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For a number of years there has been much research into the psychological well being of individuals studying martial arts, even Taekwondo, although this is a small subset of the literature. The following text is based on scientific research published in journal articles, coupled with anecdotal reports and possible ideas for future research. With the rapidly growing interest in Taekwondo since its inception as an Olympic medal-contending sport, there is promise for studying the mental benefits known to eastern countries for centuries. .

Many practitioners testify to general, beneficial aspects derived by their participation and training in Taekwondo. Even the social interaction that can be gained through training has been found to be a buffer against the stresses of life for adults (8), with long-term continued practice also fostering greater independence (9). Yet children can also reap the benefits too. With progressive training children become more enthusiastic, optimistic, and self-reliant (10). However, this latter research finding was conducted on a sample consisting totally of young males, therefore it would be interesting to find out if there are any benefits specifically attributable to young females.

There are many anecdotal reports from parents explaining how their children (both males and females) do better at school, both behaviourally, academically and at home. These would also be interesting ideas for future research to confirm.

Training in Taekwondo can also increase one's self-concept (i.e. the beliefs that you have about yourself, as opposed to understanding who you are via other people's opinions of you). For instance, it has been found that women training in Taekwondo have a greater physical, personal, social, identity and satisfaction self-concept (3). The same could be said for men as well as children. However, to date there is no research to back this up.

Similarly, individuals who are more self-confident and compete in Taekwondo tournaments are more likely to win their bout (2). Unfortunately, there is no research to date which focuses on the increased self-confidence of people simply training in traditional Taekwondo, which many instructors and students can testify to.

Many Taekwondo practitioners display what their instructors would define as leadership qualities. However to date there is no research to substantiate this. One study which did measure leadership qualities found no significant difference between a group beginning their training (0 - 2.4 years) and a group established in their training (1.5 + years) (9). However, because there was some overlap in training time between these two groups, as well as small numbers of individuals in these groups (15 in each), finding any statistical difference would be difficult. This is therefore another anecdotal quality which could be pursued with improved research methodology.

Taekwondo's acceptance as an Olympic event has produced research into the anxiety feelings surrounding the sport side of this spectacular martial art. Even though some competitors may feel extremely anxious prior to their performance, or others are not so concerned. Some researchers have shown that the level of anxiety does not effect sparring performance (4), whereas others have found that tournament players with lower levels of pre-competition anxiety are more likely to win their bouts (2). However, males competing in Taekwondo tournaments have significantly higher anxiety prior to competing compared to males competing in various other sports, with females having the same level of anxiety whether competing in Taekwondo tournaments or other sports (4).

The anxiety before competing in a Taekwondo sparring tournament maybe more anxiety provoking compared to other sports for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Taekwondo competitor is placed in a situation where the intention is to fight with another, one of the natural and core human instincts which heighten arousal. Secondly, Taekwondo tournament sparring is an individual event and therefore unlike team sports, the anxiety of competing is not shared amongst numerous players. It should be noted that although a Taekwondo tournament player has a coach on the sidelines, the interaction between them and the player is minimal compared to other sports.

Even though the anxiety related to the sport side of Taekwondo has produced inconsistent findings, consistent long-term training has been found to actually reduce anxiety associated with everyday living (9). This makes sense as while practitioners become more confident in their abilities to defend themselves, this may reduce fears of bodily harm or being intimidated.

Despite being taught techniques which can debilitate their opponents, children, adolescents and young adults who practice traditional Taekwondo have shown that with continued promotion through the belt ranking system, there is a decrease in their aggression (12). It should be emphasised that traditional Taekwondo training which incorporates not only the fighting strategies, such as sparring and self-defense, but also elements such as forms, step exercises, meditation/relaxation training and basic skills (blocks, kicks, strikes) training, produces decreases in aggression. When the emphasis of training is on the fighting elements such as sparring and self-defense, practitioners actually exhibit increases in aggression (13). This is why it is fundamental for intending Taekwondo students to know beforehand what they wish to get from their training, and to peruse the right style of club suited to their needs.

One idea that may be interesting to follow now that Taekwondo has become an Olympic sport, and therefore some clubs have emphasised the sport side of Taekwondo which is focussed upon sparring techniques, is whether tournament participants display differences in aggression compared to their fellow club members who solely participate in traditional training.

It has been suggested that due to the professed positive mental attributes to be gained from martial arts training, that such training may serve as a novel form of intervention for improving the mental health status of individuals at risk (14). In fact, one study has shown that adolescents identified as being juvenile delinquents may also benefit from traditional Taekwondo training (13), showing less aggression, less anxiety, increased self-esteem, increased social adroitness (i.e. improved social skills), and an increase in value orthodoxy (i.e. a greater awareness of moral/social obligation).


Despite such interesting findings and a well planned research methodology, no further research has been conducting in this vein. Further studies could investigate the potency of traditional Taekwondo training in improving the mental attributes of individuals with a mental disorder as classified by DSM-IV
(1), or other conditions such as adolescent suicide. On the flip side, it could also be of interest to investigate the effects of traditional Taekwondo training on recipients of 'bullying'. Whether improved mental attributes due to traditional Taekwondo training are able to counteract the mental, emotional and physical abuse by 'bullies'.

The psychological research literature devoted solely to Taekwondo is very minimal. There have been numerous studies investigating other aspects of mental health derived from training in other martial arts such as Karate (7), Judo (11), Kung Fu (6) and Aikido (5). Therefore, there is an abundance of opportunities to replicate previous studies using samples of Taekwondo students as well as original ideas such as those suggested on this site.

The above literature is based on the content of published research articles. Included below is a list if one chooses to explore these in further detail:

References
1. American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Ed. Washington, DC: Author.
 2. Chapman, C., Lane, A. M., Brierly, J. H., & Terry, P. C. (1997). Anxiety, self-confidence and performance in Tae Kwon-do. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 85, 1275-1278.
 3. Finkenburg, M. E.(1990). Effect of participation in Taekwondo on college women's self-concept. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 71, 891-894.
 4. Finkenburg, M. E., Dinucci, J. M., McCune, E. D., & McCune, S. L. (1992). Analysis of the effect of competitive trait anxiety on performance in Taekwondo competition. Perceptual Motor Skills, 75, 239-243.
 5. 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 Motor Skills, 84, 609-610.
 6. Gershman, L. & Stedman, J. M. (1971). Oriental defense exercises as reciprocal inhibitors of anxiety. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 2, 117-119.
 7 Hodge, T. & Deakin, J. M. (1998). Deliberate practice and expertise in the martial arts: The role of context in motor recall. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 20, 260-279.
 8. Iso-Ahola, S. E. & Park, C. J. (1996). Leisure-related social support and self-determination as buffers of stress-illness relationship. Journal of Leisure Research, 28, 169-187.
 9. Kurian, M., Caterino, L. C., & Kulhavy, R. W. (1993). Personality characteristics and duration of ATA Taekwondo training. Perceptual Motor Skills, 76, 363-366.
 10. Kurian, M., Verdi, M. P., Caterino, L. C., Kulhavy, R. W. (1994). Relating scales on the Children's Personality Questionnaire to training time and belt rank in ATA Taekwondo. Perceptual Motor Skills, 79, 904-906.
 11. Lamarre, B. W., & Nosanchuk, T. A. (1999). Judo - the gentle way: A replication of studies on martial arts and aggression. Perceptual Motor Skills, 88, 992-996.
12. Skelton, D. L., Glynn, M. A., & Berta, S. M. (1991). Aggressive behaviour as a function of Taekwondo ranking. Perceptual Motor Skills, 72, 179-182.
 13. Trulson, M. E. (1986). Martial arts training: A novel "cure" for juvenile delinquency.
Human Relations, 39, 1131-1140.
 14.  Wilkinson, L. K. (1996). The martial arts: A mental health intervention? Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 2, 202-207.

Dr Michael Gradisar was awarded his Master of Clinical Psychology and PhD degrees in 2005 at Flinders University, and in the same year obtained a position as a Lecturer in Clinical Child Psychology in the School of Psychology at Flinders. His research focus shifted from the psychophysiological changes of sleep in adults during his PhD to child and adolescent sleep in his academic post. Michael has presented his work at local, national and international conferences, published in journals of international standing, successfully gained funding from local and national grant bodies, and in 2008 was promoted to Senior Lecturer. Michael is also the Director of the Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic and the Flinders University Psychology Clinic.

Any submitted or unpublished scientific research into the psychology of Taekwondo is invited for presentation on this website.

 

 

Last Updated: 15 February 2009