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.