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Stress reduction


Some people believe that training in the martial arts will cause or acerbate violent or aggressive behavior. However, most people have been exposed to the martial arts only through martial art movies and MMA events. Other than a few exceptions, such as the Karate Kid movie and the Kung-fu television shows of the last century, these depictions of the martial arts are always associated with violence. Recently, the popularity of televised unrestrained fighting tournaments has perpetuated this theme. While the martial arts are based upon warlike, violent behavior, they also use ritualistic behaviors that seek to avoid or control violence and they train to make these behaviors a part of one’s life.

Martial art masters claim their arts reduce stress and violence in their practitioners, and thus, in the communities in which they live. These are lofty claims, but are they true? Are these claimed benefits any different from those that gained from other sports activities? What specific aspects of martial arts training bring about these changes? If these claims are true, then is martial art training an effective means to treat people with violent tendencies?

Stress reduction

A few studies have shown that a single session of a high physical output activity, such as jogging, weight lifting, or a martial art may reduce tension, anxiety, depression, and anger-hostility in participants immediately after the activity. However, more research in this area is needed before any definite conclusions may be drawn about the short-term effects of martial arts training.

In contrast, there are many studies that have examined the long-term effects of martial arts training; most of which have shown positive psychosocial changes in participants. Many of the studies have assessed martial artists with different belt ranks or time of participation. In general, there appears to be an inverse relationship between belt rank and the length of time practicing a martial art and anxiety, aggression, hostility, and neuroticism; but there appears to be a positive correlation with self-confidence, independence, self-reliance, and self-esteem.

While these results seem encouraging, most of the studies did not account for students who had negative traits and dropped out of the activity and they did not use control groups. Some studies suggest that the style of martial art may be relevant; that certain martial arts might lead to changes more quickly than others might. These results are tempered by the results of some studies that found no effects of martial arts training on personality traits.

When amongst family members, you are forced to deal with family problems. When at work, you are forced to deal with work matters. When at taekwondo class, you are forced to deal with taekwondo training. You must deal with your family daily and you must deal with your job practically every day, but you only deal with taekwondo training two or three times a week. While training in taekwondo, all your thoughts about your family problems and work problems are suppressed as you concentrate on your training. Therefore, during the time you are training, you can forget your cares and woes and the stress they cause. Not only are you able to reduce your stress while in class, the relaxation techniques you learn in class help you deal with stress more effectively while outside of class.

Do the martial arts reduce stress

Since physical activities have been shown beneficial for various special needs populations, some studies have evaluated using the martial arts to treat psychological problems. These studies have shown that martial art training was beneficial in recovering from psychosexual abuse, eating disorders, substance abuse, and growing up in dysfunctional families.

A study by Trulson in 1986, evaluated juvenile delinquents that were assigned to one of three groups: a group receiving traditional taekwondo training, a group receiving sport taekwondo training, and a group receiving increased physical activity not involving the martial arts. Students in the traditional taekwondo group showed a decrease in aggressiveness and anxiety and an increase in self-esteem. In contrast, the sport taekwondo group showed an increased tendency towards delinquency and an increase in aggressiveness. Students in the exercise group showed an increase in self-esteem, but no other significant changes.

Other studies have shown that judo led to an increase in the social adjustment scores for developmentally disabled subjects, increased the psychosocial skills for blind, developmentally disabled children, and is a useful adjunct to community programs for the treatment of pre-delinquent children. Studies have shown that aikido training led to increases in self-esteem for adolescents with behavioral problems and that it is useful as an intervention strategy for middle and high school students with severe emotional disturbances. Studies have shown that both judo and karate reduced dysfunctional behaviors in male, behaviorally disordered adolescents.

While these studies indicate that the martial arts offer a wide range of therapeutic applications, they are not a cure-all, other studies have also pointed out the limitations of the martial arts in treating some disorders.
Martial arts are beginning to be accepted as a useful complement to verbal therapy for many disorders. It appears the traditional martial art masters were correct in their claim that their arts may be used to reduces stress and violence in their practitioners, and thus, in the communities in which they live.

  • Trulson, M.E. (1986) Martial Arts Training: A Novel "Cure" for Juvenile Delinquency. Human Relations 39: 1131-1140

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