This groundbreaking study was a single-blind, cluster randomized longitudinal study, which is the first to examine the effectiveness of Chinese martial arts and ethics in reducing reactive and proactive aggressive behavior among schoolchildren aged 6–12 as well as promote the mental health and psychological benefit of Chinese martial arts and ethics training to the public. This study was granted by the General Research Fund (GRF) from January 2014 to June 2017.
ECMA Program draws upon the well-documented literature on the use of martial arts such as judo, taekwondo, aikido, karate and boxing to reduce children’s aggressive behavior. However, it remained unknown if Chinese martial arts could have similar effect. Public impression even holds negative view on martial arts training, which may enhance childhood aggression, instead of reducing it. In fact, true Chinese martial arts training encompasses both skills (martial techniques or wu gong) and ethics (moral principles or wu de), under the direction of highly respected instructor (shi fu) to his or her participants (disciples).
Using social-information processing (SIP) model to depict steps before the performance of social behaviour, we have categorized reactive aggression to be associated with cognitive distortion in the encoding and interpretation of social cues, with impulsive behaviour, whereas proactive aggression is related to distortion in evaluation of outcomes and aggression itself, with personal goal-oriented behaviour.
ECMA Program integrates the essence of traditional Chinese martial arts and the SIP model. The instructor (shi fu) challenged the children’s cognitive distortion around using aggressive behaviour for gaining personal interests or for revenge. The shi fu advocated self-control and tolerance so that the children would use martial arts only for self-defence. The attackers will feel ashamed at the non-violence of the one under attack and eventually show heartfelt respect towards the being-attacked. Thus, Chinese martial arts training will reduce the urge to seek revenge in reactively aggressive children, and to stop achieving their dominance and sense of superiority by bullying others in proactively aggressive children.
The pioneer study produces wide impacts, both academic and social, locally and internationally. The results provided theoretical proof for the relationship between aggression and sport involvement combined with children’s moral reasoning. Internationally, the project led to publications in top international journals and presentations at worldwide conferences. The results provided innovative and valuable social impacts to promoting “zero” violence and anti-aggressive cultures in communities. A press conference was organized in July 2016. The huge news coverage ensured successful transfer of the message to the public. Furthermore, in September 2016, Dr Fung was invited by Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) to be the guest speaker for a radio programme. This study gives practical implications to educators and social workers that solely playing sports or merely teaching moral lessons is not effective enough for high-risk schoolchildren with aggressive behaviour. However, combined traditional Chinese martial arts skills and ethics training could be considered in the school curriculum to reduce school violence and facilitate creation of harmonious schools. ECMA is also important for high-risk children to receive early prevention and treatment at a young age, without any negative stigmatization, preventing them to grow into aggressive grown-ups who could commit violent crimes.