Defending the Self: Martial Arts and Women’s Self-Esteem

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Sharon R. Guthrie California State University, Long Beach Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, 22161 Caminito Petatlan Laguna Hills, CA 92653

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Self-esteem changes among adult women who had been practicing seido karate for at least six months and had acquired the perceived ability to physically self-defend were examined in this study. The research site was a feminist martial arts dojo for women in a midwestern state. Thirty women, aged 26-62, participated in strucured interviews. All of the women perceived improvements in self-esteem after participating in martial arts training for at least six months. These self-esteem changes were perceived to be related to improvement in physical self-perception. Recovery from psychosexual abuse, eating disorders, substance abuse, and growing up in dysfunctional families was another commonly perceived consequence of martial arts training, and most of the participants who had experienced such problems believed their martial arts practice was a valuable adjunct to traditional therapeutic approaches. Significantly, however, they viewed certain aspects of the feminist environment, particularly its gynocentricity, as essential to the self change process. A relationship between the martial arts experience, particularly gaining the ability to defend oneself physically, and other attitudes and behaviors related to self-perception is suggested.

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