Director - UCLA Martial Arts Program, Inosanto International Martial Arts Instructors Association

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Developing martial arts programs for not just schools, but for educational systems across the world.

After watching many of Sir Ken Robinson's talks on education and the decline of creative educational experiences in schools, I want to express my views on how to 'kill many birds with one stone' using martial arts as a tool to educate our children.

Many forms of martial arts can provide not only great physical activity, which is much needed for todays chubby youth. But also the ability to play, to learn from peers, develop focus/discipline & respect and work towards incremental goals that inspire them and teach them that working hard is the way to achieve success in this world.

Martial arts can teach you about culture, history, society, friendship, loyalty, dedication and so much more. Millions of individuals have been lucky enough to be inspired by their martial arts teachers and schools and if we can instill this inspiration back into children in school we could create a cross collaborative effort in making school about learning again and not about reaching standards dictated by numbers on a test.

  • Jul 21 2013: Paul, I agree that the inclusion of martial arts in physical education classes could be a great asset to the education system. Even if practical self-defense goals are difficult to attain in such a setting, I think the other benefits of training that you've mentioned are far more important. I've watched students' self-confidence and self-esteem skyrocket as they learn new physical skills, even if they aren't combatively practical. Similarly, I love watching awkward and poorly coordinated students discover their own bodies and what they can do. I think that awareness of one's own body might be the most lasting and tangible effect of such training, which makes picking up other physical skills that much easier. From a physical education standpoint, increasing movement skills is directly in line with standard PE curriculum goals. If PE classes and campus recreation programs are supposed to engender lifelong participation, what better way to give kids a leg up than to introduce them to an open-minded and inclusive approach to martial arts at a young age? Finally, Dr. Jason Winkle makes a good point in his book ( about the quality of martial arts instruction in elementary school PE classes. Although it's important to provide good instruction, it also helps to remember that we don't expect PE teachers to be experts in basketball, track and field, or any of the other sports that they teach. As long as they can convey the basics of the movement set, the kids can use that foundation to seek further instruction from a professional teacher. With this is mind, the barriers to introducing martial arts in an educational setting seem much less daunting.
  • Jul 15 2013: I did study with Ji Han Jae and especially some of his top students. but kids don't study combat Jujitsu until they are 16 normally. There are many reasons people study martial arts. This is getting a little one-size-fits all. Also, there are so many bad instructors and some training can get excessively rough. Basically we have only mentioned good guys. Maybe this is worthy of more thought. While I haven't seen Ji in over a decade you can find him at Of course, anything by Bruce Tagner is good. But maybe this isn't for everyone. Why do you need to get school involved? Also, there have been Generals concerned about unarmed combat as the troops have become excessively confident in their skills and gotten hurt in bars.
    • Jul 15 2013: Thank you for your response George, I do not know the instructors you mentioned, but have trained quite a bit of Hapkido myself, glad to see another practitioner on here :) I agree with you of course that there are many bad instructors out there and that is the danger of putting children into a martial arts program. One of the most worrying things about martial arts is that once you receive your black belt in many arts you are considered an 'instructor' but most of the time have never received any formal training in how to teach. As for getting schools involved, I feel it is an absolute necessity to fill the void in schools nowadays for children to learn basic movement, as PE programs are being cut across schools nationwide. Different types of martial arts can also fill the void of music and dance programs as they provide similar activities. Capoeira provides an excellent way for children to learn rhythm and appreciate music and signing, training in the roda also brings back the element of 'play' that is often missed in the structured games and sports children are enrolled in these days. Silat and Ninjutsu also have versions of their forms and techniques hidden in dances. Not only can martial arts provide these programs in one hit, but they can also teach history, culture, societal development etc...There is not a civilization in history that has not used a version of martial arts to survive and that can be taught in many different ways, especially ways that will engage and excite children to be at school!

      All the best

      The British Ninja :)
      • Jul 15 2013: Paul - All that makes sense. I am under the impression that the British have a great deal more sense about this than Americans. As I grow older I am less impressed with the idea of full contact Karate and crazy stuff like that. In America this stuff is not well regulated so there are people teaching that shouldn't be and lower belts teaching who just strapped on black belts. After awhile one gravitates to the competent people, but it takes awhile. Also, What do you really want in the martial arts. I wanted welf-defense without another black eye or hernia. That's why something like Jujitsu or Hapkido with a competent instructor is so important. Judo is great but it can get rough. Akido is interesting, but requires so much training to provide any self-defense. Or as my old Akido teacher did - He would have special classes with some very basic Judo techniques. So I have just gone on and on. But self defense is knowing how to punch and kick a little with some good grapling. But remember people are armed out there and most of them are friendly. Is that better?
        • Jul 15 2013: George

          Self defense as we teach it at UCLA is not really much about the physical side. I would say learning physical self defense is a 5th of what we try to teach. Avoidance, awareness, mindset, deescalation etc...No one martial art can effectively teach self defense, it is a dynamic and constantly evolving topic that requires each individual to study what works for them best.

          In addition to that self-defense is one of dozens of facets of martial arts that can be taught. not all martial arts are geared towards self defense, just as not all physical activities are competitive. With this conversation and my future research and ideas I want to educate the non martial artists out there about how diverse martial arts are in the modern world. Letting a parent know that their child can study martial arts without ever having to get punched or kicked or have to punch and kick themselves would work wonders in breaking down the barriers to participation for many people.

      • Jul 15 2013: Sounds like a good program to me. That's what martial arts should be.
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        Jul 15 2013: Just for clarification, when you suggests martial arts for schools that are cutting PE, music and dance, it is important to realize that they would typically cut these in order to shift focus to the core academic subjects rather than to leave a void they would be looking to fill with something else physical or artistic.

        The most likely place to inject martial arts into actual school curriculum is as a unit within a PE program that is not cut. For example, PE is required in my state through eighth grade and for perhaps two years of high school. In my son's 9th grade PE class, they did yoga every Friday. In his sixth grade PE class, one of the units was "circus arts" and, if I recall, gymnastics. They also did roller skating.
  • Jul 15 2013: You are right, Paul. In addition to providing an outlet for physical activity, martial arts also fosters many other important skills. Specifically, the traditional practicing of martial arts by children has been shown to improve executive functioning skills. Executive functioning consists of a variety of cognitive abilities, including problem solving, impulse control, working memory, and attention, among others. Here is an article published in Science Magazine that describes the several types of interventions implemented to improve executive functioning abilities in children, including a martial arts intervention. A well-worthy read!

    • Jul 15 2013: Thank you for your contribution Janice! I will read the article soon! I can say from personal experience that I believe heartily in these findings....and that is with my old brain! Getting kids involved early when they are sponges can only benefit them in so many ways :)
  • Jul 23 2013: Thank you Viking! An excellent point of view that mirrors my own but is just written better! :) I agree that giving building blocks to overcome the barriers that many have to putting a child into martial arts training is essential in getting it out there more. The stigma of UFC and cage fighting is a major one, the lack of knowledge from teachers or having to hire a "black belt" at high cost as is another. I know there is a way to make it happen and I think starting in cities that have an abundance of highly qualified instructors who sometimes struggle to teach but are amazing at it is the way forward. My example as you know is from Los Angeles where everyone is a martial arts instructor!!! Lots of great people doing great things in this town and I want to connect that to the bubbling hub of the future which are the children in schools right now!
    • Jul 23 2013: One thing I've been thinking about lately is how to get college students more involved in connecting with the bubbling hub. I'm a big proponent of people taking on small leadership roles to help bridge the gap between "leaders" and "followers", so that people who are just starting out can see in the shoes of these intermediate leaders.

      One thing I'd love to try would be an internship program for collegiate martial arts students in which the college kids engage in the community to help bring martial arts to younger children. This could be through a recreation setting, such as a Boys and Girls Club, or through the local schools' PE or after school programs. The younger students would get exposure to martial arts training with people who are closer to their own age, people that they will want to emulate. The college students would get a chance to try out the teaching skills that they've learned, as well as getting exposure to a younger audience that they don't usually see on campus. I'm hoping to start working with the intern program at ISU in the next year, or so, so I'll let you know if anything develops
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    Jul 16 2013: "Developing martial arts programs for not just schools, but for educational systems across the world."

    Look at Avatar the Last Airbender. Look up Choreography in the movie industry. Look up Wushu and all the unique fighting styles in the world. Look at UFC and Anderson Silva.

    These are all things why I think martial arts is really cool. I'm sure others will feel the same.
  • Jul 15 2013: I agree martial arts can teach the students many things, most important is that the journey is the goal, to be the best you can be knowing you will never be the best. I have to admit the "Modern " martial arts bother me, eons ago when I was active we only had 2 belts,white and black. the key was knowing how good you were without the need to present it to the world. I know the reason behind the color belts but think something that I considered essential in martial arts was lost
    • Jul 15 2013: Wayne, I see your point about working for internal rewards as opposed to external. But if you think about it in a different way in where some students that might not have that dedication or commitment at the beginning and may have quit early on, but then they received their yellow belt or orange belt and it kept them going!! I would imagine that the benefits of having small incremental rewards for those students who needed it would outweigh that which you think was lost. There is of course the other end of the spectrum, in that many schools now give out belts every couple of months to everyone (Belt factories) so that no one feels left out and they also "promise" a black belt after a certain period if you pay enough! This is just commercialism taking advantage or something that has more depth to it and to be honest is very easy to avoid in larger cities if you know what to look for :)

      Thank you for your comment sir.

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    Jul 15 2013: As you live in the United States and are a martial arts instructor, you know martial arts have been a very popular recreational activity for kids for a very long time. Just as some kids participate in soccer or basketball, others get very interested in martial arts.

    According to Simmons Market Research, 18.1 million Americans participated in martial arts last year, including 8.7 million kids and teens.

    I don't know whether martial arts instruction is available in every community, but I would think that it would quickly appear in communities where there is a demand for it, very much as yoga has gotten increasingly popular over the last half century. Various forms of martial arts have long been an extremely popular after school activity.

    I wonder whether Bruce Lee would be surprised at the droves of people who flock to his grave site from all over the world and continue to be inspired by him in particular.
    • Jul 15 2013: Thank you for your comments and great stats on martial arts in America Fritzie. From what I have learned from Guro Dan Inosanto about Bruce Lee I think he would be surprised and also a litlte annoyed....he would tell them all to go and find their own path! But this is just by humble thought on the matter. I have yet to visit the grave yet myself, but am inspired by his philosophy on life and training every single day. All the best.