Winfield ATA

Martial Arts in Higher Education

Posted: April 25, 2017

Attaining a college degree or certificate is still the dream of most young people.  Education can be the key to a better life or an opportunity to experience new surroundings by attending far-off   institutions of higher education.  Some people want to reinvent themselves, while others long to take the first steps of life-altering journeys.  Students who attend a college or trade school expect that their high school education has provided them with the foundation to be successful in college and to meet their educational goals. However, many new college students are unprepared for the academic rigors of higher education.  Those students who fit this description may require remedial education that is often referred to as preparatory courses.  Many students who attend institutions of higher learning possess a solid academic foundation, but they find it difficult to make the adjustment from the rigid, nurturing structure of secondary school to the independent, self-directed life of a college student.  This unstructured environment may lead to the derailment of a student’s academic dreams.

Getting control of the college environment from the very beginning is the key to success for new students. One way to maintain control of their educational and personal lives may be found by developing self-control and mental discipline through training in the martial arts.  Martial arts is a centuries-old military art that has appeared in some secondary schools as a way to help promote character education programs that focus on developing the entire person in mind, body, and spirit.  The goal of these programs is for students to understand discipline and how to apply it to their daily lives.  Martial arts students are introduced to visual concepts of honor and integrity, and they are given opportunities to display those characteristics while they are training with their fellow students.  These two characteristics help enable students to realize their own self-worth.  Studies have shown that it is important for students to be mentally strong and to possess the ability to control themselves if they are to withstand the academic rigors of collegiate life (Baldwin et al., 2003).

Research revealed that participation in extracurricular activities, such as martial arts, has had an effect on decreasing student alienation, increasing self-esteem, and boosting academic performance in the secondary levels of education (Flores-Gonzalez, 2005).  Activities that engage the whole student and focus on character and life-skills development are important to a pro-social behavior within the student and contribute to student retention (Trotter & Roberts, 2006).  Given the clear benefits of character and life-skills development, students should be encouraged and offered the opportunity to participate in activities that focus on developing the entire person and not just the academic aspect.  This opportunity is especially important for those who are at risk of dropping out; however, most institutions of higher education do not offer martial arts as a credit course.

Many martial arts programs have proven that they can address the needs of secondary school students by building discipline, perseverance, and self-confidence in the lives of the students who participate in their after school programs (Hite, 2008). Participation in extracurricular activities, such as martial arts, has had been shown to have an effect on decreasing student alienation, increasing self-esteem, and boosting academic performance in the secondary levels of education (Flores-Gonzalez, 2005).  Activities that engage the whole student and focus on character and life-skills development are instrumental in instilling a pro-social behavior within the student and improve student retention (Trotter & Roberts, 2006).

Martial arts is a vehicle that can provide a hands-on learning experience unique to each individual student and engage the entire group all at once.  Martial arts instructors seek to develop a clear mission within their courses that will enable students to promote self-knowledge by ensuring intellectual, cultural, and personal development.

A recent study at a large southern university included 98 students just entering college.  Half of the students were enrolled in a martial arts course.  Students who participated in martial arts completed twice as many credits toward graduation and had a higher GPA (2.7 versus 2.2 on a 4-point scale).  The martial arts students were also more likely to graduate sooner than those not enrolled in martial arts. The findings imply that students who participate in a rigorously structured program or sport that promotes skills seen as important to student interest, social engagement, and life success are more likely to graduate than their peers who never take an active role in those types of programs.

Studies of college athletes indicate that many have lower levels of academic achievement than other students, particularly during the semester(s) when they are engaged in rigorous conditioning and actual competition.  Martial artist appear to show a different picture. The martial arts does not have a season. Tournaments, belt tests, and team demonstrations in which martial arts students compete take place throughout the entire year.

Self-control and mental discipline are important elements of any martial arts program.  It is by learning to master these elements and applying them daily that a student participating in higher education will be able to overcome many of the obstacles they will face during their academic endeavors.  Colleges and universities understand that it is not enough to provide education in the traditional academic disciplines.  If they want their students to be successful, they must provide life skills education.  Through self-control and discipline, students will be prepared to take advantage of the numerous educational and life opportunities that they encounter along their academic journey.  Life skills are the foundation of any traditional martial arts program and can aid students in being successful in their academic endeavors, and also in their lives beyond the classroom.  A curriculum-based martial arts program that is taken during a student’s first semester holds the potential to instill and nurture those qualities that are necessary for student success.


Baldwin, V., DaRos-Voseles, D., & Swick, K. (2003). Creating a caring community: The University of Arkansas nursery school experience. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30(3), 157-161.

Flores-Gonzalez, N. (2005). Popularity versus respect: School structure, peer groups and Latino academic achievement. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 18, 625-642.

Hill, D. D. (2014). Martial arts in higher education: Far east meets west. (Order No. 3621341, Texas A&M University – Commerce). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 100. Retrieved from

Hite, J. M. (2008). The role of dyadic multi-dimensionality in the evolution of strategic network ties. Emerald Journals, 25, 133-170.

Trotter, E., & Roberts, C. (2006). Enhancing the early student experience. Higher Education Research and Development, 25,