Additional Resources:

Practice Profile

Martial Arts Participation and Juvenile Externalizing Behaviors

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Externalizing behavior

Practice Description

Practice Goals/Components
The practice of martial arts is popular among youth in the United States, with more than 6 million children participating (American Academy of Pediatrics 2010). The term, “martial arts,” can be used to describe any number of styles or disciplines of self-defense practices. Traditional martial arts include judo, karate, and taekwondo. Boxing is considered a modern martial art.

Karate, meaning “empty hand,” is considered a “hard” martial art, which emphasizes blocking, punching, and kicking. Karate is a Japanese martial art that is broken down into basic techniques, combinations of techniques with an imaginary partner, and sparring with a partner using controlled kicks and punches (Critchley, Mannion, and Meredith 1999). Judo, meaning “gentle way,” is considered a “soft” martial art, as it emphasizes throws and holds rather than strikes (Lamarre and Nosanchuk 1999). Judo also originates from Japan but emphasizes dealing with conflict in a gentle way in order to contribute to psychological as well as physical development (Imada and Matsumoto 2009). Taekwondo, meaning “the way of foot and fist,” is a traditional Korean martial art in which hands and feet can be used to overcome an opponent, but the main focus is on its combination of kick movements (International Olympic Committee 2019).

Practice Theory
Traditional martial arts philosophy is based on attaining the Zen state of “no mindedness,” whereby the participants are capable of fighting to their fullest extent but without aggressive feelings. This is carried out through ceremonial combat moves (katas), and the requirement of respect to the teacher (sensei), to the practice space, and to one another. Martial arts also emphasize the importance of meditation and constructs such as peace, benevolence, humanity, and self-restraint (Nosanchuk and MacNeil 1989).

Two theories are paramount in the research on martial arts and externalizing behaviors: catharsis and social learning. Breuer and Freud’s (1974) catharsis theory suggests that physically exhausting activity helps to release frustration or aggression and restore emotional balance through physical training. Thus, martial arts practice allows juveniles to channel and vent any aggressive energy during the intense, physical martial arts training rather than acting out and exhibiting negative externalizing behaviors (Mutz 2012).

Social learning theory (Bandura 1973) asserts that behavior is learned through observing and imitating the behavior of others (Gardner, Roth, and Brooks-Gunn 2009). This theory suggests that practicing martial arts could increase externalizing behaviors, as it models and rewards aggressive behaviors; however, martial arts can also teach prosocial behaviors (such as cooperation, respect, and discipline) and sportsmanship (such as playing fairly, obeying rules, and achieving team objectives), which reduces externalizing behaviors (Mutz 2012).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Externalizing behavior
Gubbels and colleagues (2016) examined the results from 12 studies and found that participating in martial arts did not have a statistically significant effect on juveniles’ externalizing behaviors. In other words, there were no differences in measures of externalizing behaviors (such as anger, aggression, or conduct problems) between youth who participated in martial arts and youth who did not participate.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11995 - 2012125949

Meta-Analysis 1
Gubbels and colleagues (2016) examined the effects of participation in martial arts on externalizing behaviors in juveniles. Literature searches were conducted through 2015 across multiple databases, including PiCarta, ProQuest Sociological Abstracts, Google Scholar, EBSCOhost Academic Search Premier, Wiley Online Library, OvidSP (including PsycINFO and PubMed), National Academic Research and Collaboration Information System, ScienceDirect, and Web of Science. To be included, studies had to meet the following criteria: 1) report the relation between martial arts and externalizing behaviors, 2) include a comparison group consisting of non-athletes or athletes in other sports, and 3) have samples consisting of children and adolescents up to age 20.

The search produced 94 effect sizes from 12 quasi-experimental designed studies that included 5,949 juveniles. All studies were double-coding of two coders. The 12 studies included bot cross-sectional and longitudinal designs. The samples consisted mainly of males who were 12 years or older. The types of martial arts included in the studies were aikido, judo, karate, taekwondo, or another martial art. Comparison groups consisted of juvenile participants in individual sports (i.e., swimming, athletics), team sports athletes, or non-athletes.

The studies included externalizing behaviors such as aggression, anger, hostility, violence, conduct problems, and antisocial behavior. Outcomes were transformed into the correlation coefficient effect size r and recoded into Fisher’s z values. Because the data of most studies resulted in more than one effect size, a traditional random effects model was extended to a three-level random effects model. Further, extreme values of the effect sizes were corrected by winsorizing these outliers.
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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Other Information

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Gubbels and colleagues (2016) conducted moderator analyses to see whether any factors strengthened the likelihood that martial arts participation could improve or reduce externalizing behaviors (such as anger, aggression, or conduct problems). They found that the type of martial arts practiced had a moderating effect on the relation between martial arts and externalizing behaviors. Specifically, they found the following statistically significant relations between martial arts and externalizing behaviors: 1) karate participants exhibited fewer externalizing behaviors than judo participants, 2) karate participants exhibited more externalizing behaviors than participants in other types of martial arts, 3) martial arts participants exhibited more externalizing behaviors than participants in individual or team sports, and 4) martial arts participants exhibited more externalizing behaviors, compared with participants in individual sports, but not compared with participants in team sports or with non-athletes.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Gubbels, Jeanne, Trudy van der Stouwe, Anouk Spruit, and Geert Jan J.M. Stams. 2016. “Martial Arts Participation and Externalizing Behavior in Juveniles: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Aggression and Violent Behavior 28:73–81.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

American Academy of Pediatrics. 2010. “Martial Arts.” Accessed January 15, 2020.

Bandura, Albert. 1973. Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Oxford: Prentice-Hall.

Breuer, Josef, and Sigmund Freud. 1974. Studies on Hysteria. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books

Burke, David T., Samir Al-Adawi, Yat T. Lee, and Jackie Audette. 2007. “Martial Arts as Sport and Therapy.” Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 47(1):96–102.

Critchley, Giles R., Sasha Mannion, and Chris Meredith. 1999. “Injury Rates in Shotokan Karate.” The British Journal of Sports Medicine 33(3):174–77.

Gardner, Margo, Jodie Roth, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. 2009. “Sports Participation and Juvenile Delinquency: The Role of the Peer Context Among Adolescent Boys and Girls with Varied Histories of Problem Behavior.” Developmental Psychology 45(2):341–53.

Harwood, Anna, Michal Lavidor, and Yuri Rassovsky. 2017. “Reducing Aggression with Martial Arts: A Meta-Analysis of Child and Youth Studies.” Aggression and Violent Behavior 34: 96–101

Imada V., and D. Matsumoto. 2004. “The Psychological and Behavioral Effects of Judo.” White Paper. Ontario Oregon: United States Judo Federation.

Lamarre, Brian W., and T.A. Nosanchuk. 1999. “Judo—The Gentle Way: A Replication of Studies on Martial Arts and Aggression.” Perceptual and Motor Skills 88:992–96.

Lotfian, Sara, Vahid Ziaee, Homayoun Amini, and Mohammad-Ali Mansournia. 2011. “An Analysis of Anger in Adolescent Girls Who Practice the Martial Arts.” International Journal of Pediatrics 2:1–5.

Mutz, Michael. 2012. “Athletic Participation and the Approval and Use of Violence: A Comparison of Adolescent Males in Different Sports Disciplines.” European Journal for Sport and Society 9(3):177–201.

Nosanchuk, T.A., and M.L. Catherine MacNeil. 1989. “Examination of the Effects of Traditional and Modern Martial Arts Training on Aggressiveness.” Aggressive Behavior 15:153–59.

The International Olympic Committee. 2019. “Taekwondo.” 2019. Accessed January 16, 2020.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 0 - 20

Gender: Both

Settings: Other Community Setting

Practice Type: Afterschool/Recreation

Unit of Analysis: Persons