Recent studies have shown that teaching children martial arts is more effective at teaching children how to behave properly than traditional physical education. Improvements have been seen in levels of concentration, physical behaviour and mood.
In one study children who were taught martial arts for 3 months showed significant improvements in their behaviour and were more sociable and attentive in class. Also children that had been practising martial arts saw improvements in math skills in class.
What is possibly most important is that boys showed greater improvements than girls. The study was published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (Volume 25, Issue 3, May-June 2004).
Over the last century education has changed dramatically in school and discipline as declined. For many boys there is no real discipline in school, and it is now thought by some that boys especially need greater levels of discipline in their lives to ensure that they excel in school.
In another study Stuart W. Twemlow, MD, who is a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Menninger Department of Psychiatry Baylor College of Medicine Houston, Texas, looked at the role of teaching traditional martial arts to violent adolescents.
The key findings were that when adolescents were taught the martial ways of a gentle warrior they learnt to cope better with the social complexities of living in a dysfunctional family environment.
The problem that many adolescents face is summed up in this statement from SW Twemlow:
“Single-parent households with fatherless children, gangs, and out-of-control inner-city students present psychotherapists with unique challenges. Violence and neglect have reached epidemic proportions, and children often grow up with egregious emotional scars that eventually lead to hardened, angry, intractable adolescents. Too often, they come to regard prison as a rite of passage.”
Many adolescents have nobody in a position of trust to turn to. They are excluded from school, have poor or non-existent relationships with their parents, do not trust social workers or doctors, and are essentially alone.
Martial arts clubs can provide a safe place for adolescents to get back on track. Through traditional martial teaching they often learn to respect others again as a result of becoming more self aware and learning to control their own emotions. It really is a case that the successful treatment of violent adolescents begins and ends in the community, or more specifically, in a martial arts club.
A good instructor ensures that children and adolescents not only learn how to get fit and self defence, but also learn self respect and respect to others.
Tony Willis, chief instructor at 5 Elements Martial Arts who also runs the martial arts classes for children, explains how he uses martial arts to instil discipline and good behaviour.
“At 5 Elements Martial Arts we ensure that through the training we provide we develop students with important values including courtesy, respect, patience, confidence, self esteem, positive attitude and indomitable spirit.”
These values really do work. Many children and adolescents really respond well to a strict but friendly environment. This combination is something that is rarely found in the community today. Adolescents often find schools or parents strict but unfriendly – they rebel against the system, the system becomes an enemy. However, a martial arts school provides this environment to literally put kids back on the straight and narrow.
One of the common aspects of gang culture that gives an insight into why martial arts training can help is the role of mock fighting;
“Sparring. Mock fighting, jostling, and other physically aggressive play are common among gang members. These mock fights sometimes get out of control and erupt into serious violence. Nevertheless, a considerable amount of time is spent roughhousing, exchanging gibes, and engaging in other types of sparring, both verbal and physical.”
Properly applied, martial arts can provide an alternative method of fulfilling these needs. Sometimes children, especially boys, need to vent their aggression which is why tempers rise and fights break out. Martial arts teaches children how to channel this energy for good, to use it to train harder, to get fit, to become a better martial artist.
Martial arts also improve a persons feeling of self worth and achievement through the ranking systems that most employ. The colored belts system allows a martial artists to display their rank and this commands respect and also acts as a role model.
Traditional martial arts seem to work better at improving behaviour. The sense of military history helps to enforce a greater respect for the system that is being taught. The idea that it is a system that has trained real fighters is something that an adolescent can often identify with and respect, much more so that a system that is designed only for fitness or competition.
However, the quality of the instructor is vital also. The study also stated that the best martial arts instructors are the ones that have a greater understanding of mental health and a good awareness of psychological issues.
This is really only true for the more aggressive adolescents though. For most children a good martial arts school provides a fantastic place to teach respect and discipline.
Martial arts are something which have been overlooked by schools for a long time. Many consider them to promote violence, however, the opposite is true. Martial arts training teaches non-violence, respect, confidence. Many bullies feel isolated and lack self confidence, martial arts can give them focus and build their confidence so that they stop being bullies. Victims of bullying also develop stronger personalities and learn to understand and confront their bullies in a non-violent manner.
Traditional martial arts can provide a framework for development that modern society can no longer achieve. Whereas today a teacher cannot physically control a child in a classroom without risking an inquiry, a martial arts teacher is trained in controlled sparring, and this in itself teaches a child how to control their own anger and instincts to strike out.