'Martial Arts and the Mind', I explore what virtues can be developed in the fighting arts, in the right conditions, and with the right approach. A sample:
There are good sociological and historical reasons for dismissing the myth that philosophers are unphysical, and uninterested in combat. But nay-sayers may focus on ethics: fighting, goes the argument, is for vicious thugs, not virtuous sages. And philosophers are supposed to uphold ethical standards, lest their theories seem like empty verbiage. It is therefore a contradiction, as a philosopher, for me to enrol my children in Karate or Judo.
There is certainly evidence that some martial arts schools have vicious outcomes. In a longitudinal study for the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, for example, Endresen and Olweus concluded that arts like boxing and wrestling often increased violent and non-violent antisocial behaviour amongst young men. While this contradicts many notable anecdotal examples - boxers rescued from poverty and violence by the sweet science, for example - it is clear that some fight schools promote a macho outlook, which glorifies egoistic confrontation.
Nonetheless, other studies show exactly the opposite: the more years training in martial arts, the less aggression. In particular, those arts considered 'traditional' - a dubious label, given the older traditions of Muay Thai and Western boxing - are often morally educative. In Perceptual and Motor Skills, for example, Lamarre and Nosanchuk demonstrated that Judo lessons consistently left students less antisocial, and similar results have been given for Karate-do and its Korean kick-happy cousin, Tae Kwon Do. Certainly, this matches my own youth: despite all the lessons learning how to punch folks in the face, I was considerably less likely to do so after Karate than before.(Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)