No Karate in Cub Scouts? Why?

Why other Sports are NOT included
in the Cub Scout Sports Program

We are frequently asked questions like “Why isn’t there a belt loop for Karate or other martial arts?”, or “Why can’t my son get credit for his participation in Pop Warner football?”

To the best of our knowledge, BSA will not add any of the martial arts to the Cub Scout Sports program. They did add FLAG Football to the program in 2002, but that addition did not include Tackle Football programs like Pop Warner League play.

Back in 1974, the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board decided on a listing of team and individual sports which it felt was not consistent with the ideals and promotion of sportsmanship that Scouting is promoting. They didn’t say that “these sports are bad” or “Scouts should never participate in these sports” but rather “these sports have the potential for extreme harm while playing the sport and therefore we will prohibit them from being played as part of a BSA program or program option.” The list has been adjusted through the years, but has remained basically intact.

Note that ANY SPORT can be dangerous if played against the official rules, if the participants are not dressed or outfitted appropriately, and/or if they are not coached and trained well. A Scout could just as easily injure himself or others while playing marbles as he can while playing football or Karate. However, the BSA found that a number of sports present a significant risk to Scouts and Scouters and the BSA does not allow them to be used to meet requirements toward various badges or as inter-unit play during Scouting events or meetings. The list is codified in the Guide to Safe Scouting, in a list entitled “Unauthorized and Restricted Activities”. The list, which can be seen in it’s entirety by clicking here, includes the following sports or sports equipment:

  • All-terrain vehicles (ATVs)
  • Boxing, karate, and related martial arts-except judo, aikido, and Tai Chi
  • Exploration of abandoned mines
  • Varsity football teams and interscholastic or club football
  • Flying in hang gliders, ultralights, experimental class aircraft, or hot-air balloons (whether or not they are tethered); parachuting; and flying in aircraft as part of a search and rescue mission.
  • Motorized go-carts and motorbikes for Cub Scout and Boy Scouts
  • All motorized speed events, including motorcycles, boats, drag racing, demolition derbies, and related events, for all program levels
  • Amateur or professional rodeo events
  • Paintball and Laser Tag.
  • Hunting by Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts
  • Motorized personal watercraft, such as Jet-Skis®
  • Parasailing
  • Bungee cord jumping

Part of the justification as to why the various martial arts and tackle football were not included as an option for meeting the requirements is also included in the Guide for Safe Scouting in the following statement:

The general policy of Scouting is to train youth to do safely the many things they normally do, such as swimming and boating; handling firearms, knives and axes; riding bicycles; and hiking and camping. Scouting’s disapproval or restriction of hazardous sports and activities is a positive policy to keep fun in the program and to develop sound judgment through experience. It is consistent with our principle of safety through skill on the part of leaders and youth.

Someone wrote us, stating, “The study of Karate involves physical exercise, learning, focus, commitment and dedication. These programs teach discipline and respect, and the use of common sense before self-defense.”, and we agree completely that these are very valid comments.  However, most Councils do not carry enough insurance to cover the injuries which could be sustained accidentally or on purpose through such activities, and Boy Scout Councils, and even more importantly, individual units like Cub Scout Packs and Boy Scout Troops, do not maintain or stock the appropriate padding and safety gear necessary to carry out those sports safely.

So, specifically with regard to Karate, Tai Kwon Do, and other martial arts, BSA does not permit any martial arts activities as part of its program, except defensive Judo, Aikido, and Tai Chi. Even for those three, they add limitations, as  documented in one final quote from the Guide to Safe Scouting:

Judo, Tai Chi, and Aikido

If Scouts and Venturers practice defensive judo, Tai Chi, or aikido, it should be done with proper mats and with qualified instructors related to YMCAs. colleges, or athletic clubs whose objectives and coaching methods are compatible with the principles of the Boy Scouts of America.

Even in the lists of sports acceptable for SPORTS Merit Badge, the lists end with the following statement, “(Or any other recognized team sport approved in advance by your counselor, except boxing and karate.)”

Given those statements, we’re sure they wouldn’t consider adding Tackle Football, Karate or other martial arts to the Cub Scout program.

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