August 23, 2023
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a set of skills and processes that enable learners to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. (CASEL, 2023) SEL is a “learner-centered” development strategy, focusing on the personal growth and development of the child or learner rather than the accumulation of discipline—or career-advancing information. (Schiro, 2013) As progressive education viewpoints, such as learner-centered ideology, have become more popular and mainstream in United States schooling, SEL programs are being more widely implemented throughout United States schools, with more than 90 percent of schools and districts reporting a focus on SEL development as of 2020, backed by a wide base of research. (Gagnier, Okawa, & Jones-Manson, 2022)
One organization, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), divides essential SEL competencies into five categories: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. CASEL analyzes many in-school SEL programs to determine their effectiveness and adherence to a wide-ranging view of SEL for their students, teachers, and infrastructure. In CASEL’s framework, skill development does not just happen inside a single classroom. Development is further supported by wider school infrastructure, family and caregiver ties, and community partnerships. In an increasingly digitally connected world, schools have had increased opportunities to create bridges to community institutions, enabling learning to be further supported outside of the classroom. (Auerbach, 2012) These community partnerships often allow learners to practice their SEL skills in non-academic settings, and in many cases, engage in new types of learning to develop them further.
Martial arts gyms are one of the most effective types of non-academic venues that present the opportunity for the further development of SEL skills. Involvement in martial arts is proven to reduce anxiety and aggression, and many martial arts practices allow for alignment with CASEL’s subsidiary skills for SEL competencies, such as problem-solving and goal-setting skills. (Croom, 2014) SEL programs centered around martial arts already exist, though many of them are centered around learners with self-regulation disabilities, specifically intended as a replacement for formalized therapeutic activities with the intention of developing mindfulness skills. (Milligan, Badali, & Spiroiu, 2015)
While martial arts…