The Benefits of Martial Arts in Academic Learning in Schools


Over the last several years there has been an increased interest and uptake across the world in Martial Arts. No doubt fuelled by the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and UFC movement, for many people it has not only become a method of exercise, but has also been used to improve discipline, focus and one’s health.

Whilst many styles of martial arts may have its critics for being outdated and impractical, the benefits of integrating its practice into every day life, beyond the obvious one of improving one’s health, are often underestimated, both from a physically and emotional perspective.

Here at Millfield, the main martial art on offer is a Wado-style based form of Karate. However, our adopted “curriculum” allows for a more inclusive style when compared to traditional styles of Karate such as Shotokan or Wado-ryu. Furthermore, sessions are spent teaching students self-defence techniques and how the karate that they are taught can be used in a more realistic way. This has been a great means for developing confidence and self-esteem in young students at Millfield.

Traditional Karate itself is split into three main disciplines; Kihon (Basics), Kata (Forms) and Kumite (Fighting) and each lends itself to developing behaviours and skills which add to the development of students at school. The emphasis of having a disciplined mind easily translates into the classroom as it allows students to work better for longer periods of time but also to develop resilience in achieving targets and objectives.

Speaking from personal experience, I have always believed that one of my character strengths is my level of patience when dealing not only with my own learning but also helping those of students in my classes. The discipline needed to maintain an interest in the challenge ahead of me and the motivation to keep going to achieve a goal is no doubt reinforced by my martial arts training.

There have been many studies which have supported the use of Martial Arts as an approach to boosting mental cognition which is how one acquires knowledge and understanding. The repeated practice of techniques and sequences links nicely to classroom learning and revision. A student will study a syllabus for a belt grading in the same way they would prepare for a test or an exam. Prioritising aspects of the grading to highlight areas which require more focused practiced is a trait many teachers see in more independent students.

More recently, there are on-going studies which are exploring the link between martial arts training as a way of improving a person’s emotional wellbeing; particularly with the management of stress. In such a fast paced, fluid and digital world that we live in, it is well known that many young students find it difficult to cope with managing their academic time alongside their leisure time whilst ensuring that they have an appropriate amount of sleep. The recent addition of controlled breathing and meditation exercises have been used to help students focus and calm their mind after karate sessions. This is an aspect borrowed from mindfulness classes which has been shown to help young adults better manage their stress levels.

I believe this quote from the current captain, Upper Sixth pupil Charlie Pearman-Wright and vice-captain Katherine Haselton, of Millfield Karate says it best. “The main benefits we have had from Karate is that it has really developed our self-discipline and communication skills.  However, it is the added benefits you do not expect or think about which are more rewarding. Being able to coach children at Millfield Prep has been very enjoyable, but at first it was hard to explain a technique or a set of moves to a small group. You have to be patient and eventually through adapting your demonstrations and explanations, you find a voice within which they can understand and learn from.  Karate has definitely given us the confidence to express ourselves.”

Martial Arts does not limit it’s participation based on skill and potential, it is something that anyone can do which mirrors education. Millfield is well known for its sport and academic provision and has a large spectrum of students in terms of ability and educational needs, and I see this in every session of Karate. The unseen benefits of Martial Arts are in developing well-rounded students who are better prepared for the futures that lie ahead of them which is why I would encourage schools to offer such classes if they can.

Tony Cheung, Chemistry Teacher and Tutor in Charge of Karate.

Learn more about Karate at Millfield here or speak with the coaches and see the facilities on our next open day, book here