Within the learning environment of skill development and the research behind behavior analysis, the merging of martial arts training with the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) forms an intersection that holds tremendous promise.
Much of the philosophy behind ABA operates on the premise of understanding and modifying negative behavior patterns through systematic analysis and intervention. Like ABA, martial arts are rooted in a structured, repetitive nature during training – similar to the systematic, goal-oriented approach of ABA therapy.
Martial arts, with its rich history and comprehensive total body emphasis, provides more than just physical training; it encompasses a philosophy that includes discipline, self-control, and perseverance. These same values align with some of the fundamental principles of ABA, where structure, positive reinforcement, and systematic approaches play pivotal roles in shaping behavior. Together, they create a framework that not only provides a pathway to reaping the many inherent benefits of martial arts but also offers a unique avenue for individuals undergoing ABA therapy to thrive.
With the structure and systematic approaches that both fields use that emphasizes the importance of patterns (repetition/routine) and positive reinforcement (just to name a few), individuals who are currently under the care of an ABA therapist can progress on a journey of self-improvement and comprehensive well-being in martial arts.
Patterns and How We Use Them
According to GymDesk (2021), motor control and learning researcher Karl Newell mapped out 3 stages of learning that are utilized across occupational therapy, physical therapy, sports, and other motor activities.
According to Newell, developing skill within a domain of motor activity follows 3 recognizable steps:
- Assembling a Coordination Pattern (forming a pattern)
- Gaining Control of the Coordinative Structure (recognizing and utilizing a pattern)
- Skilled Optimization of Control (improving and innovating the pattern)
These steps represent the process that an individual encounters as they are learning, like martial arts.
First, recognizing a pattern is vital when learning something new. Patterns have been proven to aid in the retention of information and allow our brains to see order in the world around us to find rules that we can use to make predictions (Thinking Maps, 2023). Instead of trying to absorb information in unrelated parts, we can use the pattern to structure the information.
This makes it easier for the brain to encode and recall new learning; instead of encoding each bit of information separately, the brain can encode the underlying pattern and its rules. If you understand the pattern, you can reconstruct the whole even if you can’t remember each individual piece (Thinking Maps, 2023).
Utilizing patterns within martial arts training is ingrained: as you climb the ladder of techniques, forms, and movements, you build upon everything you have learned thus far. Within our online martial arts platform, we have specifically broken-down techniques and forms for this reason – because building that pattern of recognition is vital in the process.
Secondly, gaining control or understanding of the pattern is the ability to recognize the information and utilize it. Within the world of martial arts, this is the “A-HA” moment that many students encounter when they comprehend the movements as pieces and as a whole. The ability to understand the pattern and put it into use is a significant milestone during the acquisition of a skill like martial arts.
Finally, the skilled optimization of a pattern means the student is not only able to perform/utilize the pattern but can apply it in different ways and modify it based on the environment. For martial artists, this can include utilizing their knowledge in high stress situations.
Within the realm of behavior analysis and skill acquisition, managing new information—be it patterns in martial arts or behavioral strategies in ABA—can present challenges for learners. Just as mastering a pattern involves breaking it down into manageable components, individuals undergoing ABA therapy often benefit from a similar approach to comprehend and apply behavioral concepts.
“Once a task is broken down, a behavior technician or ABA therapist focuses on teaching each step in the sequence. Key skills within each step are targeted, whether they involve motor skills, language skills, or other abilities essential to completing the task. The individual practices one step at a time, only moving on to the next when they’ve successfully mastered the previous one.”
Our team of expert instructors recognized this instructional synergy, and when designing our platform, implemented a similar strategy. Our extensive curriculum has been broken down into pieces – movement by movement – so that anyone, regardless of skill level or ability, can learn and benefit from martial arts.
In addition, we created a learning environment that supports self-paced learning through the same concept utilized within ABA: students only move on to the next technique when they’ve successfully completed the previous one. If one takes a little longer to master, that’s ok – our platform supports individualized learning that is most comfortable for the student.
As our concept of education echoes many of the principles within ABA therapy, the implementation of positive reinforcement is just as important. Along with breaking down martial arts techniques into manageable components and patterns, the use of positive reinforcement—integral to both martial arts instruction and ABA therapy—plays a pivotal role in guiding and rewarding learners through their journey.
“In ABA therapy, positive reinforcement is a cornerstone technique for encouraging desired behaviors. By following a behavior with a rewarding outcome, the chances of seeing that behavior again are increased. This approach is straightforward yet powerful in building behavioral skills and enhancing social interactions.”
Educators of all shapes and sizes recognize that positive reinforcement is the star standard in the classroom. Rewarding a positive behavior or accomplishment can be far more effective than punishment for a negative behavior.
As we mentioned, recognizing patterns is a vital piece of learning and this can be especially applicable to the concept of positive reinforcement. Establishing a set of expectations where a student (of martial arts or ABA) understands the consequences can create a deterrent for future negative behavior.
Within martial arts, the motivation lies in progression – whether it is to the next belt level or perfecting a technique. Positive reinforcement applies throughout the journey, when an instructor validates a student’s capabilities and moves them up. In many traditional classes, though it can be difficult to receive this positive reinforcement due to challenges with the student/teacher ratio, time constraints, or several other issues.
Our online platform provides a unique opportunity for guaranteed positive reinforcement: students are coached and given feedback through their personal dashboard, where our team of expert instructors analyzes their performance and provides valuable instruction. We understand that learning something new can be daunting and implemented this system of feedback and positive reinforcement to provide a more individualized, private experience.
It’s evident that positive reinforcement plays a central role not only in refining martial arts techniques but also in creating a tailored learning experience. Our commitment to individualized support is another example of the deliberate connection of martial arts principles with ABA methodologies, extending further than the comparisons we’ve illustrated here.
This partnership goes beyond mere coincidence; it’s a deliberate fusion that we have researched and practiced for years. Our platform and organization are poised to unlock new dimensions of growth, focus, and personal development with this collaboration, particularly for individuals navigating diverse learning needs and behavioral challenges.
Within our learning environment where structure, discipline, and targeted methodologies converge, we can offer insights that resonate across diverse fields and personal growth endeavors.
The importance of establishing recognizable patterns and utilizing positive reinforcement in the learning process cannot be understated. We understand that while it is only two small pieces of the ABA world, it is fully integrated within our platform and helps to form the foundation of our success.
The fusion of martial arts principles with ABA extends into daily life, offering a comprehensive approach to skill development and behavior analysis. While unexpected, these two worlds intersect bringing about a unified and purposeful approach to achieving success in both martial arts training and ABA therapy.
GymDesk. (2021) Understanding the Stages of Learning in Martial Arts. Retrieved from https://gymdesk.com/blog/understanding-the-stages-of-learning-in-martial-arts/
Pepperdine – Graduate School of Education and Psychology. (2023) ABA Techniques: Strategies for Behavior Analysts. Retrieved from https://gsep.pepperdine.edu/blog/posts/aba-techniques-strategies-for-behavior-analysts.htm
Thinking Maps. (2023). Our Amazing Pattern-Seeking Brain. Retrieved from https://www.thinkingmaps.com/resources/blog/our-amazing-pattern-seeking-brain/#:~:text=Instead%20of%20trying%20to%20absorb,underlying%20pattern%20and%20its%20rules.