Sunday, July 8, 2012

Young males, violence and martial arts

The author as a teen, about to receive
a lesson in humility
I've a column in the Sunday Age today, 'Why karate kids are less likely to grow up to be violent men'.

Having returned from the Martial Arts and Philosophy conference in Nova Scotia, Canada, I'm once again affirming the ethical virtues of martial arts practice.  A sample:
Research on children and adults shows that the so-called ''traditional'' fighting crafts, such as judo and karate, leave students less aggressive. It's not simply that pacifists choose Asian courtesy over swinging fists - this isn't just selection bias. The longer students train, the more pro-social they become. Other studies have demonstrated links between martial arts and increased confidence and school grades, alongside the more obvious improvements in health and fitness.  
The precise mechanisms aren't clear, but scholars Nosanchuk and MacNeil suggest some key traits of the traditional martial arts school: authority figures; forms practice; and continual reference to ethical principles. 
Good role models exhibit physical and moral virtues: strong and skilled, but also prudent, patient, temperate, generous. The forms, somewhere between military drill, meditation and dance, take physical energy and sublimate it into restraint and grace instead of mere brutality. The ethical principles encourage reflection, and make one's social duties and responsibilities clear.  
But fighting is also important. It can reveal one's physical limitations and build humility alongside resilience. Perhaps most importantly, it allows one to better understand one's own emotions: fear and rage, for example. In this way, young men are able to be aggressive and competitive but in a safe environment.

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