Benefits of the martial arts for children


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Benefits of the martial arts for children

  1. 1. Benefits of the Martial Arts for Children: A Literature Review by Efraín Suárez for INGL3232IntroductionThe Martial arts have had a long history of discipline and training in the West.The first North American practitioners of the Asian fighting arts were soldiersstationed in Japan, Okinawa and Korea during the 1940s and 1950s, followed bythe popular 1960s movie star from Hong Kong, Bruce Lee; then by civilian adultmale admirers of Lee. Today, the majority of martial arts practitioners are youngpeople and children. Many people claim that the practice of the martial artsencourages good moral and ethical development and develops beneficialpsychological changes. On the other hand, other people claim that receivingpraise and benefit for practicing violent activities (like some martial arts)reinforces violence and conditions the practitioners to be more aggressive andhostile outside of their activity. Most images and themes of the martial arts intelevision shows and popular movies, plus the popularity of pay-for-view, no-holds-barred, martial arts tournaments probably help spread and reinforce thissecond claim.Martial arts trainingAccording to Binder1, Endresen & Olweus (2005) conducted a study thatparticipating in power sports (including kick-boxing, boxing, wrestling, andweightlifting) "leads to an increase or enhancement of antisocial involvement inthe form of elevated levels of violent as well as non-violent antisocial behavioroutside sports." Since these activities contain few if any moral/philosophicalteachings regarding conduct, this supports our tentative conclusion thattraditional martial arts (which DO typically offer moral/philosophical teachings)are superior to modern martial arts or combat sport training in reducing antisocialbehavior in children and adolescents.It is our belief that the real benefits of martial arts practice are mental (somewould say spiritual) rather than physical. Martial art training uses uniquephilosophical or societal concepts that other sports/arts don’t incorporate intotheir practice. Most martial arts incorporate meditation and relaxation training,learning how to focus and release energy, moving in tandem with a partner aswell as striving to excel alone, and achieving mind-body unity. The physicalexercise and mastery is, in reality, the means to a non-physical end, whether onecalls this state of mind enlightenment, self-knowledge, or achieving balance.1 1
  2. 2. In children with low self-esteem, martial arts training can simultaneously developareas such as self-defense skills (to defend against physical bullying), physicalfitness, and instructions on how to handle stressful scenarios in a physical ormental context, and self-confidence, through successful applications of martialtechnique, such as board breaking or kata2. Anxiety and hyperactivity are majorproblems that inhibit school performance. Meditation or other relaxationtechniques can reduce both of these problems. A student can be asked simply tosit quietly and engage in actual meditation for a few minutes to collect his or herthoughts. Meditation practice has the benefits of teaching children the self-discipline of sitting still, focusing the mind, achieving a quiet state, and being ableto achieve self-control through an inner-motivated, self-starting activity.Young children and adolescents need to learn structure, self-discipline, and howto work in a group. They need to learn a competitive spirit in an environment offair play and sportsmanship. As they mature, the child has to learn that his/herneeds cannot be met through throwing tantrums, hitting other people, orscreaming and yelling. Kids also have to learn how to follow instructions, leadothers, think on their own, focus their concentration, and strive for excellence.Other physical benefits that are seen in young Martial Art practitioners include ahealthier body, a more oxygenated brain, and a better processing of processedsugars and high-fat junk food.Also, a sustained commitment to martial arts practice (or any other sport) mayresult in the child and parent paying better overall attention to diet, sleeproutines, and daily schedules, leading to a healthier, happier, and morepredictable child.Muromoto3 and Fung4, both Martial Arts instructors and authors advocate theemphasis on these mental skills when training children instead of focusing on themartial /combative aspects. They state that a martial arts teacher should have abalanced set of criteria in which a young child is judged not just on physical skills,which will be limited by his age and physical maturity, but also on mental skillsacquired in training. Young5 takes it a step further by stating:“…And what are your goals for your child? Self-defense? A competent martialarts instructor will be well aware of the zero tolerance6 policies in force in mostpublic and private schools. He or she will teach "playground safe" tactics thatallow the child to disengage and seek help from the adults in authority. Avoid likethe plague any school that shows a small child stepping into a "fighting stance"2 Kata (literally: "form") is a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs. Kata areused in many traditional Japanese arts such as theater forms like kabuki and schools of tea ceremony (chadō), but are most commonly known forthe presence in the martial arts. Kata are used by most traditional Japanese and Okinawan martial arts.3 2
  3. 3. against a mature adult. Thats hype and so far from reality as to be laughable.Pay particular attention to curricula that emphasize awareness and avoidance. Akid will never, pound for pound, be able to fight off an adult. To believe so orallow a child to believe so is ridiculous. Children dont need to be taught how to"fight" (except for points and the joys of tourneys); they need to be taught to beaware of the surroundings, how to avoid or escape and where to go for help.Self-defense7 is vastly different than fighting8, and both are very different thanmartial arts9.”Fung states in his article that:“I’m aware that, especially in the make-your-child-feel-good-at-all-costsenvironment of the United States, a lot of little kids have been awarded "blackbelts." Well, although it should be obvious, a child black belt doesnt have nearthe skill level or experience or understanding of an adult trained by the sameteacher at the same school. Teachers are much less strict on their youngstudents than they are on adults, and thats as it should be. To teach a studenthow to fight, an instructor must be harsh, strict, and demanding. And the studenthas to learn how to tap into her killer instinct, to overcome any natural inhibitionshe might have about intentionally hurting someone. Because in the end, thatswhat defending yourself comes down to: hurting your attacker more than he canhurt you in as short a time as possible. Call me crazy, but I believe childrensimply shouldnt be taught how to think that way; theyll have plenty of time tolearn how to mean when they grow up, and they shouldnt have to learn how todefend themselves. Thats why they have parents and teachers and policeofficers. For a kid, karate class should be about exercise and fun, about learninghow to focus and how to set a goal and achieve it. Not how to maim and kill…Ibelieve children are innocent and sweet and adorable. But I also believe thatthey can be shockingly mean and nasty - yes, even your sweet little angel has anasty mean streak that can come out if provoked. And since children arentknown for impulse control, I dont think teaching them efficient, powerful ways tobe nasty is such a good idea…”Choosing a martial arts styleOne of the crucial features of the Martial Arts training is the type of martial artchosen, as well as the lesson plans of the instructor. It is important to rememberthat most martial arts were developed for survival. So, they tend to contain somedangerous or lethal techniques. Thus, an important thing to remember whenchoosing a style for your child is how effectively an art can be watered downwithout losing its essence. For instance, it is difficult to make striking arts such asMuay Thai and Wing Chun "kid-friendly." Theres no way to avoid teachingaggressive techniques in Muay Thai or Wing Chun. Also, a boxing program witha competition-oriented instructor will not provide the same experience as a Tai7 3
  4. 4. Chi instructor who emphasizes awareness of one’s actions and thoughts.Although both boxing and Tai Chi can be defined as martial arts, their histories,emphases, and other features are very different. Looking more specifically atkarate, a Kyokushin Kai karate class (which emphasizes full-contact sparring withbare knuckles) versus a Shotokan karate class (which places more emphasis onpersonal discipline and control than fighting). Binder’s excellent review10suggests that certain martial arts might lead to development of beneficialpsychological changes more quickly than others. If this is true, perhaps the morecomplex movements and foreign concepts involved in some martial arts producechanges more slowly. This distinction between a philosophical or societalapproach and a martial/combative approach to the lessons is a very importantissue.With the evolution of martial arts into combat systems like Krav Maga andcombat sports (Kickboxing, Submission Wrestling), many students may only betaught how to fight without lessons in the proper context for applying thesetechniques, something that is emphasized in more traditional martial art curricula.Studying an art without these philosophical/societal teachings is of littletherapeutic benefit (and arguably, detrimental to psychological health).SummaryThere is an abundance of empirical evidence over three decades that supportsanecdotal reports about the positive psychosocial benefits of martial artspractice. Only three studies report no changes promoted by martial arts training.One of these studies links this lack of change to training that emphasizes thephysical techniques of the arts without the ethical, moral, spiritual, or meditativecomponents included. Three reports make a similar conclusion about martial artsstudents who develop negative traits According to Binder’s study; a goal forfuture research will be to design experiments to determine which specific aspectsof the martial arts affect these positive changes.Despite the unanswered questions about how these changes occur, the martialarts are finding a niche in the treatment of psychological disorders. This is calledMartial Arts Therapy and it refers to the usage of martial arts as an alternative orcomplementary therapy for disorders of the body or of the mind. The therapy mayinvolve applications such as promoting kinesthetic balance in the elderly orimpaired, through Tai Chi Chuan, or reducing aggressiveness in specificpopulations This will likely prove to be a useful complement to verbal therapy,though we have very strong reservations about equating Martial Arts instructorswith medical professionals. This said it is gratifying to know that research isbeginning to support the claims of the old masters: the martial arts can helpdevelop both improve physical fitness, improve mental/spiritual health and maylead to a better, more peaceful society.10 4
  5. 5. ReferencesBinder, Brad (1999, 2007)Psychosocial Benefits of the Martial Arts: Myth or Reality? A Literature Review, Kent (2004)Children and the martial arts, Marc (?)Children in Martial Arts, Wayne (2003)Kids and Martial Arts,Abida (2003)An Awesome Alternative to Drugs:Martial Arts Practice As Treatment For Children With AD/HD 5