In Thailand, gang culture is a huge issue with many poor and disadvantaged young people, exposed to violence and crime from an early age, they offer the only realistic route to survival and a better life. But as we have reported in our Fight Club Thailand exclusive video, martial arts is now offering these young people the opportunity to learn how to control and channel their aggression and so become less violent members of society.
Fight Club Thailand aims to help people with the violence problems, they want anybody who is thinking about doing something violent to come to Fight Club Thailand first. They believe that they can help the society.
“If i die one thing I want is for Fight Club Thailand to carry on. This is because nobody has ever come with a weapon and nobody has ever had a fight afterwards. It’s a social event to make more friends,” said Fight Club Thailand founder, Beer.
For those of us who practice martial arts, it will come as no surprise to learn that martial arts do not make people violent. And now, new research has proved that in young people, the contrary is true.
A review of 12 academic papers, which was published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behaviour, looked at the effects martial arts training had on youths’ aggression, anger, and violence. It found that, in most cases, martial arts reduce the rate of physical and verbal aggression, theft and vandalism in subjects.
The papers that were included in the study looked at a range of martial arts including aikido, karate, taekwondo, and judo. They also took in students of all different age ranges and genders, with a total of 507 participants between the ages of 6 and 18 included. It found consistent results across all cohorts
The study found that the type of martial art being taught was almost immaterial as what mattered more than the martial arts skills themselves were the emotional skills that martial arts students could develop. “It does not appear to matter which specific martial arts are used,” the study wrote, “but rather the common themes of repetitive movements, controlled behaviours, and respect” are what deliver real benefits to the students.
Bruce Lee famously used to say that ‘emotion can be the enemy’ and a core part of almost all martial arts training is the ability to control your feelings and respond proportionately to situations. The various papers found that young people who learned martial arts quickly developed a much better ability to control their emotions and their responses to challenging situations.
Those familiar with martial arts could no doubt cite countless case studies to back up these theories. A recent example we highlighted here at JetLi.com is that of José Aldo, the two-time UFC featherweight champion from Brazil, who used Jiu-Jitsu to help him escape from a life of violence and crime.
Admirably, he is now committing time and resources into programmes which offer others youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds in Brazil the same opportunities he had through Jiu-Jitsu and Capoeira training.
These opportunities have the potential to make a huge difference. This study concluded that it didn’t even matter how long students spent studying martial arts as results could be seen in those subjected to even occasional classes.
Of the 12 papers that were looked at, just one (which examined judo) found that lessons could be found to increase aggressive behaviour in the young boys they were looking at. But according to the authors of the report, Anna Harwood and Michal Lavidor of Bar-Ilan University and Yuri Rassovsky of University of California, Los Angeles, this anomaly can probably be put down to the lack of meditation used in these particular classes.
The conclusion of the report makes for very interesting reading. They suggest that martial arts training could make a huge difference in helping youngsters considered ‘at risk’ or with behavioural problems to rehabilitate. They argue that juvenile delinquents and other kids from difficult backgrounds should be given access to free martial arts classes as most are unable to pay for classes themselves.
It is a compelling argument, and most martial arts fan would be quick to advocate any programme which opened up martial arts to training to new, young audiences. But even the authors themselves have admitted that more research is needed before funding for such a scheme is likely to be made available.
Anna Harwood told PsyPost that “This study shows that initial research is really promising. [But] martial arts has become a sport for those who can afford it. If we can show a real benefit then it will be easier to fund and introduce to the kids and adults who really need it.”
Harwood is continuing her research in this field as she works towards to a PhD on the subject. She has spent time working as a Psychology Assistant at a large prison in the UK and is hoping to introduce martial arts training into such an environment to help her build a body of evidence to support the theory. She also believes that martial arts training could have a significant long-term benefit for prisons and young offenders institutions and hopes to introduce it once there is enough evidence to support her arguments.
While there is still a lack of sufficient evidence, that which does exist is almost unanimous in its findings. Young people who study martial arts have better control of their emotions and are better able to manage challenging and potentially hostile situations, for example the Thailand Fight Club. Anyone who has worked in martial arts with young people will support this assertion. All we need now is for the academic world to catch up.