Karate and mental health: Can the practice of a martial art reduce aggressive tendencies?

Uriel B Adler, Pace University


The present study explored the relationships between youth's martial arts practice and various aspects of their mental health, particularly their aggressive tendencies. Conceptual literature suggests the potential of both sport and martial arts to reduce aggression; however, empirical research distinguishes between the two. Specifically, many studies have shown that sport alone is often not a successful means of socialization (Stevenson, 1975, 1985). In contrast, martial arts research has been more promising. Specifically, studies have shown that martial arts practice is associated with, and sometimes clearly affects, lowered rates of aggression (Trulson, 1986, Zivin et al., 2001). Some studies have distinguished between traditional training and nontraditional training (Trulson, 1986, Nosanchuk, 1981). Traditional training is a concept whose definition varies slightly among studies. However, it generally includes such components as kata (choreographed sequences), respect, lecture and meditation. Nontraditional training in contrast, emphasizes mostly fighting and self-defense techniques. Contact is often unrestricted. In examining the psychological correlates of karate/Tae Kwon Do training, the current study focuses on the relevance of traditional training as a whole, as well as the individual components of traditional training, such as kata, respect, etc. The study also investigated other aspects of training including commitment to training, as well as length, frequency and intensity of training. It was hypothesized that Length of Training, Frequency and Duration of Training, Belt Rank, Intensity of Training, Commitment to Training, Meditation, Philosophy, Hyeungs/Kata, Respect, Traditionality and Avoidance of Heavy Contact would predict Aggression, Delinquency, Externality and Frustration Tolerance. Most of the predictor variables were measured through subjects' responses to a single question. Commitment, however, was measured using the Commitment to Karate Questionnaire (Wingate 1993). The outcome variables of Aggression, Delinquency and Externality were measured using the Youth Self Report (Achenbach, 1991). Frustration Tolerance was measured by a section of a questionnaire developed by Thompson and Dodder (1986). In addition to primary analyses, which focused on externalizing difficulties, secondary analyses examined the relationships between the predictors and the remaining variables of the Youth Self Report. Some of these variables included Attentional Difficulties, Somatization, Anxiety/Depression, etc. Exploratory analyses also explored the relationships to Self-Esteem, and Body Image. Self-esteem was measured using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965) Body image was measured through a set of four questions devised for this study. The results were consistent with prior research in some ways, but were inconsistent in others. Specifically, Kata was negatively correlated with Aggression, Delinquency and Externality. Respect was negatively correlated with Externality. In other words, emphasis on kata and respect was associated with lower levels of externalizing behaviors. In addition, Intensity of Training was significantly correlated with Frustration Tolerance, suggesting that more intense training was associated with increased frustration tolerance. However, unlike previous research, neither belt rank nor other traditionality measures were correlated with outcomes related to aggression. Discrepancies with prior research are interpreted in light of the sample obtained for the study. Several notable results obtained through secondary analyses, which measured correlations with other mental health variables. Most notable was that Belt Rank and Traditionality variables negatively correlated with attentional difficulties. In addition, Belt Rank, as well as Intensity of Training, were correlated with several other mental health outcomes. Implications for school psychology and early prevention of violence and related difficulties are discussed.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Recreation

Recommended Citation

Adler, Uriel B, "Karate and mental health: Can the practice of a martial art reduce aggressive tendencies?" (2003). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3080475.



Remote User: Click Here to Login (must have Pace University remote login ID and password. Once logged in, click on the View More link above)