Martial Arts: An Exciting Addition to the Physical Education Curriculum

Article excerpt

In recent years many elementary and secondary school physical educators have incorporated a variety of lifelong fitness activities into their curriculum. These individually oriented activities are both exciting and stimulating for their students, as well as nontraditional for physical education classes. Nowadays, climbing handholds are covering gym walls, kids are walking to school with roller blades draped over their shoulders, and field trips are utilizing mountain bikes and canoes. Although martial arts is one such activity that is often mentioned as a potential curriculum addition (Bycura & Darst, 2001; Kulinna & Krause, 2001), it is offered less frequently than many other activities. Martial arts can enhance students' health-related fitness, performance-related fitness, self-concept and esteem, and cognitive abilities. Many physical education professionals would include martial arts in their curriculum but feel inadequate to instruct the activity. It is hoped that this article will help physical educator s develop a sufficient comfort level with basic martial arts, so that they can include it in their curriculum and introduce their students to a beneficial lifelong activity.

Martial Arts in Society

Historically, "martial arts" referred to various combat systems that originated in Asia. Some of the most popular forms (e.g., karate, judo, tae kwon do and aikido) have been around for thousands of years, while others are relatively new. Farmers and villagers developed many of these systems to defend themselves from oppressive governments and feudal systems. In modern times, most martial arts are practiced as a form of physical fitness, sport, self-defense, and law enforcement preparation (Lawler, 1996; Mitchell, 1984).

Outside of physical education in American schools, the interest in martial arts has grown during the last two decades. Most communities have private martial art schools, and, because of its popularity, many fitness centers now offer kickboxing classes for health-conscious adults. In addition, instructional kickboxing videos can be found in most video stores. Furthermore, judo and tae kwon do, have become medal sports in the summer Olympics. Various martial art systems are also part of the physical education curriculum in several Asian countries.

Benefits of Martial Arts

Students can benefit tremendously from participating in martial arts. In physical education, the greatest emphasis is usually placed on improving various factors related to a student's psychomotor domain. However, practicing martial arts can also enhance aspects of the affective domain.

Physical educators should be particularly interested in the fitness benefits that participation in martial arts provides. Toskovic, Blessing, and Williford (2002) had adults participate in an exercise program that incorporated tae kwon do and found that the subjects improved their cardiovascular conditioning, weight control, and fat loss. Studies involving children and adolescents participating in martial arts have shown improvements in their muscular strength (Falk & Mor, 1996), flexibility and balance (Violan, Small, Zetaruk, & Micheli, 1997), and anaerobic power and capacity (Melhim, 2001).

Participation in martial art programs has also enhanced various positive psychosocial variables while reducing some negative factors. Weiser, Kutz, Kutz, and Weiser (1995) suggest that psychological literature regards the martial arts as a comprehensive approach to both physical and mental health. In an earlier review of literature, Fuller (1988) concluded that "some martial arts possess qualities which do sustain psychological health or promote circumscribed personal change in their practitioners in a socially desirable direction" (p. 327). A recent study indicated that young adults participating in a tae kwon do program significantly improved their tension, depression, and anger scores (Toskovic, 2001). …