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Why martial arts?

While martial arts were developed primarily for physical protection, research suggests that these methodologies can be beneficial for enhancing psychological well-being, improving social interaction, managing stress, and promoting executive functioning

What are martial arts? 

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"Martial arts" is a heterogenic collection of practices that have been developed and practiced all around the world, and especially across East Asia, initially with a focus on physical preservation. With time, other elements percolated into these practices, including philosophical concepts, tradition, religion, and others.

Nowadays, we can distinguish between combative, sportive, and recreational practices, each has a defined purpose, and accordingly, distinctive methodologies. For example, While Krav Maga emphasizes real-life self-defense, Judo focuses on safe submission techniques, and Tai-Chi on mindful movement and breathing dynamics.

Martial arts as a therapy

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Next to physical benefits, a growing body of research suggests that martial arts practice has several psychological benefits, and may offer an effective therapeutic option. Some of the associated behavioral outcomes include positively impacting emotional regulation, decreasing aggression and anxiety, improving social-psychological outcomes, and promoting executive functioning in children with ASD. Some of this research can be found in the below reference list.

Importantly, understanding the relevant martial arts principles and concepts is crucial for using these practices in a therapeutic context.

References (partial list)

  • Croom, A. M. (2014). Embodying martial arts for mental health: Cultivating psychological well-being with martial arts practice. ARCHIVES OF BUDO SCIENCE OF MARTIAL ARTS AND EXTREME SPORTS, 10, 59–70. 

  • Giordano, G., Gómez-López, M., & Alesi, M. (2021). Sports, executive functions and academic performance: a comparison between martial arts, team sports, and sedentary children. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(22). 

  • Harwood-Gross, A., Lambez, B., Feldman, R., Zagoory-Sharon, O., & Rassovsky, Y. (2021). The Effect of Martial Arts Training on Cognitive and Psychological Functions in At-Risk Youths. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 9. 

  • Marusak, H. A., Borg, B., Morales, A., Carrington Smith, J., Blankenship, K., Allen, J. L., Goldberg, E., & Bluth, M. H. (2022). Martial Arts-Based Curriculum Reduces Stress, Emotional, and Behavioral Problems in Elementary Schoolchildren During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Pilot Study. Mind, Brain, and Education, 16(1), 5–12. 

  • Moore, B., Dudley, D., & Woodcock, S. (2023). The Effects of a Martial Arts-Based Intervention on Secondary School Students’ Self-Efficacy: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Philosophies 2023, Vol. 8, Page 43, 8(3), 43. 

  • Oulanova, O. (2009). Healing through the martial way: Incorporating karate training into counselling and psychotherapy. Http://Dx.Doi.Org/10.1080/17432970802097978, 4(1), 45–57. 

  • Pinto-Escalona, T., Gobbi, E., Valenzuela, P. L., Bennett, S. J., Aschieri, P., Martin-Loeches, M., Paoli, A., & Martinez-de-Quel, O. (2021). Effects of a school-based karate intervention on academic achievement, psychosocial functioning, and physical fitness: A multi-country cluster randomized controlled trial. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 

  • Schöne, M., Seidenbecher, S., Tozzi, L., Kaufmann, J., Griep, H., Fenker, D., Frodl, T., Bogerts, B., & Schiltz, K. (2019). Neurobiological correlates of violence perception in martial artists. Brain and Behavior, 9(5). 

  • View of Martial Arts Training and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Synergistic Approach to Mental Health. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2023, from

  • Woodward, T. W. (2009). A review of the Effects of Martial arts practice on Health. Wisconsin Medical Journal, 108(1).

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