top of page

How Do Martial Arts Help Learning?

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Martial arts have a profoundly positive effect on behavioural patterns linked to learning and well-being. Here are 5 martial arts principles that you can apply to your education today.

Martial Arts Club with Teacher

If you have watched ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000), ‘The Karate Kid’ (2000) or 'The Matrix' (1999) you will have been captivated by the dynamic and intense martial art combat scenes. Martial arts refer to a variety of fighting techniques and sports with East Asian origin, influenced by Taoism and Zen Buddhism. Gaining rising status in the latter half of the 20th Century, with Judo and Taekwondo added to the Olympics in 1964 and 2000 respectively, each martial art is embedded in its history and culture.

Fuller and Lloyd’s (2020) study with over 500 participants on the impact of martial arts on communities within Europe and the US discovered that participating in martial arts has a profoundly positive effect on behavioural patterns linked to learning and well-being. To master a martial art is to engage with distinctive principles that bring focus to the mental and spiritual state of the practitioner.

Before you feel compelled to reach box splits and take out your adversaries with a chop-kick, here are 5 martial arts principles that you can apply to your learning today:

1) Mind-Body Connection

Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art developed in the 13th Century is practiced globally for its health benefits. Consisting of deep relaxation with soft, slow movements, Tai Chi addresses the relationship between Yin and Yang, oppositions that Confucianism and Taoism teach as making up the world. By dissolving the separation of Yin and Yang, Tai Chi generates a holistic approach to the mind and body.

To maximise your learning, you have to pay attention to your body as well as your mind! This means making time for physical exercise, eating well, stretching and maintaining good posture as these are all integral to ensuring your mind is on peak performance for processing information.

2) Beginning Again

Japanese martial arts such as Karate, a martial art that strikes with the hands and feet are highly influenced by Mahayana Buddhism. One principle of Mahayana Buddhism is the concept of ‘beginning again’ by emptying one’s mind, that means one questions pre-existing thought patterns, obtaining clarity.

So when you are working on that part of the syllabus that you thought you had already covered, a book you previously read for GCSE, or another attempt to understand World War II, try emptying your mind. You can do this using techniques such as focusing solely on your breathing for a period of time. This will make you curious and open-minded to new interpretations allowing you to think in unique and alternative ways.

3) Trusting your Teacher

Taekwondo training

Taekwondo is a Korean sport recognised for its acrobatic spinning kicks. More than its practitioners' ability to perform gravity-defying moves, a tenet of Taekwondo is to respect one’s seniors and instructor. With emphasis on the social dimension of learning, teachers ‘live their art’ and thus students learn by watching these role models.

Respect and courtesy for one’s teachers are crucial to making the most out of your education. Be inspired by your teacher’s experiences and use them as a role model for inspiring and planning your future educational goals, whether it be going to university or finally solving that algebraic formula.

4) Self-Discipline

Muay Thai, known as the ‘art of eight limbs’ is characterised by the use of fists, elbows, knees and shins. Popular throughout Thailand, its core value is discipline. To master Muay Thai involves a regime of training and conditioning enabling precise, intentional and effective fighting.

It’s no good approaching learning at the last minute with all-nighters and cramming the day before exams. Self-discipline means being intentional with your learning, planning and committing to your training and absorption over extended periods. Train hard, fight easy!

5) Community

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, developed in the 1920s, is a combat sport that features grappling and using one’s opponent’s weight against them. What is most significant about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the community that surrounds it. To train, practitioners must develop a trusting relationship with their peers to experiment and master the skill of overcoming an opponent, without putting each other in danger. Committing to the community generates a sense of inclusivity and self-efficacy. Likewise, education is not just a solo endeavour – we are all part of a community of learners!

To improve your learning, you need to surround yourself with people who are ready to support and learn with you which will in turn increase your confidence in your abilities.

Practising Poomsae together

What Next?

Each martial art is situated within its own historical and contextual setting, with 100s more than those mentioned here. If you have the opportunity, I recommend joining a local martial arts club or finding someone to teach you the basics of one of the martial arts discussed in this article.

If you don’t have a local club or you’re currently self-isolating, you can still apply these 5 principles of martial arts to your learning and everyday life. By enhancing mind-body connection, opening your mind, trusting your teacher, developing self-mastery and contributing to an education community (such as your school or university), you will, in turn, improve your confidence, focus and resilience all of which are integral to successful learning.

If you have any questions or want to think about these topics in more depth, feel free to reach out via Facebook or Twitter!

Blog Post Crafted by Sierra

Sierra studied a Research Masters in Social Anthropology at University College London following her undergraduate degree in Human, Social and Political Sciences at the University of Cambridge.

In her spare time, Sierra enjoys practising Taekwondo, Ballet and Rowing and learning as much as she can about the world.



bottom of page