Columbine, Sandy Hook, Phoebe Prince are names that embody modern-day issues school administrators face and are trying to address. Because of the public outcry and publicity surrounding these events, educators are scrambling for and implementing programs that moderate mental health issues, reduce bullying, and improve academic outcomes. However, these programs are prone to failure because they do not take a holistic approach to the cause of these difficulties.
As an alternative, traditional martial arts training can be an efficient and proactive tool to address the origin of these problems. Contrary to movie portrayals in which martial artists are sometimes depicted as violent, aggressive criminals; traditional martial artists base their training goals on mental and physical enrichment as a means to avoid conflict. As such, implementation of a traditional martial arts program in public schools is a proactive approach for reducing student bullying and violence, improving mental health, and raising academic performance.
In the past, typical concerns that school officials faced could be addressed through educationally based programs geared toward deterring aberrant behavior (Youth in the 1980s: Social and health concerns. 1985, p. M-349). These educational programs consisted of pamphlets or peer pressure tactics that were geared towards altering specific behaviors, such as smoking. While these programs may have met with some success in addressing the individual issues, that success does not translate into resolving modern problems.
While bullying, violence, mental health, and academic issues were present in the past, overall anxiety levels expressed over these issues has grown steadily over the years, possibly fueled by media attention. Because of this trend, schools are no longer able to address issues with educational materials alone. However, school administrators continue to react with educational recovery efforts, rather than proactively addressing issues through early and lifelong preventative measures. Therefore, new strategies need to be developed that proactively address the underlying causes.
Traditional martial arts offer lifelong proactive approaches with positive impacts on bullying, violence, mental health, and academics. Bullying has become one of the top issues that schools struggle with today. The National Center for Education Statistics reports “22% of children age 12-18 report [being] bullied at school” (Robers, Zhang, Anlan, Morgan, Rachel, & Musu-Gillette, 2015, p. vi). While this statistic is alarming, it does not relate the whole story. In the modern age of technology, bullying no longer remains on the schoolyard.
Cell phones and computers have enabled bullies to continue the behaviors through texts, phone calls, and online social media. News reports demonstrate many instances of this growing issue. One such case was Phoebe Prince, who, in 2010 was so distraught and helpless in the face of unrelenting harassment that she hung herself in her South Hadley home (McCabe, 2010). This tragedy, which is one of many recent examples, may not have happened if Phoebe or her tormentors had learned enduring preventative skills, such as meditation, conflict resolution, and self-defense.
Whereas bullying comes about through the enhancement of differences, marital arts levels the playing field and encourages behaviors with lasting implications for prevention and elimination of bullying within the school. When looking at ways to address the problem of bullying, one must start with a definition of the problem and prevention techniques. Bullying is either physical or social, and prevention occurs from early intervention involving meditation, conflict resolution, assertiveness training, and frequent and repetitive instruction (Levine & Tamburrino, 2014, p. 76). Training in martial arts encourages students in all of these critical areas. Specifically, a typical class will begin and end with meditation, followed by rote calisthenics, and repetition of basic blocking and punching techniques. The daily reiteration of these elementary points provides a foundation for the prevention of bullying. By receiving repetitive instruction, the student’s mind is trained to behave in a way that is not reactive, yet assertive.
Therefore, the bully’s victim becomes more confident in preventing the bullying, yet remains in a present state of mind enough to resolve the conflict peacefully. On the other hand, because students are placed together and working towards a common goal, differences are minimized, which would naturally remove the origin of bullying, further preventing the issue. A close relative of bullying, violence on the school grounds has gained widespread media attention with the shift from isolated incidents to mass killings, such as Columbine and Sandy Hook.
While the overall statistic of violence on the school grounds has decreased in the last decade, Robers et al. found, “Seventy-four percent of schools have recorded one or more violent incidents of crime (a rate of 25 crimes per 1,000 students enrolled)” (2015, p. 28). Indicating the issue is more widespread and affecting more communities than in the past. One only needs to remember the events of Columbine High School and the quiet community of Littleton, Colorado to recognize the necessity of early preventative measures.
According to Ziaee, Lotfian, Amini, Mansournia, Mohammad Ali, and Memari (2012, p. 12), adolescent karateka showed lower levels of anger and greater anger control when compared to persons who do not participate in athletics. This anger regulation comes from learning a series of movements against an imaginary opponent, called kata. These kata are repeatedly practiced until the student has demonstrated proper regulation and mastery of the movements; only then is the student allowed to learn the next kata.
Additionally, students receive constant reminders that they must avoid conflict, and utilize aggressive actions only when someone’s life is in grave danger. By providing martial arts training, students gain valuable skills in meditation, conflict resolution, and self-defense. This training proactively prepares them with skills that make them less likely to be impacted by bullying or violent behaviors. Similarly, potential perpetrators are taught skills that have been demonstrated to mitigate anger and aggression, therefore, proactively addressing the cause for these behaviors.