Why We Do It

To people whose understanding of the martial arts comes from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and Jackie Chan movies, the idea that Taekwondo training can reduce aggressive behavior may seem counterintuitive. But Karate for Kids instructors have seen the beneficial effects of Taekwondo training on thousands of children, and a growing body of psychological evidence confirms their experience. In study after study, martial arts training is associated with diminished aggression, increased self-esteem, and a reduction in delinquent behavior.

A study of children enrolled in the American Taekwondo Association's Karate for Kids program found an inverse relationship between aggression and time in the program: As children advanced through the ranks, their aggressiveness (based on rankings by their parents) decreased. A separate study concluded that self-esteem increases as students advance in a martial arts program. And a cross-sectional study found an array of positive effects from Taekwondo training: improved self-esteem, lower anxiety, a heightened sense of responsibility and increased "social intelligence." Because low self-esteem is often a cause of aggressiveness, the authors of this last study suggested that martial arts training can reduce the latter by increasing the former. Furthermore, a review of the psychological literature concludes that martial arts programs are more effective than other physical activities at reducing aggression and hostility and increasing self-esteem, self-control and self-confidence.

Unsurprisingly, these beneficial effects of martial arts training have been found to decrease delinquent behavior. In a longitudinal study, children who exhibited several psychological risk factors upon entering a Taekwondo program were found to have increased self-esteem and decreased anxiety and aggressiveness after just six months. A year later, the students were less likely to be delinquent than those in the control group.