Taekwon-Do – Is it a key to success for your child?

Brighton Martial Arts 1


What does it take for our children to grow up to be successful? In other words to live harmoniously, be happy and live fulfilling and meaningful lives. What should we be teaching our children? What are the best activities to help children become successful? Is Taekwon-Do one of them?

According to Adele Diamond, Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia:

“To be successful takes creativity, flexibility, self-control, and discipline.
Children will need to think creatively to devise solutions never considered before. They’ll need working memory to mentally work with masses of data, seeing new connections among elements. They’ll need flexibility to appreciate different perspectives and take advantage of serendipity. They’ll need self-control to resist temptations, and avoid doing something they’d regret. Tomorrow’s leaders will need to have the discipline to stay focused, seeing tasks through to completion.”
(Diamond & Lee, 2011)1

Cognitive flexibility, self-control, discipline as well as working memory are components of executive functions in which the prefrontal cortex of the brain play a very important part. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of our brains to develop and is responsible for our ability to exchange information across the high-level areas of the brain so that our behaviour can be guided by our accumulated knowledge.
Executive functions enable us to control ourselves, to consider things from multiple points of view, to solve problems and plan. As such, they involve paying attention, remembering what we need to remember to pursue our goals, thinking flexibly and exercising inhibition rather than acting on impulse.
Many studies show that developing executive function and self-regulation skills create lifelong benefits. They promote positive behaviour and allow us to make healthy choices. In a study (Terrie E. Moffitt)2 involving a group of 1,000 children from birth to the age of 32 years, the results showed that self-control shown at ages 3-5 years was a good predictor for increased health, wealth and reduced criminal offending when they reached 32 years. This is probably because many life tasks depend on mastery of self-control such as the need to delay gratification, control impulses, and modulate emotional expression.

Although self-control is under both genetic and environmental influences, we can only control the environmental influence. The Taekwon-Do Children’s Program recommends starting Taekwon-Do training at the 3-5 years age range because we can expose them to development of self-control at such an early and important age. The Program has many activities specifically designed to develop self-control. Also the discipline and tenets of Taekwon-Do contributes to developing inhibitory control and appropriate behaviour.

In a study (Duckworth & Seligman 2005)3, self-discipline accounted for more than twice as much as IQ in final grades, high school selection, school attendance, hours spent doing homework, spending less hours watching television, and the time of day students began their homework. These findings suggest a major reason for students falling short of their intellectual potential is their failure to exercise self-discipline.

Adele Diamond is at the forefront of research on the executive functions. She says:

“If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions — working memory and inhibition — actually predict success better than IQ tests.
Typical traditional IQ tests measure what’s called crystallized intelligence, which is mostly your recall of what you’ve already learned — like what’s the meaning of this word, or what’s the capital of that country? What executive functions tap is your ability to use what you already know — to be creative with it, to problem-solve with it — so it’s very related to fluid intelligence, because that requires reasoning and using information.”

There are scientific studies that indicate that traditional martial arts is one of the best activities to develop the executive functions. In a study by K.D. Lakes & W.T. Hoyt (2004)4, a group being taught Taekwon-Do was compared to another group being taught physical education. The Taekwon-Do group showed more gains in all aspects of executive function development. The self-control, discipline and character development in the Taekwon-Do training made a difference to their executive function. But not all martial arts are the same.

Another study on martial arts training compares the difference in effect between traditional Taekwon-Do and modern (competitive) martial arts. (Trulson, M. E. 1986)5. A group of adolescents who were identified as juvenile delinquents were divided into three groups (traditional Tae Kwon-Do, modern martial arts, and a control group). Taught by the same instructor the traditional Taekwon-Do group were taught the character training and the philosophical aspects of Taekwon-Do whereas the other group were taught martial arts as a competitive sport. The traditional Tae Kwon Do group showed an increase in social ability, self-esteem, and a decrease in aggressiveness and anxiety. The modern martial arts group showed a greater tendency toward juvenile delinquency, increased aggressiveness, decreased self-esteem, and decreased social ability.

In conclusion, children will benefit greatly and are likely to be successful if they develop the executive functions. One of the best ways to do that is by participating in a traditional martial arts program that teaches character development, self-control and discipline. The Taekwon-Do Children’s Program is rich in aspects of character development. The children are taught how to observe the tenets of Taekwon-Do from a very early age using unique training and activities. The core principles of the Program are not only consistent with the principles of Taekwon-Do but also with the principles of developing the executive functions.

Executive functions are susceptible to mood and physical condition. They are the first to suffer when a person becomes lonely, sad, stressed, sleep deprived, or not physically fit. To allow executive functions to work at their full potential, children need to be:

• Joyful and relaxed.
• Be in a supportive environment.
• Be fit and healthy.

All the above is what we strive for in Taekwon-Do. The Children’s Program ensures that the learning environment is fun and relaxed. Competitiveness is reduced to a minimum to relieve any unnecessary pressure. It focuses less on achievement but more on the developmental process so each child can work at their own pace rather than being compared to others and pressured into performing beyond their capabilities. Children are taught to accept mistakes as learning opportunities rather than becoming fearful of them. Instructors are encouraged to adopt an attitude of unconditional positive regard for all children. Which means that all the children receive the care and attention they need regardless of their ability, behaviour or their achievements. The classes are intensely packed with activities which promote a good level of fitness.

Is the Taekwon-Do Children’s Program a key to success? The scientific evidence suggests that it is but instructors with experience of teaching young children do not need this evidence. They know from experience how Taekwon-Do changes lives for the better, especially for the very young.

Brighton Taekwon-Do Website

1 Diamond & Lee, Science. 2011 Aug 19; 333(6045): 959–964. doi: 10.1126/science.1204529
2 Terrie E. Moffitt, National Academy of Sciences, vol. 108 no. 7, 2693–2698, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1010076108
3 Duckworth & Seligman, Psychological Science 2005 Dec;16 (12):939-44
4 K.D. Lakes & W.T. Hoyt (Applied Developmental Psychology 25 (2004) 283–302)
5 Trulson, M. E. (1986). Martial arts training: A novel ‘‘cure’’ for juvenile delinquency. Human Relations, 39, 1131–1140