Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Martial Arts For Disadvantaged Youth?

Has anyone else recieved an e-mail like this? Boy, what an opportunity!

Dear Sir,
I am a senior at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington and have
recently been presented with the opportunity to receive a $25,000
fellowship to research a topic of sociological importance abroad. My
interest lies in the ability of martial arts to improve the quality of
life of individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Very little real
anthropological research has been done on the subject, and I would like
to explore martial arts from an academic viewpoint. I'd focus on
questions like: Does training in martial arts produce positive social
outcomes? Does training produce dedicated and respectful individuals?
And when does training fail- effectively arming the student with
dangerous technique but no sense of restraint?

The project is quite vague at this point, but what are your opinions?
When is training a good thing, and when is it not? How should the
philosophies to martial arts be imparted? And lastly, where would you
go in the world to study the interactions of martial arts and culture?
Right now, I'm thinking Brazil and Israel for Capoeira and Krav Maga.
Any advice you might have would be greatly appreciated. My deepest
respect for your arts,

Curt -------
Whitman College

And my response:

I would loved to have recieved such a grant, what an opportunity.

The martial arts are historicaly filled with stories of wayward youth that have found focus and a sense of self through guidence and training.
My feeling is that many aimless youth are ready to fall into lockstep with anything that represents family to them, replacing troubled relationships with actual family members. This can obviously lead to criminal elements and an unmotivated life.
The other aspect of this is that troubled kids are often picked on by others. Some may join gangs for protection.
While not a complete family, the martial arts Dojo may provide elements that disaffected youth may be drawn to in a respectful and healthy way. While the instructor may not (and perhaps should not) be seen as a father figure, he (or she) may be thought of as a big brother/sister/uncle. This places a great deal of responsability on the instructor, who is already dealing with many levels of human interaction. Much must be assessed about the character of the youth. Nobody should teach a bully how to be a better bully. The instructor must also have clear communication with the youth's parents, even if the parent/child relationship is problematic.
With dicipline, guidence and trust, a troubled youth may indeed find a sense of self, gain confidence and develop relationships with people outside his or her normal circle of family or friends. These may include unrelated adults, who have no familial expectations of the youth other than behaving in a socially responsable matter with the rest of the group.
These are valuable life skills that go beyond mere fighting or self defense ability.

As far as my training, I fought hard in tournaments ages 19-28, fought in my last tournament at 38, won my division and have no further need for tournament fighting. I was 2nd Dan Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, and went on to get my 3d Dan in Kenpo, studied two years of Aikido and now mostly persue the Chinese Internal Arts of Tai Chi and Bagua. If I had the opportunity, I would go to China and Taiwan to study those arts.

I am very interested in your project, please keep me updated and let me know if there are any other questions you have.
Good Luck, John at Dojo Rat

If anybody has any other thoughts or Ideas, you can leave them in the comments section, and I will foward Curt the link for this post.


John Vesia said...

Very interesting. Your response was good, I think you covered all of the bases. I'd like to see the results of such a research project.

Steve said...

Personally, I think the questions are leading and the premise is shaky. For example, "Does training in martial arts produce positive social outcomes?" It would depend on the training, the school, the style and the specific person involved. I would argue that training in the most common style of martial arts in the USA now, the mcdojo-fu (whether it's TKD, Wing Chun or whatever) does more harm than good in spite of all the faux respect and mock discipline being tossed around. The person learns bogus technique, gains false confidence and will either continue to live deluded or face the uncomfortable epiphany at some point that they've been conned.

Going back to the premise, in order to study the effects of martial arts training on the lives of individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, I think he needs to start by examining what martial arts are available to these individuals. As we all know, martial arts is a very broad term, at least in common usage.

The arts that tend to thrive in these areas are the ones that focus on quick results and practical training. I would be surprised if there are a statistically significant number of "at risk" kids involved in martial arts other than boxing in the States.

Thailand would be my first choice for this project if I had to go abroad. Off the top of my head, it would be the place where the most poor kids are looking for a better life through martial arts.

I think an interesting project would be to compare the anthropological findings of disadvantaged youth involved in boxing in the USA to those kids in Thailand fighting in Muay Thai. But that's just me. :) The differences in culture are significant, but I think many parallels can be drawn that transcend culture as a direct result of their martial arts training.

Scott said...

Well, I've taught a lot of officially wacked out kids and also a lot of unofficially wacked out kids.
More movement, more better. Movement mentoring rocks.
Problem: I'm suspicious of the guy's email. If he tries to send you money, it's a scam! It could be real, but come on, that's too much money, what is it a fullbright? The scam artists are getting smarter all the time. Keep us posted.

Dojo Rat said...

Scott; No Bucks, No Worry.


Curt said...

That helps a lot, actually. Some of the questions are leading. In part, I felt that approaching the positive aspects of martial training would generate more replies given that I am emailing relatively random experts and dojos. I wasn't sure if I'd even get a response if I lead straight with negative social consequences.

I certainly agree with your analysis of Mcdojos. That training can produce a dangerous, and unrealistic, self-confidence is an important detail that should be considered for all martial arts.
The proposal as it stands now addresses these 4 principal questions:

Who studies martial arts?
What motivations do people have for this sort of training?
What role do martial arts play in their countries of origin?
What are the outcomes, personal and social, of this training?

I'm particularly interested in examining this issue from a socioeconomic perspective. I've heard countless assertions that martial arts offer the disenfranchised a voice, and subsequently improve their quality of life, and I feel this is a question worthy of deeper investigation. I'll examine demographics of poverty (caloric intake, regional location, methods of transport etc.) to generate raw data to correlate the demographics of martial arts between various cultures. And yeah, my primary location of study is currently Thailand.

Scott- just don't know what to say about scamming D.R. It's a Watson Fellowship- look here www.watsonfellowship.org. It's just pretty hard to come across as genuine in anonymous emails.

Thanks guys. Keep the comments coming.


Curt said...

or reach me here: lindlecj@gmail.com

Dojo Rat said...

Nice Curt, Keep us informed of your progress,

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