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Brussels Martial Arts Living Lab

Brussels Martial Arts Living Lab

Project summary

The Brussels Martial Arts Living Lab is funded by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and contributes to the implementation of the University’s General Strategic Plan. This 2-year project aims to bridge the gap between two knowledge worlds: the science and the practice of martial arts. The purpose is to translate existing scientific knowledge  into relevant and usable knowledge and tools for martial arts clubs in Brussels, in close collaboration with practitioners. 

The project team consists of ten scientific partners affiliated to the Vrije Universiteit Brussel or the Université Libre de Bruxelles with specific expertise (such as feasibility and effectiveness frameworks) and two partners (i.e., Risicovechtsportplatfom and UNIVER.CITY) that can provide project-based support (e.g., in terms of communication of project results and guidance of students).

Funded by :

Algemeen Strategisch Plan (ASP 2030)

Period :

1/1/2020 – 31/12/2021

Research team :

Marc TheeboomHebe Schaillée 

Partners :


  • Sport & Society
  • Crime & Society
  • Department of Educational Sciences
  • Movement, Nutrition, Health and Performance
  • Multidisciplinary Institute for Teacher Education
  • Voicing Youth at Social Risk


  • Research Unit of Psychophysiology applied to Motor Learning
  • Department of Clinical and Health Psychology 
  • Research group on Ethnic Relations, Migration and Equality
  • Centre for the study of political life

Other partners

  • Risk Combat Sports Platform Flanders
  • UNIVER.CITY project


Martial Arts for the Personal Development of Deprived Youngsters? by prof. Marc Theeboom (pp. 166-170)

book launch

Expertise of the partners

1.     Sport & Society (SASO - VUB)
The research group Sport & Society (SASO) can offer a framework to systematically improve the functioning of sport organisations that aim to achieve social objectives (such as personal and social development, health promotion, poverty reduction, increasing employment opportunities, strengthening social cohesion) and to subsequently measure the impact. This framework, also referred to as a theory of change, enables you to focus on why, how and under what circumstances a sport organisation could (or could not) produce its intended outcomes. This framework enables you to reflect on the feasibility of your objectives and the effectiveness and efficiency of your sport organisation. The development of a theory of change provides you more insight into the strengths and weaknesses within your sport organisation that you could improve, but also enables you to clearly communicate your specific approach to other key stakeholders (e.g., potential partners, grant providers). (

2.     Crime & Society (CriS - VUB)
The focus within CRiS lies on the critical analysis of social phenomena regarding crime and deviant behaviour as well as the (in)formal reactions on these acts. Different research lines have been developed within this research group regarding penology, youth criminology, ‘safety, prevention and police’, ‘crime and the city’ and surveillance. The programme entitled Crossing Borders: Crime, Culture and Control use a critical interdisciplinary approach to address and control criminality as a social phenomenon. (

3.     Department of Educational Sciences (EDWE-PE - VUB)
The Department of Educational Sciences consists of several research groups that study societal changes and emancipation processes. All research done by this department looks at socio-cultural education and participation. Current (doctoral) research focuses mainly on civil society, non-formal educational (youth) organisations and socially vulnerable groups. (

4.     Movement, Nutrition, Health and Performance (MOVE - VUB) 
MOVE unites the BEGE and BEPR research groups. Within the BEGE research group various (behavioural) health-influencing aspects such as exercise, physical activity, fitness and nutrition are studied. Within the BEPR research group the performance aspect is centralised and (sport) performance-influencing aspects are studied in different ways by focussing on the nutritional impact on sports-specific body characteristics and performance. Researchers affiliated to MOVE already conducted research involving martial arts and combat sports. (

5.     Multidisciplinary Institute for Teacher Education (MILO - VUB)
MILO has specific expertise regarding community engaged research and learning in the educational system through tutoring-, co-teaching, school projects that support students, teachers and school teams and through collaborative action research involving teams of teachers, educators, student-teachers, parents, students and others key witnesses that can contribute to the realisation of the schools’ development goals. The compass of MILO aims to improve the learning opportunities of youngsters and the promotion of civic participation among at-risk youth. MILO founded the UNIVER.CITY project that includes a large network of schools - mainly situated in Brussels - including 20 researching schools that are potential partners for the Brussels Martial Arts Living Lab.

6.     Voicing Youth at Social Risk (VOIC-IRP - VUB)
VOICE is an interdisciplinary research programme at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, bringing together research groups from the Departments of Sociology (QRIA – Qualitative Research in Action), Law (FRC – Fundamental Rights and Constitutionalism), Criminology (CRiS – Crime & Society), Sports Sciences and Education (SASO – Sport & Society), with the aim to do research from the perspective of children and youngsters at social risk due to (extreme) poverty, migration, social exclusion, violence, armed conflicts and war. (

7.     Research Unit of Psychophysiology applied to Motor Learning (UPML – ULB)
This research unit is affiliated to the ‘Laboratory of Motricity Sciences’ of the faculty of Movement Sciences of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). Within this research unit a psychophysiological lens is used to study coaching methods, the relationship between coaches and athletes and the use of sports as a tool to foster social inclusion and integration at school. (

8.     Department of Clinical and Health Psychology (DCHP – ULB)
This department within the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences (ULB), brings together several research groups who study the mental well-being. Studies within the field of health psychology explore the importance of a healthy lifestyle, such as regular physical activity and sports’ participation to improve the mental well-being of individuals. Given that healthy lifestyles and good mental health are less prevalent among groups of the lower socio-economic class, there is particular interest in evidence-based methods that can promote health in a socially inclusive way. ( (

9.     Groupe de recherche sur les Relations Ethniques, les Migrations et l’Égalité (Research group on Ethnic Relations, Migration and Equality) (GERME - ULB)
This research group is part of the ‘Institute of Sociology’ of the faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences (ULB). Within this research group processes of in- and exclusion are studied within civic contexts characterised by social inequalities. Current research within GERME looks at civic participation and engagement of socially vulnerable youngsters in Brussels. (

10.     Centre d’étude de la vie Politique (Centre for the study of political life) (CEVIPOL - ULB)
The ‘Centre d’étude de la vie politique’ is part of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences (ULB). Within this research centre there is interest to study the relationship between sport and politics and political parties in Central and Eastern Europe.

Expertise of partners that can provide project-based support

11.  Risicovechtsportplatform Vlaanderen (Risk Combat Sports Platform Flanders)
This platform provides support to martial arts and combat sports organisations and federations. Specific attention of the platform goes to medical and ethical issues. Services of this platform consist of extending existing knowledge regarding to medical and ethical issues of martial arts and combat sports; serving as a communication centre for the platform’s large network of organisations and local governments and being a service and support centre for stakeholders involved in the organisation of the practice of martial arts and combat sportsThe platform could serve as forum to promote good practices in the Brussels Martial Arts Living Lab. For more information, check this link:

12.  UNIVER.CITY project
The UNIVER.CITY project was set up to increase the societal relevance and future-oriented nature of the educational programmes at the VUB. Within this project a wide range of possibilities within the Flemish of Community Engaged Research & Learning (CERL) are explored. The aim of UNIVER.CITY is to develop a CERL-VUB vision, reference framework and tools for designing and monitoring high-quality CERL strategies. The UNIVER.CITY project team can provide support in preparing and supporting collaborations between the (a) research group(s) and martial arts clubs. The contribution of UNIVER.CITY could lie in the coaching and monitoring of students involved in sub-activities of the Brussels Martial Arts Living Lab, supporting the development of international networks and successfully communicate project results towards a broad array of stakeholders. (