During the recent federal election, the leader of the Conservative Party announced he was going to get tough on juvenile crime.
Among other things, he said he was going to allow the media to publicize the identity of young offenders. I doubt his tough on crime approach will work, but in the spirit of collegiality, I want to describe a different approach which might.
Several psychiatrists wrote recently in the journal Adolescence of their attempt to reproduce other, smaller studies which showed that juveniles at high risk for violence and delinquency were less violent after taking a school-linked course in traditional martial arts.
Such research often shows mixed results, because participation in the studies is voluntary, or the juvenile is already in a martial arts program. Both factors self-select for more aggressive youth, with the result that some studies even show an increase in violence for students who take martial arts.
However, in this study, teachers identified students at high risk for violence and delinquency. There was no lack of such students, as the school was located in a poor area of a large urban city that had a very high juvenile arrest rate. The students who were identified as high risk were required to take the course if their parents agreed, and an outside martial arts teacher was brought in to teach them.
To make the study scientific, 60 students with similar problematic behavior profiles were paired and then randomly assigned to either a treatment group or to a wait-list control group. For ten weeks the students took three classes per week of a traditional martial art which emphasized self-protection and calmness, which used a combination of meditation and patterned movements called a kata.
At the end of the study, of 14 variables that were measured, the treatment students improved on almost all of them, while the control group actually deteriorated on most, including teacher-rated violence. In addition, there were significant differences between the groups on self-reported happiness, resistance to rules, impulsiveness, and inappropriate social behavior.
A follow-up on teachers’ ratings of the students showed that improvement remained, and in some cases increased, for months after completion of the course.
The concern over youths is not new, and the idea of teaching them positive ways of dealing with aggressiveness and impulsivity is not new either. However, it is usually a soft approach, criticized for not being tough enough. What this study shows is that using traditional martial arts for intervention teaches self-confidence, and in turn increases the individual’s sense of confidence and self-worth.
Why did the program work? Well, it probably helped that the intervention involved physical exercise. Kids have a lot of energy to dissipate. Second, the emphasis was on the development of skills of self-defense. Knowing how to protect yourself builds confidence. Third, the martial arts teacher was not a middle school teacher, and thus represented an authority from outside the system.
The study was so successful that in the following term, the school offered a similar class for disruptive girls, who can also benefit from learning martial arts.
Some teachers were reluctant to assign students to the course because it seemed like a reward, but that’s just one of those things that make you shake your head.
Martial arts requires attention, commitment, and discipline.
One very quickly learns that before you can control someone else, you have to learn to control yourself. And this betrays one of the big secrets that is tangential to the training involved. The students were being paid attention to, and offered something unique that can turn into a life-changing experience. I’m not surprised they changed.
This approach is more than ‘getting tough on youth crime’ can offer. But if Stephen Harper is serious about youth crime, he could set an example and take up martial arts with his kids. He did say in the campaign that he likes to spend time with them, throwing balls and so on.
Who knows, maybe in the process he’d learn something himself.
Chris McCormick teaches criminology at St. Thomas University and his column on crime and criminal justice appears every second Thursday.
FULL ARTICLE HERE:
Big shout out to my man Gene Ching from Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine for sharing this with me.