Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Personality Characteristics of Martial Artists

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Personality Characteristics of Martial Artists

Article excerpt

This study used the MMPI-2 to explore the personalities of yellow-belt and black-belt martial artists. A total of 40 participants completed the MMPI-2 and a demographic questionnaire. Black-belt females tended to be less defensive than were other martial artists, but also displayed more paranoia and more anger than average. Females of both ranks reported a higher degree of anxiety and health concerns than did males in the study, and black-belt females also reported more family problems than did other groups. Finally, black belts in general reported more health concerns than did yellow belts.

Keywords: martial artists, MMPI-2, personality, HO, M8, hostility, psychopathology, black belt, yellow belt, Masculinity-Feminity Scale, Social Discomfort Scale.

Understanding the personality of athletes has been the topic of much research. For example, Eysenck, Nias, and Cox (1982) proposed that there is sufficient evidence to "conclude that there are undoubtedly fairly close relationships between personality ... and sporting activity .... [However,] these relationships must always be qualified by the level of activity reached by the competitor, by the specific type of sport indulged in, and even by particular parameters within a given sport" (p. 49). The present paper examines personality characteristics as they relate specifically to martial artists.

Martial artists have suggested for years that training offers psychological benefits. Aikido, jiu jitsu, judo, karate, kung fu, taekwondo, and tai chi are only a few of the maniai arts practiced on a daily basis by over 5 million people in the United States (Katz, 1998). Although physical factors (exercise, self-defense, etc.) may be the clearest benefits of practicing the martial arts, it has also been suggested that martial arts can improve self-confidence, self efficacy, control over fears, and lower inclinations towards aggression (see Hyams, 1982).

Researchers interested in the martial arts have studied such variables as aggressiveness (e.g., Nosanchuk & MacNeil, 1989); anxiety (e.g., Kurian, Caterino, & Kulhavy, 1993); energy management (e.g., Seitz, Olson, Locke, & Quam, 1990); feelings of control and vulnerability (e.g., Madden, 1995); hostility (e.g., Rothpearl, 1980); mood and affect (e.g., McGowan, Pierce, & Jordan, 1992); neuroticism and extraversion (e.g., Layton, 1988); and self-concept, self esteem, and self-reliance (e.g., Kurian, Verdi, Caterino, & Kulhavy, 1994).

Aggression in particular is illustrative. Bandura, Ross, and Ross (1963) found that children can learn aggressive responding by observing an adult exhibit the behavior. It seems plausible then that martial arts students could learn to respond with physical aggression in conflicts that would not warrant such action, by emulating their instructors' techniques. Moreover, such aggression could reasonably be reinforced by consequences such as winning a fight, earning respect from peers, fear from opponents, and a feeling of physical self-efficacy. As a result, aggression might gain a high degree of utility and could be repeated when situational cues obtain (e.g., Perry, Perry, & Rasmussen, 1986).

Importantly however, research suggests that social learning theory does not readily apply to aggression in martial arts as in sport. For example, both Nosanchuk (1981) and Rothpearl (1979) have found that aggression was negatively correlated with belt level. Similarly, Nosanchuk and MacNeil (1989) found that aggressiveness was lower for advanced students than for elementary students.

Such evidence indicates that higher-ranking students tend to be less aggressive, however, it is unclear whether these results are caused by aggressive individuals dropping out before gaining higher belt ranks, or from the influence of the martial arts training. Some (e.g., Back & Kim, 1982) believe that the martial arts reduce aggressiveness because actions are focused toward self-defense without hostility. …

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