Do martial arts have a future in academia?

By Edmund Wong

The influence of martial arts may expand in the near future, with many programs and martial arts institutions pushing for school-based martial arts training as extracurricular activities or competition sports.

Martial arts centers have begun to collaborate with public schools in creating student-friendly martial arts programs.  In Gilbert, Arizona Best Karate is working with more than 16 different elementary schools to create traditional and proper programs for students, according to its website.

But what is the true reach of this movement?

According to Arizona Best Karate, teaching students martial arts is more than just kicking and punching; the organizations wants to instill respect and discipline within the students.

There are many possible ways to implement martial arts programs in schools.  The programs could take the form of clubs, physical education courses, or school-sponsored teams and competitions.  During the 2011-2012 school year at NDP, students created a martial arts club that was short-lived because the club creator, Milo Charbel, transferred to Brophy the following year.  The school also has an AIA wrestling team, which is considered a martial art because of its historical military applicability and self-defense training.

Biology teacher Christopher Johnson expressed his opinion on school-sponsored martial arts.  Johnson was a wrestling coach and studies jujitsu.

“I am completely for it,” Johnson said. “If we can have wrestling teams, why not have taekwondo or karate?”

Johnson also said that he believes society has been shying away from personally challenging sports and has “started to become soft.” He said he feels that having martial arts in school can fix that problem.  He defined personally challenging sports as “sports that force people to focus on themselves and accept full responsibility for their performances, as opposed to relying on teams.”

Johnson said that there are various academic benefits to implementing martial arts into school curriculum.

“There is a chance for personal growth through the challenges of one-on-one competition,” he said. “Kids can develop self-control, and there is always something to be learned.”

Johnson also acknowledged certain harmful effects are possible, such as physical injury and the promotion of violence.  However, he provided a counterargument for the latter.

“Martial arts as a whole does not promote violence,” he said. “Like any physical sport, an athlete just needs to have a good coach in order to promote the proper mindset.”

As to whether this movement would be accepted into NDP curriculum, Johnson said he didn’t see why not if enough students expressed their interest.

Senior Christopher Scott, who has never participated in martial arts in his life, said, “I am very supportive of martial arts. It is a rough sport, but I do think that it is a great way to stay in shape and gain strength.”

With regards to martial arts studies in academic schools, Scott said that he thinks “that would be cool.”

“It would be a great way for kids to stay in shape and even let go for a little bit,” he said. “I would be very willing to try it. It has always interested me, and I’ve always thought there is a lot to be gained from it.”

However, not all students are of the same mindset.  Senior Shauna Rocha studied taekwondo for eight years, but said she does not support school-based martial arts.

“I don’t think students would take it very seriously,” Rocha said. “I feel it would become more of a sport rather than an art.”

As of now, however, there does not seem to be any sights of traditional martial arts in Notre Dame Prep’s future.  Brenda Beers, Activities Director, said that no one has approached her about restarting a martial arts club or team since the dissipation of the original one.

As for the possible effects of having students train in martial arts during school, Johnson said that he thinks it has the potential for being a positive influence.

“Having students participate in sanctioned martial arts can be very beneficial,” Johnson said. “It is a good way to relieve stress and constructively transfer aggression.  It can also help students learn more self-control and respect.”