What is self-defense? Experiential learning, the martial arts and the education of the individual

Gary Lee Moyer, University of Pennsylvania


We live in a society of increasing violence, both real and perceived, in our streets, homes and schools. Increasing dependence on, and insulation by, technology contributes to our growing alienation from nature, each other and ourselves. This dissertation examines American Kenpo Karate, specifically the potential significance of training for the black belt as a means of focusing the developmental process of Individuation as defined by Carl Jung. The study surveyed student and teacher assumptions and beliefs concerning the value of martial arts training in adaptation to life in American society. A working assumption of this dissertation was that there exists within every individual a native pattern or Self (Maslow's core of being) which demands to be acknowledged and honored. If it is not, the resulting state of alienation produces internal conflict, stress and eventually dis-ease. What stands in the way of self-realization is the denial of those parts of the self which lie in the shadow. What was in fact indicated by the study was that people begin and continue training for a variety of reasons, and that the pattern of responses suggests a "hierarchy" which supports and closely parallels Abraham Maslow's theory of human needs. Analysis of the interviews led to conclusions that traditional karate training based on the original Shaolin principles of health and spiritual discipline, and adapted to the specific requirements of modern America, can result in therapeutic benefits in the lives of the people interviewed. A karate dojo can provide a community support structure which positions an individual within Maslow's hierarchy and allows the student to work on moving from ego-based concerns for survival to an identity repositioned in a less ego-centered relationship with the community and the larger Self. The sensei (teacher) is, at his best, both teacher and therapist guiding and confronting the student to find and accomplish the tasks at which he needs to succeed. Symbols of rank may be effectively used for goal-setting as long as students are eventually led beyond the symbol to the meaning implied by the award.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Physical education|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Moyer, Gary Lee, "What is self-defense? Experiential learning, the martial arts and the education of the individual" (1994). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9427582.