Martial Arts as a Pathway to Flourishing



In this chapter, the theoretical and empirical literature is reviewed concerning the psychosocial correlates of training in the martial arts. Guided by cross-cultural research, positive psychological work on character strengths and virtues, and Alasdair MacIntyre’s neo-Aristotelian philosophy, the author argues that the martial arts can be seen as a eudamonic practice in which personal development and flourishing may be pursued.


Martial arts Positive psychology Virtues Flourishing Aristotle Courage Justice Temperance Wisdom Benevolence 


  1. Arman, M., & Rehnsfeldt, A. (2006). The presence of love in ethical caring. Nursing Forum, 41, 4–12.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A social learning analysis. Oxford: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  3. Barnfield, A. M. C. (2003). Observational learning in the martial art studio: Instructors as models of positive behaviors. Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 12(3), 8–17.Google Scholar
  4. Batson, C. D. (1991). The altruism question: Toward a social-psychological answer. Hillsdale: Lawrence, Erlebaum Associates.Google Scholar
  5. Baumeister, R. F., & Exline, J. J. (1999). Virtue, personality, and social relations: Self-control as the moral muscle. Journal of Personality, 67, 1165–1194.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brecklin, L. R., & Ullman, S. E. (2005). Self-defense or assertiveness training and women’s responses to sexual attacks. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20, 738–762.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Buss, S. (1999). Appearing respectful: The moral significance of manners. Ethics, 109, 795–826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cassell, E. J. (2005). Compassion. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 434–445). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Christopher, J. C., & Hickinbottom, S. (2008). Positive psychology, ethnocentrism, and the disguised ideology of individualism. Theory & Psychology, 18, 563–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Comte-Sponville, A. (2001). A small treatise on the great virtues (C. Temerson, Trans.). New York: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  11. Cupit, G. (1996). Justice as fittingness. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  12. Cvet, D. M. (2005). The measure of a master swordsman. Journal of Western Martial Art. Retrieved from
  13. Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. (2005). Shared virtue: The convergence of valued human strengths across culture and history. Review of General Psychology, 3, 203–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Daniels, K., & Thornton, E. W. (1990). Analysis of the relationship between hostility and training in the martial arts. Journal of Sports Sciences, 8, 95–101.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. David, W. S., Simpson, T. L., & Cotton, A. J. (2006). Taking charge: A pilot curriculum of self-defense and personal safety training for female veterans with PTSD because of military sexual trauma. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21, 555–565.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Delva-Tauiliili, J. (1995). Does brief aikido training reduce aggression of youth? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 80, 297–298.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dueck, A., & Reimer, K. (2003). Retrieving the virtues in psychotherapy: Thick and thin discourse. American Behavioral Scientist, 47, 427–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Duthie, R. B., Hope, L., & Barker, D. G. (1978). Selected personality traits of martial artists as measured by the adjective checklist. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 47, 71–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Eichler, L. (1923). Book of etiquette. Garden City: Nelson Doubleday.Google Scholar
  20. Endressen, I. M., & Olweus, D. (2005). Participation in power sports and antisocial involvement in preadolescent and adolescent boys. Joural of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 64, 468–478.Google Scholar
  21. Finkenberg, M. F. (1990). Effect of participation in taekwondo on college women’s self-concept. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 71, 891–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fives, A. (2005). Virtue, justice, and the human good: Non-relative communitarian ethics and the life of religious commitment. Contemporary Politics, 11, 117–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Focht, B. C., Bouchard, L. J., & Murphey, M. (2000). Influence of martial arts training on the perception of experimentally induced pressure pain and selected psychological responses. Journal of Sport Behavior, 23, 232–244.Google Scholar
  24. Foster, Y. A. (1997). Brief aikido training versus karate and golf training and university students’ scores on self-esteem, anxiety, and expression of anger. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84, 609–610.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fowers, B. J. (2005). Virtue and psychology: Pursuing excellence in everyday practices. Washington: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fuller, J. R. (1988). Martial arts and psychological health. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 61, 317–328.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gillet, N., Vallerand, R. J., Amoura, S., & Baldes, B. (2010). Influence of coaches’ autonomy support on athletes’ motivation and sport performance: A test of the hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11, 155–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gleser, J. M., Margulies, J. Y., Nyeska, M., Porat, S., Mandelberg, H., & Wertman, E. (1992). Physical and psychosocial benefits of modified judo practice for blind, mentally retarded children: A pilot study. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 74, 915–925.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hackney, C. H. (2006). Reflections on audatia as a martial virtue. Journal of Western Martial Art. Retrieved from
  30. Hackney, C. H. (2009). The Aristotelian philosophy of the martial arts. Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 18(4), 8–17.Google Scholar
  31. Hackney, C. H. (2010a). A role for the martial arts in positive youth development. PsyInsight, 1, 38–39.Google Scholar
  32. Hackney, C. H. (2010b). Martial virtues. North Clarendon: Tuttle.Google Scholar
  33. Hatsumi, M. (1988). The grandmaster’s book of ninja training. Chicago: Contemporary Books.Google Scholar
  34. Hatsumi, M., & Cole, B. (2001). Understand? Good. Play! USA: Bushin Books.Google Scholar
  35. Held, V. (2006). The ethics of care: Personal, political, and global. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Hoff, F. (2002). Kyudo: The way of the bow (S. C. Kohn, trans). Boston: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  37. Hursthouse, R. (1999). On virtue ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Johnson, W. R., & Hutton, D. C. (1955). Effects of a combative sport upon personality dynamics as measured by a projective test. Research Quarterly, 26, 49–53.Google Scholar
  39. Jordan, R. D. (1989). The quiet hero: Figures of temperance in Spenser, Donne, Milton, and Joyce. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press.Google Scholar
  40. Kano, J. (1986). Kodokan judo. New York: Kodansha.Google Scholar
  41. Kiyota, M. (2002). The shambhala guide to kendo. Boston: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  42. Kristjánsson, K. (2010). Positive psychology, happiness, and virtue: The troublesome conceptual issues. Review of General Psychology, 14, 296–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kurian, M., Caterino, L. C., & Kulhavy, R. W. (1993). Personality characteristics and duration of ATA taekwondo training. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 76, 363–366PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kurian, M., Verdi, M. P., Caterino, L. C., & Kulhavy, R. W. (1994). Rating scales on the children’s personality questionnaire to training time and belt rank in ATA taekwondo. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 79, 904–906.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lamarre, B. W., & Nosanchuk, T. A. (1999). Judo-the gentle way: A replication of studies on martial arts and aggression. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 88, 992–996.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Lakes, K. D., & Hoyt, W. T. (2004). Promoting self-regulation through school-based martial arts training. Applied Developmental Psychology, 25, 283–302.Google Scholar
  47. Layton, C. (1988). The personality of black-belt and nonblack-belt traditional karateka. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 67, 218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Layton, C. (1990). Anxiety in black-belt and nonblack-belt traditional karateka. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 71, 905–906.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Le Bars, H., Gernigon, C., & Ninot, G. (2008). Personal and contextual determinants of elite young athletes’ persistence or dropping out over time. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 19, 274–285. doi:10.1111/j.1600–0838.2008.00786.x.Google Scholar
  50. Ledyard, G. S. (2002). Appropriate ukemi. Retrieved from
  51. Livnat, Y. (2004). On the nature of benevolence. Journal of Social Philosophy, 35, 304–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lowry, D. (2006). In the dojo: A guide to the rituals and etiquette of the Japanese martial arts. Boston: Weatherhill.Google Scholar
  53. MacIntyre, A. (1984). After virtue (2nd Edition). Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  54. MacIntyre, A. (1999). Dependant rational animals: Why humans need the virtues. Chicago: Open Court.Google Scholar
  55. Madden, M. E. (1990). Attributions of control and vulnerability at the beginning and end of a karate course. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 70, 787–794.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Madden, M. E. (1995). Perceived vulnerability and control of martial arts and physical fitness students. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 80, 899–910.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nosanchuk, T. A. (1981). The way of the warrior: The effects of traditional martial arts training on aggressiveness. Human Relations, 34, 435–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Okazaki, T. (2006). Perfection of character: Guiding principles for the martial arts & everyday life. Philadelphia: GMW.Google Scholar
  59. Ozer, E. M., & Bandura, A. (1990). Mechanisms governing empowering effects: A self-efficacy analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 472–486.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Palermo, M. T., Di Luigi, M., Forno, G. D., Dominici, C., Vicomandi, D., Sambucioni, A., Proietti, L., & Pasqualetti, P. (2006). Externalizing and oppositional behaviors and karate-do: The way of crime prevention, a pilot study. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 50, 654–660.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  62. Pieper, J. (1965). The four cardinal virtues. New York: Harcourt.Google Scholar
  63. Pyecha, J. (1970). Comparative effects of judo and selected physical education activities on male university freshman personality traits. The Research Quarterly, 41, 425–431.Google Scholar
  64. Reynes, E., & Lorant, J. (2002). Effect of traditional judo training on aggressiveness among young boys. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 94, 21–15.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Reynes, E., & Lorant, J. (2004). Competitive martial arts and aggressiveness: A 2-yr longitudinal study among young boys. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 98, 103–115.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Richman, C. L., & Rehberg, H. (1986). The development of self-esteem through the martial arts. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 17, 234–239.Google Scholar
  67. Robinson, D. N. (1990). Wisdom through the ages. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Wisdom: Its nature, origins, and development (pp. 13–24). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rowold, J. (2006). Transformational and transactional leadership in martial arts. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 18, 312–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Ruth, J. A. (1880). Decorum: A practical treatise on etiquette and dress of the best American society. New York: Union Publishing House.Google Scholar
  70. Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free.Google Scholar
  71. Shields, D., LaVoi, N., Bredemeier, B., Power, F. (2007). Predictors of poor sportspersonship in youth sports: Personal attitudes and social influences. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 29, 747–762.Google Scholar
  72. Skelton, D. L., Glynn, M. A., & Berta, S. M. (1991). Aggressive behavior as a function of taekwondo ranking. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 72, 179–182.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Slater, J., & Hunt, H. T. (1997). Postural-vestibular integration and forms of dreaming: A preliminary report on the effects of brief t’ai chi chuan training. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 85, 97–98.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Sterba, J. P. (1988). How to make people just: A practical reconciliation of alternate conceptions of justice. Totowa: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  75. Sternberg, R. J. (1998). A balance theory of wisdom. Review of General Psychology, 2, 347–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Stohr, K. (2006). Manners, morals, and practical wisdom. In T. Chappell (Ed.), Values and virtues: Aristotelianism in contemporary ethics (pp. 189–211). Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  77. Sundararajan, L. (2005). Happiness donut: A Confucian critique of positive psychology. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 25, 35–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Tangney, J. P. (2000). Humility: Theoretical perspectives, empirical findings and directions for future research. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 70–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Tikhonov, V. (1998). Hwarang organization: Its function and ethics. Korea Journal, 38, 318–338.Google Scholar
  80. Tjeltveit, A. C. (2003). Implicit virtues, divergent goods, multiple communities: Explicitly addressing virtues in the behavioral sciences. American Behavioral Scientist, 47, 395–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Trulson, M. E. (1986). Martial arts training: A novel “cure” for juvenile delinquency. Human Relations, 39, 1131–1140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Twemlow, S. W., & Sacco, F. C. (1998). The application of traditional martial arts practice and theory to the treatment of violent adolescents. Adolescence, 33, 505–518.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  83. Vohs, K. D., & Baumeister, R. F. (2004). Understanding self-regulation: An introduction. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications (pp. 1–12). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  84. Weiser, M., Kutz, I., Kutz, S. J., & Weiser, D. (1995). Psychotherapeutic aspects of the martial arts. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 49, 118–127.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  85. Westhusing, T. (2003). A beguiling military virtue: Honor. Journal of Military Ethics, 2, 195–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Wink, P., & Helson, R. (1997). Practical and transcendent wisdom: Their nature and some longitudinal findings. Journal of Adult Development, 4, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Young, J. H. (1883). Our deportment: Or the manners, conduct, and dress of the most refined society. Detroit: F. B. Dickerson & Co.Google Scholar
  88. Zivin, G., Hassan, N. R., DePaula, G. F., Monti, D. A., Harlan, C., Hossain, K. D., & Patterson, K. (2001). An effective approach to violence prevention: Traditional martial arts in middle school. Adolescence, 36, 443–459.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentBriercrest College and SeminaryCaronportCanada

Personalised recommendations