belt you have to achieve at least 75 per cent pass on all three elements.

‘She has a drawer full of medals from competitions all over the country. 

‘All the children are taught never to use their skills in real life unless they are in danger but I’m reassured that she is safer walking to school on her own. 

‘Karate also gives kids confidence and a discipline. There’s never any messing around in class and Jaye is very focused on her schoolwork.

‘I also think it’s great for kids for their mental health, especially at the moment. 

‘You can go into the club and scream and shout in a controlled environment. During the pandemic she has kept up with her karate Zoom lessons.’

JAYE SAYS: ‘I was not expecting to get a black belt when I went in for the grading. 

‘A lot of people didn’t get one that day but I did and I was really happy. I don’t usually talk about karate much at school — and when I do, people think that I’m lying!’


Jake Frood, 12, was just five when he became the youngest black belt in the world. He lives with his mum, Kerry, 39, and brother Junior, 16, in Liverpool. 

Kerry says: ‘We always say that martial arts saved Jake’s life. 

‘Aged three, he was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, was on a lot of medication and really struggling with his mobility. 

‘The physiotherapy was causing him a lot of pain and we were advised that he try some sort of sport that would exercise his joints, as well as being fun.

‘But Jake wouldn’t do anything. He wanted to be moved around in a pushchair. He would just watch TV and cry all the time. It was really worrying.

‘He had an obsession with The Karate Kid movie, and decided that he wanted to try the sport. 

Jake Frood overcome a diagnosis of juvenile arthritis aged three to become the world’s youngest person to earn a blackbelt, at the age of five. Doctors said there would be no way he could do it, but he has since proven them wrong

‘The doctors said there was no way he would be able to do it. He wasn’t strong or flexible enough. But he loved it and wanted to be like his hero in the film.

‘He started doing karate at the National Martial Arts College in Leeds aged three. Two years later, he tested for his first-degree black belt. 

‘That made him the youngest black belt in the world.

‘He then went on to test for his second-degree black belt, which he passed aged six. He gained his third-degree black belt at eight. All three are world records.

‘The GB team approached him and he started competing in British championships. 

‘He also takes part in world championships. The best he has done is a silver medal. 

‘He is fighting children aged 14 to 15 because he is more advanced.

‘He has occupational therapy because the juvenile arthritis has spread to his wrists and his back. But the doctors say the karate is keeping his muscles supple.

‘He is obsessed with karate and wants to open his own martial arts school when he is older.’

Jake says: ‘Karate involves discipline and you can get your anger out, plus it’s fun.

‘I’ve also got used to being able to control my arthritis with martial arts.’


Izzy Thornton, ten, got her black belt when she was nine. She lives with mum Claire, 39, a childminder, dad Zac, 43, a small-business owner, and sister Holly, seven, in Crawley, West Sussex. 

Claire says: ‘Izzy started karate at the age of four to help her with coordination and self-confidence. When she hit seven, I realised we were in this for the long haul. I didn’t expect it to go this far.

Izzy Thornton’s parents new they were going to be into karate for the long haul after she spent three years practicing the martial art. Now 10, Izzy is a black belt and says she loves to break boards

‘But the Crawley Black Belt Academy are like family. They were so supportive and encouraging that we stayed with them and they got her to where she is.

‘When she did her ‘pre-dan’ (a stage before black belt), I doubted that she was ready — but a sensei (teacher) said: ‘She really, really is: look at this.’

‘Then she went through a routine. She was amazing.

‘In the grading for her black belt, I couldn’t watch. It’s one of those things where you just want to give them a cuddle!’

Izzy says: ‘I like karate because one of the senseis is really funny and we get to do lots of fun things. 

‘I enjoy breaking the karate boards because sometimes you can get it and sometimes you can’t.’


Millie Howard, 11, lives with her mum Lou, 35, a pre-school manager, and father Craig, 44, who works in aviation in Crawley, West Sussex. 

Lou says: ‘September 2016 was a very scary time for our family. Millie, who suffers from asthma, went into hospital with what we thought was a bad cold.

‘Six months before that, she had suffered pneumonia but this time she couldn’t catch her breath and her heart rate was high. 

‘Doctors believed she had caught two cold viruses at once, which had made her critically ill. She was taken to the Evelina London Children’s Hospital and put on a ventilator for three days.

Millie Howard, 11, contracted pneumonia and was on a ventillator for three days in 2016. Now she’s fighting fit and hopes to one day become a sensei

‘At the time, we didn’t realise quite how poorly she was — but we look back now and think we were so lucky.

‘It is hard to believe that four years later, this is the same child who earned her black belt in karate aged only ten.

‘She has been such a trouper. She never comes away from a competition without a trophy.

‘It was her dad who was first a member of the karate club and he encouraged Millie to join.

‘I was petrified that she could get hurt after everything we had been through — but she has proved to be naturally talented.

‘She earned all her other belts very quickly but the training for black belt grading was incredibly intense.

‘It took place over two days and the instructors were pushing all the kids — they were doing 100 squats, 150 press-ups, 150 burpees, runs and more.

‘They even had buckets at the side so the kids could throw up if they had pushed themselves too far. Millie may be petite but she is very tough. She passed with flying colours.

‘Karate not only helps her physically but makes her mind strong, and she has kept up the sport with Zoom lessons. I like the fact that as a girl, she knows how to defend herself if someone grabbed her. She might look timid and shy but she’s not.’

Millie says: ‘Karate is all about learning and I have made loads of friends, including my best friend Jazzy. 

‘I practise with her lots and we have been doing competitions together. Earning my black belt was really hard — but I’m so glad I did it. 

‘My goal now is to be a sensei one day.’


Dalton Hall, 12, lives with his mother Sally, 44, a lawyer, dad Ashton, 49, a company director, and siblings Belle, nine, Griffin, seven, and Chess, four, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. 

Sally says: ‘Watching Dalton at his first ever karate lesson, I thought: “He’s never going to get all this.” 

‘He was only six and we had wanted to find him a hobby. He’d tried sports like football but hadn’t enjoyed them.

‘At first I wasn’t keen on my little boy going to a club to “fight” but I’ve learnt that karate is much more about discipline and control than anything else, and he fell in love with it immediately.

Dalton Hall’s mother wasn’t keen on her son going to a club to ‘fight,’ but she soon realised he had a natural talent for karate as picked up confidence and discipline

‘It was a real surprise to see he had such a natural talent. He clicked so well with his instructor and she has shown so much faith in him. He received his black belt when he was only nine. We were so proud.

‘He had to prove he could do the sport and also show that he had done a certain amount of teaching, as well as write an essay on the history of the sport and his own personal journey.

‘He was ten when he was graded for his second-degree black belt and I felt sick with nerves.

‘We couldn’t watch the entire thing but were invited to see the board-break (where they break a plastic board with hands or feet). It took him three goes but he did it! I nearly cried. 

‘Watching him grow in confidence has been wonderful. It’s the best thing we ever did for him.’

Dalton says: ‘A lot of people think karate is about fighting but it’s about self-defence, discipline and respect, and teaches you all about teamwork. 

‘It sets you up for life. 

‘At our club, our black belts are a “midnight blue” colour. That’s because black would show that it was the end of our journey and we are taught that we never stop learning.’


Bailey Adam, 11, lives in Midlothian, Scotland, with his father Steven, 42, who runs the Meadowbank Karate Group, mum Sara, who works in healthcare, and sister Jenna, 20. 

Steven says: ‘My father, Hamish, set up our karate group back in 1970 and we have around 250 to 300 members. He’s a world champion and taught me when I was only five and now he teaches his grandson.

Bailey Adam, 11, from Midlothian, has followed in his grandfather and father’s footsteps by taking up the martial art of karate

‘My wife does karate and so does my sister. My three nieces and nephews compete and my older children and step-children do too.

‘Bailey first stepped on to the mats when he was four and a half. He loves it and does four classes a week when we’re not in lockdown. He has won several competitions.

‘Bailey was nine when he got his black belt, beating me as I got mine when I was 12. He is very focused and karate has given him life skills such as confidence and discipline. I’d love him to take over the group when I retire.’

Bailey says: ‘I love karate because it’s exciting. I’ve made lots of friends and I like it when grandad teaches me because he’s funnier than dad. 

‘I enjoy competitions, although I get nervous when I have to fight in front of a lot of people. It is nice being a black belt.’

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