The internet is full of information on a wide diversity of topics; however not all the sources on the net are truly credible. When we consume information from the net we need to be sure to verify the background and sources of the author(s) providing us with the information. Even if the opinion of the author matches are, it doesn’t mean they are providing scientific information.
The article I am going to review falls into this category. The author doesn’t have a doctorate; in fact it appears his published article was originally a paper he wrote for an undergrad class in college. While I agree with his statements, I am not putting this out there as a scientific article. Since the article is easily attainable on the net I felt it was reasonable to provide a critique of it anyways.
The article in question is The Physical and Psychological Benefits of Martial Arts Training, by Adam Paul Swiercz. The original article can be found at http://www.dctkd.org/library/papers/benefits-of-ma-training.cfm (originally downloaded on 12-12-12 at 3:02 pm). The paper systematically talks about the effectiveness of martial arts in helping with Hypertension, Anaerobic Power, helping the Elderly, and improving psychological states. The article starts with an introduction to the topic and the author’s background, as well as why the topic is important to the author. Unfortunately, Mr. Swiercz fails to present why it’s an important topic beyond his personal interest.
The next section of the article explores the effectiveness of Qigong on Hypertension. Mr. Swiercz provides a brief explanation of the current Western approach to hypertension, which of course is medication driven. He then talks about an article in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine discussing the effectiveness of Qigong on lowering blood pressure, ventilator functions, urinary catecholamine levels, forces respiratory volumes, and forced vital capacity.
From hypertension he moves his paper to the topic of Taekwondo and Anaerobic Power. Mr. Swiercz discusses an article from The British Journal of Sports Medicine that investigated the acute cardiorespiratory responses to Taekwondo training. The stated goal of the study, as presented by Mr. Swiercz, was to learn more about the aerobic and anaerobic power associated with taekwondo.
While he does provide a reasonable summary of the study, there is no exploration of the weaknesses of the study (and all studies have weaknesses). The study conducted by Dr. Melhim found no significant effects on the volume of oxygen uptake or resting hear rate. The study did show signs of anaerobic power and capacity increased in the subjects.
The paper then moves the reader onto the topic of martial arts for the elderly, particularly Tai Chi and the Taekwondo. This section of the paper explores research done to establish Tai Chi as a moderate exercise with benefits for cardiorespiratory function, immune capacity, mental control, flexibility, balance, and fall reduction for the elderly. Mr. Swiercz also discusses the benefits of Taekwondo for increased strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and prevention of osteoporosis.
In this part of his paper, Mr. Swiercz presents two studies which caught my attention. The first study was one the effect martial arts has on our immune system, particularly in fighting the re-emergence of chickenpox, which effects adults in the form of Shingles. According to the study the author presented regular Tai Chi practice the subject group showed an average of 50% increase in their immunity to shingles. Unfortunately, the researcher only used 18 subjects so the study, while a great pilot study isn’t an appropriate one to apply to the general population.
The second study of interest that Mr. Swiercz presented that was of interest was a test done on subjects between the ages of forty and sixty. The study found a correlation between reduced body fat, increase in sit-ups, flexibility, and balance; however, I unfortunately have to draw attention to the small subject pool, which again limits the studies applicability to the general population.
The final section of the paper explored the psychological benefits of martial arts training. This section is extremely lacking in appropriate citations. It reads as more of an opinion section with little empirical evidence provided to support his suppositions. This is surprising because there is reasonable amount of research he could have pulled from and if he found it difficult to find the research (sometime the research isn’t cataloged as logically as we’d think) then he could have used research on other exercises to support his hypothesis.
The article or paper, while well written, wasn’t created by an experienced graduate level researcher (PhD or Masters), as such the information presented needs to be “taken with a grain of salt.” The article is primarily a “martial arts is great” perspective paper with no counter arguments presented. It is quite obvious this article was a college paper that was then posted to the internet. As a reminder, the reason I am bringing this article to people’s attention is to bring awareness to the difference between a research article and an opinion paper.
The author of this article provides no original contribution to the topic, meaning he didn’t do anything to advance our knowledge. Additionally, due to his dearth of citations we can’t even utilize this paper as a summary of the literature out there. Most of the studies he does cite had such small subject pools that, while they make great pilot studies, we can’t use them to generalize to the general population.
Mr. Swiercz writes in a clear and easy to follow manner which helps the reader understand the benefits of engaging in martial arts. The paper is posted on a martial arts website, which is a smart move on their part because the paper does come across as “professional” and would help a reader believe it was written by “someone of authority.”
While I am a huge proponent of the martial arts and believe in provides tremendous benefit, and I agree with what Mr. Swiercz is saying, I have to say this paper would be better suited as a blog post, not presented as an article. I would love to formally encourage Mr. Swiercz to continue his education and achieve his PhD (assuming he hasn’t already done so) and ask him to rewrite the paper from a more clinical/true research perspective.