Psychological Benefits of

Self-Defense Training

By Kevin Vandeyck Ph.D



From a health education standpoint, the clearest benefit of self-defense training is that it teaches girls and women to use the most effective means to reduce their risk of rape and avoid threats to their physical and psychological well-being. There are other reasons to take instruction in this subject as well.

Pava, Bateman and Glascock (1991) conducted an extended study of the effects of self-defense instruction on visually impaired women. All of these women had a more realistic perception of risks of crime, had improved physical skills in areas such as balance and strength, and felt less vulnerable after training. Harding and Nelson (1985) report that self-defense students become more confident, analytical, and aware. They also indicate that concrete advice and skills lead to empowerment, while vague warnings and an exclusive reliance on avoidance lead to fear. Insofar as fear is a constraint to an active and healthy lifestyle, any activity such as self-defense training which decreases fear and apprehension is beneficial (Henderson and Bialeschki, 1993).

Self-defense training has many similarities to martial-arts training. A review of martial arts and psychological health concludes that increased assertiveness, confidence, self-esteem, relaxation and concentration as well as decreased anxiety all result from such training. These effects, along with decreased aggression and better social adroitness, were apparent in two studies of adolescent boys who were exposed to relatively short courses of instruction (Fuller, 1988). Regrettably, we are aware of no comparable studies involving girls.

Perhaps the most interesting and heartening results were reported by Boudreau, Folman and Konzak (1995). Surveys of the parents of over 270 children enrolled in karate classes in Toronto suggested that while boys received significant benefits from instruction, the positive effects enjoyed by girls exceeded their own and parental expectations. There was a universal improvement in self-confidence and self-discipline. Female students experienced physical and academic improvement at a rate of about twice that of boys.