The calming effect of the kick: Martial arts as an aggression-reduction intervention for youths.
Updated: Jan 26, 2021
The calming effect of the kick: Can martial arts be used as an aggression-reduction intervention for young people?
In a word: Yes!
Harwood, A., Lavidor, M., & Rassovsky, Y. (2017). Reducing aggression with martial arts: A meta-analysis of child and youth studies. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 34, 96-101. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2017.03.001
What did the meta-analysis look into?
This meta-analysis investigated whether traditional martial arts classes (karate, aikido, judo, taekwondo, and kempo) have the potential to reduce aggression in young people, aged 6 to 18. The classes took place at schools, hospitals, martial arts clubs, or youth centres, with an intensity that ranged between two and a half weeks training (daily), and 10 months of training (3 times per week). Before the martial arts training, the young martial artists exhibited various forms of verbal and physical aggression, spanning from disobedience and defiance, to more serious delinquent activities that resulted into arrest and incarceration. The meta-analysis synthesized evidence from 12 studies (4 of which were experimental), including 507 young people from Italy, India, Canada and the USA.
Did the evidence suggest that martial arts classes reduced aggression?
Yes! The meta-analysis found that martial arts training reduced aggressive behaviours across all young populations. This was regardless of the particular martial art, the duration of the training, and the location of the practice. Predictably, the longest training (10 months) reduced aggression the most.
The take-home message
Traditional martial arts can reduce verbal and physical aggression in young people. The type of martial art does not seem to matter but the longer it is practiced, the greater the calming effect. The mechanisms thought to reduce aggression are the same across traditional martial arts and include repetitive movements, continued eye contact with the “opponent”, controlled behaviours, and a requirement for compliance and respect to the teacher and class.