September 07, 2004

Martial Arts and Character

I just started reading a weblog called Karate Talk and came across a new posting about Karate and Character.

Interestingly enough, there was a similar article I just read in the latest issue (Volume 13, Number 3) of the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. The article, "Gravitation Versus Change: Explaining the Relationship Between Personality Traits & Martial Arts Training" is written by Brandon Seig, M.S. Here is the abstract for the thirteen and a half page article (with two and a half page bibliography):

Martial arts practitioners frequently cite their training as being responsible for key areas of self-improvement including the mental and emotional realms. Skeptics of the martial arts also believe that training can induce a change in the students but disagree with the outcome being positive. Both arguments are typically based more on personal testimony or opinion than academic theory or research.

Can martial arts training actually induce a change in personality within the practitioner? In sport psychology, this notion, referred to as the change hypothesis, is in contrast to the gravitation hypothesis, which states certain personalities are attracted to the martial arts and are more conducive to succeeding at the martial arts. A literature review of existing research was merited to determine which hypothesis is valid. Many of the studies that were reviewed paint a varied or even contrasting view of the personality traits of martial artists. Many studies from both camps suffer from being merely descriptive and not explanatory, a consequence of not being longitudinal over time. Supporters of either hypothesis in these types of studies appear to presume one or the other to be the case. Yet, there are a benchmark studies that seem to offer more concrete insights, and the martial arts community should take note of them. These studies not only suggest that the martial arts can indeed have positive effects on personality, but also imply the outcome is contingent upon proper teaching which includes "traditional" martial arts values and philosophy.

As you can probably guess from the abstract, it's a fairly academically written article. I think it did a great job of being a "literature review" as it set out to be. You are in for a disappointment if you expect a clear answer to the question to be found. The author says in his closing thoughts that, "Careful and more rigorous examination is required before the martial arts' proposed ability to bring about positive personality changes can be validated."

In my opinion, I think the question is too broad to be answered very scientifically. There's far too many different kinds of martial arts and far too many different teachers and teaching styles for this to be decided scientifically.

Personally, I've found that practicing causes personal change. It usually causes me to reevaluate "fixed ideas" I've had. Makes me see where they've come from and over time, helps me to find ways to change them.

Posted by rob at September 7, 2004 09:23 PM
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