To date, martial arts involvement is often described in controversial terms. While some studies report increased anti-social behavior as a result of martial arts involvement, other findings refer to a more positive social and personal development. This paradox has resulted in an ambiguous public discourse on their value and legitimacy as socially accepted sports, often leading to a dichotomization between “good” and “bad” styles of martial arts. Up until now however, there has been a lack of empirical proof that this “good versus
bad” perspective divides along the lines of specific martial arts styles. Consequently, the distinct moral and medical concerns regarding the effects of involvement in harder martial arts—combined with their increased popularity, as well as their perceived positive outcomes for specific target groups—have resulted in a growing demand among policy makers to develop (or rethink) their strategy towards the regulation and support of these sports. By means of a case-study approach, the present paper discusses some of the key issues regarding the regulation of a number of full contact martial arts (e.g., kickboxing, Muay Thai, MMA), which are considered to be problematic for (sport) authorities, and which confront sports policy makers in Flanders. In describing the Flemish case, this paper aims to highlight the need to develop a sound martial arts policy that can provide a legitimation base for the provision and organization of full contact martial arts, which have become increasingly popular in recent years.
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