Taekwondo was originally developed to preserve life and for self-defense, but today, adults and children have many reasons for wanting to train in Taekwondo. Some want to learn self-defense, others want to fight in tournaments, some seek to become physically fit, some seek the social interaction, while others just want to have fun. Whatever the reason for learning, people will find others just like them studying Taekwondo for the same reason. Modern Taekwondo has developed proven teaching methods that not only help people learn Taekwondo quickly and easily, but also provide a wide range of benefits for students of all ages.
Social interaction gained through Taekwondo training has been found to be a buffer against the stresses of life for adults, and, with long-term continued practice, it fosters greater independence. With progressive training, children become more enthusiastic, optimistic, and self-reliant. Many anecdotal reports from parents tell how their children, both males and females, do better at home and at school, both behaviorally and academically.
Taekwondo practitioners seek to develop an appreciation for the martial art, achieve physical fitness, improve mental discipline and emotional stability, develop self-defense skills, and to develop respect and responsibility. Taekwondo helps practitioners develop balance and harmony between their physical and moral selves. It stresses responsibility to self, family, community, and to society.
Self-defense is an important benefit of Taekwondo. Self-defense is not just using defenses and counterattacks against attackers. It is the ability to prevent injury to oneself or others from attackers. This includes learning to fall safely, to communicate with aggressors, and to escape from violent situations. Self-defense is not just concerned with physically dealing with violence; it is mostly concerned with avoiding becoming a victim of violence.
The physical benefits of Taekwondo include improvements in coordination, agility, flexibility, balance, muscular strength, and endurance. Taekwondo promotes a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy mixture of nutrition, training, and rest. Physical development also helps develop self-confidence.
Self-confidence is based on self-improvement, as opposed to confidence based on the ability to perform a task. This type of self-confidence does not come from being a winner in competition; it comes from the feelings of self-worth that are derived from improving oneself. Belt advancement provides a means to document personal achievement. Advancement requires setting a goal and working toward its attainment, which builds confidence and a feeling of self-worth.
Training in Taekwondo increases one's self-concept (the beliefs that you have about yourself, as opposed to understanding who you are via other people's opinions of you). For instance, it has been found that women training in Taekwondo have a greater physical, personal, social, identity, and satisfaction self-concept. Students who are more self-confident and compete in Taekwondo tournaments are more likely to win their bouts.
The moral benefits of Taekwondo include development of good character, self-control, and a non-violent attitude. Taekwondo stresses showing respect for oneself, fellow students, instructors, parents, elders, and members of the public. Achieving proficiency in Taekwondo techniques demands patience, perseverance, and a desire for perfection.
Humility is a quality of all serious Taekwondo students. Although practicing Taekwondo boosts self-confidence, this does not convey a false sense of superiority. On the contrary, a good student should be humble and considerate. Taekwondo practitioners have the highest regard for the morality and ethics of Taekwondo.
Psychologically, Taekwondo reduces tension and anxiety by teaching students to control aggression and by giving them a healthy way to vent hostility and frustration. Taekwondo is a psychological leveler. Students with quick, hot tempers learn to control their emotions. Students who are meek and mild learn to be more assertive when needed. The following are possible ways Taekwondo may affect the psychologies of students:
Personality factors may cause people to select and participate in a particular sport. People tend to choose sports that most suit their personality. Beginner and advanced Taekwondo students will exhibit similar personalities.
There may be no similarities of personality for choosing a particular sport, but either personality changes or loss of non-desirable personality traits means that only those with suitable psychologies remain and are successful. In this respect, choosing Taekwondo as a sport may be random, but either Taekwondo changes your personality or only students with suitable personalities will keep training. This means beginners may not show similar personality traits, but advanced students tend to have similar traits.
The choice of a sport is random, and the sport may not have any effect. In this case, Taekwondo may have no effect on the personalities of the students and neither beginners nor advanced students show any pattern in their personalities.
Those entering a sport may show similar personalities, but changes and attrition may cause the pattern to become non-discriminating. In this case, students may choose Taekwondo because it suits their personality, but changes and dropouts will be random, so beginners will show a similar pattern of personality while advanced students will not.
A 1967 study by Kroll and Carlson, Discriminant function and hierarchical grouping analysis of karate participants' personality profiles, in Research Quarterly, noted that combat sports may provide a chance to display prowess or masculinity, to develop self-confidence, release tension, and reduce aggression. Karate (Taekwondo) is suggested as having several advantages as a combat physical education system in that:
- Women may participate.
- As method of self-defense, it may be considered superior to amateur boxing or wrestling.
- It effectively develops certain muscular strengths.
- Emphasis on wholesome character attributes and etiquette help reduce asocial tendencies.
Taekwondo develops leadership qualities. As students increase in rank, they are required to take on more responsibilities in class and they begin teaching new students. When they reach black belt level, they may be required to teach classes and direct students. During camps, they are required to lead group of students and be responsible for their actions.
Taekwondo is an artistic discipline that allows artistic expression. There are strict standards for the performance of techniques but there is still some latitude for self-expression. Although patterns (prearranged series of movements and actions) and specific striking and defensive techniques must be performed in specific ways, students have some leeway to perform them in ways that express their individuality. Taekwondo movements and techniques express beauty and grace and allow students to strive continuously to develop and improve their artistic presentation.
Taekwondo may help control juvenile delinquency. Studies have shown it lessens aggression, lessens anxiety, increases self-esteem, increases social adroitness (improved social skills), and increases in value orthodoxy (greater awareness of moral and social obligation.
Taekwondo demands self-discipline, mental concentration, and alertness. Correct technical execution of techniques requires rhythm, timing, balance, power, proper form, and proper breathing. To achieve this, students must develop disciple; stay focused, and ignore distractions. Students learn that self-discipline means doing things the right way and that being undisciplined means looking for the easy way out. Students are encouraged to practice self-discipline in all areas of their lives.
Taekwondo is an educational experience. Students learn about their own abilities and limitations and how to deal with those limitations. Students learn to relate with people of all ages from various socioeconomic, ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds through their training in Taekwondo. Students also learn the philosophy of Taekwondo and a limited amount Korean history, culture, and language.
A 2003 study has found that children who jump everyday increase their bone density, which may help prevent bone loss later in life. When a child jumps, the bones flex, which triggers them to increase their density. The study found that children who jump five times three times a day had a significant increase in bone density. Therefore, when children are doing jumping jacks in Taekwondo class and are practicing jump kicks, they are getting stronger and perfecting their techniques but they are also helping prevent bone loss in the later years of their lives.
A study in the April 2004 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that a dynamic martial arts workout is just as effect as any other balanced workout. The study compared nine people who worked out twice a week in Soo Bahk Do with nine sedentary people of similar ages, blood pressure, and resting heart rates. The martial artists had markedly better strength, flexibility, balance, and aerobic capacity. The martial artists could do twice and many sit-ups and three times as many pushups as the sedentary group. The sedentary group had 12 percent more body fat and could hold their balance an average of only 26 seconds compared to the 62 seconds of the martial artists.
A study in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience found that active mice, genetically bred to develop Alzheimer's disease, were far less likely than their sedentary counterparts to develop plaque deposits in the brain, a common "marker" of Alzheimer's. Another study in the September 2005 issue of the same journal found that running greatly stimulated neurogenesis, the production of new brain cells, in older mice.
An October 2005 paper published in by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that those who engaged in robust physical activity at least twice a week since their youth or middle age had a 50 percent lower chance of developing dementia and a 60 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's than those who were sedentary.
We all know that the mind has a lot of control over the body, but the body also has a great influence on the mind. Since physical sports affect the body, then it follows that participation in sports affect mood and even behavior. Taekwondo training may have an effect on bettering one's mood.
A 1998 study by Berger and Owen, Stress Reduction and Mood Enhancement in Four Exercise Modes: Swimming, Body Conditioning, Hatha Yoga and Fencing, in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, looked at the effects of swimming, body conditioning (weight lifting and running), hatha yoga (an eastern, non-martial art) and fencing (a non-eastern, combat art) on stress reduction. They concentrated on aspects of exercise that were thought to best provide psychological benefits, especially stress reduction, such as:
- Non-competitive aspect, (competition was assumed to be inherently stressful).
- Predicable elements, (so exerciser may tune out environment).
- Rhythmical nature (to encourage the mind to wander).
The last two aspects help reduce stress by providing a "time out" for the mind. Hobbies and exercise reduce anxiety and depression. Anger and fatigue are decreased only with exercise.
Other aspects of physical activities that reduce stress include:
- Frequency. Since benefits from exercise are usually short term, one must exercise regularly.
- Intensity. Keep it moderate.
- Duration. At least 20 to 30 minutes.
- The activity should be enjoyable since one is not likely to exercise if it is distasteful, and doing something you do not enjoy is not relaxing.
The study found no long-term effects on mood but found that both low and high intensity exercise improved short-term mood. Swimming showed little effect on mood, but the authors noted that swimmers were in a good mood before their exercise period began, thus masking any mood improvements.
Body conditioning exercise served to increase feelings of fatigue, with no other mood effects. The authors speculate that this may have been due to the stress being intense. The running used was interval training, a series of short, fast runs at 90% of maximal heart rate, rather than a long, slow runs. Long, slow running has been shown to provide stress relief. Weight lifting has also been shown to enhance self-concept and lower stress.
Yoga teaches breathing awareness, self-regulation, conscious relaxation of muscles, and an internal awareness; skills common to many stress reduction programs. The study showed that yoga was, from the first class, a good method of reducing stress, so it would seem that there is no need for long practice of the skills before seeing the benefits. Since fencing satisfied none of the main criteria for stress reduction, the researchers did not expect it to influence mood and, in fact, few effects were seen, but students did show more vigor after their classes. Taekwondo classes that stress abdominal breathing and are noncompetitive, predictable, and rhythmical tend to reduce stress.
Richman and Rehberg, in a 1986 study, The Development of Self-esteem Through the Martial Arts, in International Journal of Sports Psychology, examined self-esteem before a sport karate tournament and the effect of winning a trophy during the competition. Students were grouped into beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert groups. Beginners showed lower self-esteem than the other three groups while the other three were not significantly different from each other. When compared to members within their own school, self-esteem was related to self-perception, but not to self-ratings of sportsmanship or discipline. The authors concluded that 1-2 months of karate training was enough to raise self-esteem. Measures on the groups that trained for longer periods showed no changes in this measure. The self-perception of ability was related to self-esteem. Self-perception of physical condition and self-discipline were also important to self-esteem, and self-esteem predicted performance. The study found that Karate students have a realistic appreciation of their own abilities, and that possession of these abilities is related to their self-esteem. Training in Karate does not seem to result in unrealistic appraisals of one's abilities.
A 1990 study by Ozer and Bandura, Mechanisms Governing Empowerment Effects: A Self-Efficacy Analysis, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, looked at the concept of perceived self-efficacy. They found that self-esteem was related to self-discipline and that trophy winners had greater self-esteem before the competition than did non-winners. Reciprocal inhibition therapy is using a calming activity that evokes a response inhibitory to anxiety at the same time as an anxiety evoking stimulus is presented to the patient. This linkage of stimuli weakens the bond between the anxiety producing stimulus and the buildup of anxiety.
A 1971 study by Gershman and Stedman, Oriental Defense Exercises as Reciprocal Inhibitors of Anxiety, in the Journal of Behavioral Therapy, found that Kung-fu exercises took the claustrophobic subject's anxiety levels to a rating of 0 in less than 1 minute. Graduated exposure to confined spaces while doing Kung-fu exercises allowed the subject to experience a fast recovery from claustrophobia, and remain comfortable at 6 months after the treatment. In the second case, the researchers linked Karate exercises and flying, reducing the subject's anxiety levels to zero in 2 sessions. This approach was taken after trying relaxation techniques that were deemed to be too slow. Again, 6 months after treatment, the subject remained well.
A 1990 study, Finkenberg, Effect of Participation in Taekwondo on College Women's Self-concept, in Perceptual and Motor Skills, compared women in Taekwondo classes to women in general health classes (the control) using the Tennessee Self-Concept Scale. Compared to the control, consumer health class, the Taekwondo class showed no difference on self-criticism, moral-ethical measures, family values or behavior. The Taekwondo class did show higher self-concept also showed higher physical, personal, social identity, and satisfaction self-concept than did the controls. The Taekwondo class seemed to improve self-concept without affecting other social values and behaviors.
A study at Indiana University in Bloomington showed that four hours of lifestyle activities a day, such as vacuuming and walking your dog, may significantly lower you blood pressure.
A study at Leeds Metropolitan University in Britain revealed that engaging in physical activity during your lunch hour may improve your mood and productivity.
Paul Adlard at the University of California at Irvine found that mice who exercised in a running wheel developed less plaque, the precursor for Alzheimer's.
Research at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found that people who work out regularly cut their chances of developing gum disease by 40%.
Researchers at the University of Texas Southeastern Medical Center found that 30 minutes if aerobic activity 3 times a week reduced moderate depressive symptoms by about 50%.
What specific aspects of martial arts training bring about these changes?
While it may be argued that what we get out of the martial arts is what we bring into the training, it is also possible that martial arts training makes us grow beyond what we bring. Some studies have tried to demonstrate the importance of class content on the changes observed in subjects. One study evaluated students from traditional martial arts schools (emphasis on meditation, respect, light-contact sparring, and patterns) and students from modern martial arts schools (limited meditation, respect not stressed, heavy contact sparring, and little emphasis on patterns). Beginning students in both traditional and modern schools had similar scores but advanced students in the traditional schools showed lower scores for aggression than beginning students while there was no change in the scores for advanced modern students. Another study found that both traditional and modern styles of training led to improvements in general mental health but that traditional students showed significant increases in scores for self-acceptance that were not reported for the modern students. Most research supports the hypothesis that the training environment and style of instruction influence these differences.
These findings suggest that martial arts should be much more than just kicks and punches. The training environment and/or the instructor influence whether or not positive psychosocial changes occur in martial artists, so, whether these changes occur or not is impossible to predict since there are many differences between martial arts classes, instructors, and teaching methods.
Are these claimed benefits any different from those that gained from other sports activities?
Martial arts are similar to other physical activities in that they include physical activity, physical fitness, skills acquisition, and social activity. However, there are also differences. Most sports emphasize competition and winning, while the martial arts traditionally emphasize self-knowledge, self-improvement, and self-control that are gained through ethical teachings, ceremony, ritual, emphasis on integration of mind and body, and meditation. Some studies have shown that these non-physical aspects of the martial arts have a unique influence on the long-term, psychosocial changes seen in participants that is not seen in participant of other types of sports.