Martial Arts in Education
Martial Arts have been linked to education since the demilitarization of the arts began in the early 20th century. It was quickly recognized that the adults who had participated without serious injury and the few children reared in family martial arts styles were healthier, happier, and more accomplished in their lives than those around them who had no training. In many Asian countries, martial arts became immediately tied to education, being compulsory in schools, or considered an important developmental activity to anyone who had the funds to hire a good teacher for their family. There is a great deal more to be said about how martial arts were adapted over the last hundred years to be suitable for children, but I will sum it up by saying that as the goal of martial arts became personal enrichment, all the arts were culled for those pieces that would best suit developing minds and bodies.
Recent studies show a great deal of benefit from the traditional martial arts for children, ranging from higher test scores in all areas, to self confidence and discipline, to improved socialization and respect for others. This has only been observed in martial arts that emphasize philosophy, perfection of technique, and take their time reaching black belt. Arts that focus on competition and quick rank achievement show improved confidence, and a smaller improvement in test scores, but increased aggression and anxiety, and decreased socialization and respect for others.
There have been several attempts to explain these benefits and measure which parts of the activity are the most helpful. Some findings include:
- Self analysis - Students must grow increasingly aware of their body's position and movement. This awareness is constantly and increasingly challenged over time until they have developed heightened balance, coordination, and spatial awareness. They also are ingrained with the concept that all work, even when superior, can be refined to new levels of improvement.
- Grit - Success in life has been tied more than any other trait to the ability to keep trying when challenged, look for new solutions when hitting a dead end, and never considering that a setback means the end. Because martial arts scale to create new mental and physical challenges at every level, success requires students to develop grit. A martial artist sees failure as a brief, re-focusing moment that happens right before they start trying again. Moreover, once a student realizes that their hard work breaks down barriers, they will push to see how many other barriers they can overcome.
- Philosophy - While most ancient martial arts were created for combat, a few tied their practices with religion and ethical behavior. With the modern age pointing towards personal development instead of warfare, philosophy became an integral part of training. Studies measuring the positive benefits of martial arts comparing simple exercise, martial arts exercise with technical expertise, and martial arts with moral and philosophical teaching find that the optimal results cannot be achieved without philosophy. Tying the mind, body, and spirit together is at the root of this discipline's impact on the individual.
- Greater excitement - Often the child will be more interested in the martial arts than the other challenges that they're presented with and will show greatly increased focus and retention which begins to cross over to other areas of their lives.
- Lack of guaranteed advancement - Since only increased ability, positive and respectful attitudes, and a willingness to keep trying will result in promotion and reward, some children will move more quickly through the ranks. When those who are (for instance) not applying themselves see those who are progress past them, it forces them to analyze their own behavior and activity and self-correct. When their increased efforts immediately result in recognition, they can see the positive effect of their self-analysis and correction.
- No second standard - Particularly helpful for children who have had health or mental difficulties in life. These children have become used to being protected, given an easier standard, and being able to say "I can't." While it gives them shelter to develop, it also undermines their belief in their own abilities when they know that their accomplishments are measured differently. Martial arts has no second standard so even if it takes them longer, they know that their accomplishment is real, and this is sometimes the first time they've felt this, leading to a breakthrough.
- Physicality and Channeling - Many children (especially boys) suffer from a lack of movement throughout the school day and a vilification of their instincts to compete and be aggressive. Martial arts label, discuss, and challenge these instincts instead of hiding from them. Competition becomes an internal exercise to continue developing oneself and those around them, learning from and appreciating the qualities of classmates and students from other schools and disciplines instead of feeling threatened by them. Aggression is tuned to a placid force that fuels beautiful movement and precision. A martial artist grows into the practice of answering conflict, threat, and tense situations with calm, self -control, and practiced awareness instead of a loss of control and violence.