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Martial Arts Training Improves Physical and Psychological Well-Being for All

[A martial arts school can be a community;] though like any community, you have to participate positively in order to benefit.

There is a growing body of research that demonstrate the cognitive and psychological benefits of martial arts education for people of all ages and abilities. Martial arts leads to improvement in executive functions such as self-control, organization, and planning. (1,2)

In children with sensory integration dysfunction and dyspraxia (these are essentially wiring problems in the brain where a person can’t process sensory signals efficiently and quickly), Taekwondo training has been shown to improve sensory organization and balance by creating new neural pathways. (3) School-based martial arts interventions showed improvements in all students over traditional PE in student health, conduct, mental math, and several areas of self-regulation (emotional, cognitive and physical).(4,5) Neurological gains are not limited to children; studies have shown that balance and cognitive function are also improved in people over the age of 40.(6,7) In addition, participants score lower in measures of aggression and neuroticism as well as higher in levels of confidence. (8)

There are many social benefits as well, one of which is addressed in my list’s top reasons “why TKD is better than soccer” and its implications for children and lifelong fitness. Childhood sports participation is now higher than ever, but this is not without its problems. Parents flit from activity to activity, often switching when they and/or their child “becomes bored.” There is no community among the participants, their families, and their instructors. There is no commitment unless a child happens to be extremely gifted at something, regardless of whether the child actually has a passion for the sport. Frequently a child can develop a passion for something in which they aren’t particularly talented, but this is ignored by parents and coaches alike as parents quest for the stand-out activity that will set their child apart and athletic organizations seek to create ever-more elite teams.

Where does this leave the rest of our kids? The kids who like to do sports recreationally but are academically driven or prefer tinkering with computers? The ones who keep trying despite not being the best? How about children and teens with developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder or neurological differences such as ADHD or Developmental Coordination Disorder.

(dyspraxia)? In typical team sports, these kids won’t even make the team, or if they do, they are relegated to the bench unless victory is clearly in the bag. They are ignored in training by the people who are supposed to teach them, and they can be subjected to teasing and bullying by their teammates (and sometimes their coaches). The problem just gets worse as children get older.

We wouldn’t accept this kind of behavior in an academic setting. Schools aren’t allowed to ignore the average and below-average students in favor of educating only the brightest, best-behaved students. Schools are prohibited by law from discriminating against people with developmental and learning disorders. We expect schools to help all children achieve their potential, whatever that may be.

What is the place of martial arts in America’s crazy childhood sports milieu, when schools are cutting physical education opportunities for the non-elite, and recreational and developmental-level sports are virtually nonexistent for children over the age of 8? Martial arts offers year-round training. No one rides the bench. Everyone is expected to perform to the best of their ability in class, and no one is derided for a lack of ability. Experienced students are expected to help newer students. The mixed-age classroom allows students to interact with peers of different ages and learn both leadership and patience as well as allowing for behavioral modeling. Everyone is expected to maintain a respectful, disciplined learning environment, and no behavioral exceptions are granted to the most elite students. As much attention is placed on a student’s moral development as on their athletic development. For these reasons, it is my belief that martial arts education should be incorporated into school physical education programs, and families as a whole would do well to pick up this sport!


1.Diamond, Adele. "Effects of Physical Exercise on Executive Functions: Going Beyond Simply Moving to Moving with Thought." Annals of Sports Medicine and Research 2.1 (2015): 1011. Web. <>.

2.Diamond, Adele, and Kathleen Lee. "Interventions Shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4–12 Years Old." Science 333.6045 (2011): 959-964. Web. <>.

3.Fong, SSM, WWN Tsang, and GYF Ng. "Taekwondo Training Improves Sensory Organization and Balance Control in Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: a Randomized Controlled Trial." Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33.1 (2012): 85-95. Web. <>.

4.Lakes, Kimberley D., and William T. Hoyt. "Promoting Self-regulation Through School-based Martial Arts Training."Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 25.3 (2004): 283-302. Web.

5.Lakes, Kimberley D., Tracy Bryars, Swetha Sirisinahal, Nimrah Salim, Sara Arastoo, Natasha Emmerson, Daniel Kang, Lois Shim, Doug Wong, and Chang Jin Kang. "The Healthy for Life Taekwondo Pilot Study: a Preliminary Evaluation of Effects on Executive Function and BMI, Feasibility, and Acceptability." Mental Health and Physical Acitivity 6.3 (2013): 181-188. Web. <>.

6.Van Dijk, G. Pons, A. F. Lenssen, P. Leffers, H. Kingma, and J. Lodder. "Taekwondo Training Improves Balance in Volunteers Over 40." Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 5.10 (2013): N. pag. Web. <>.

7.Van Dijk, Gaby Pons, Marjolein Huijts, and Jan Lodder. "Cognition Improvement in Taekwondo Novices over 40. Results from the SEKWONDO Study." Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 5(2013): N. pag. Web. <>.

8.Woodward, Thomas H. "A Review of the Effects of Martial Arts Practice on Health." Wisconsin Medical Journal(2009): N. pag. Web. <>.

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