Personality Type and the Mystique of Martial Arts

People are drawn to martial arts for many reasons. Although fighting is a facet of martial arts, it is hardly the whole picture. Encompassing everything from the soft and graceful dance of tai chi to the brutally effective strikes of Krav Maga, and from how to stop a mugger to how to live a more enlightened existence, martial arts are pursued for a host of purposes: as self-defense, as exercise, as sport, and even as a conduit for philosophical or spiritual growth.

Are some personality types more interested in martial arts than others? To explore this question, we asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “You would love to learn a martial art.” Overall, a modest majority (62%) agreed, but a few types, especially those with the Intuitive and Prospecting traits, demonstrated strong interest in studying a martial art.

Which personalities are most attracted to martial arts? We take a look below.

Roles

Analysts and Diplomats (72% and 69% agreeing)

Analysts and Diplomats share the Intuitive trait, which was the main indicator of which personality types would enjoy learning a martial art: Intuitive types (70%) were 17% more likely than Observant types (53%) to agree with our statement. Ironically, these two Roles may not be the best-suited to the demands of pursuing a martial art – a highly structured activity that requires discipline, intense mental focus and situational awareness, physical combat, and willingness to respect and obey both centuries-old traditions and the authority of a teacher.

Mastering these requirements could be an especially long road for nonconformist Analysts and peaceful Diplomats. Even so, there are plenty of reasons why these personality types may be enamored with the idea of learning a martial art, perhaps the most important being that it presents these Intuitive types with one more path to take on their constant quest for knowledge and understanding.

Thinking types (66%) were slightly more likely than their Feeling counterparts (61%) to agree, putting Analysts at the top of the results. Analyst personalities are likely attracted to the tactical, strategic aspects of martial arts, which lend a degree of logic and intellectual challenge to the otherwise chaotic nature of fighting. They’d be thrilled to see a more “cerebral” approach beat mere force. And having the ability to defend themselves, if necessary, would fulfill one of Analysts’ core values: independence.

Diplomats, as Feeling personality types, may find beauty in the softer side of martial arts, appreciating the potential for personal development more than the preparation for hand-to-hand combat. Most types of martial arts focus not just on the body but also on the mind and the spirit, incorporating meditative and philosophical components. Sensitive Diplomats are generally open to any sort of experience that can help them feel more connected to their emotions, their inner selves, and the world around them.

Furthermore, nonviolent conflict resolution – something that Diplomats are inherently interested in – is often a major emphasis in martial arts training, which teaches that, in real-life scenarios, one should only fight an opponent in self-defense and as a last resort.

The most likely of all personality types to say that they’d love to learn a martial art were Debaters (75%) and Logicians (74%), both Analyst types. Debaters relish the process of intellectual sparring and are probably intrigued to apply their quick thinking to physical sparring too. Logicians love learning, period. They crave knowledge (the more unusual the subject, the better), and they’re perfectly willing to put limitless time and energy into pursuing it.

Both Debaters and Logicians dislike dealing with day-to-day, mundane details and probably hold martial arts in high regard as being above the drudgery of ordinary life, as a sort of philosophical and artistic ideal to which they can aspire. But since these two personalities can struggle to see their ideas through with practical actions, learning a martial art may remain just that: an aspiration.

Explorers and Sentinels (57% and 50%)

Explorers and Sentinels agreed at notably lower rates, which is mostly a function of their shared Observant trait. Observant personality types are generally more present in the here-and-now than Intuitive types are. They stay focused on what’s happening around them, they like to stick with things that have been proven to work, and they like to get things done.

But even though Explorer and Sentinel personality types may be well-equipped to excel in the more physical aspects of martial arts, they’re not going to be particularly interested in the meditative, reflective, and philosophical aspects. These Roles may simply feel that, as adults, they’ve already developed other skills and resources they can rely on, and so don’t need to learn an intricate, complex martial art.

For Explorers, martial arts may initially be intriguing as an active, exciting pursuit with plenty of opportunities to try out new techniques and think on their feet. But the time, the commitment, and the repetition involved in learning a martial art are all going to be significant deterrents. Due to their Prospecting trait, Explorer personality types like to keep things fresh and like to have the freedom to bounce from one new interest to the next. They may quickly grow impatient in martial arts classes, feeling particularly limited by those styles characterized by slow progression and fixed forms.

Sentinel personalities were even more hesitant about the idea of learning a martial art. Despite the value they see in tradition, order, self-discipline, and clearly defined rules, Sentinels also place a high premium on all things practical, thanks to their Judging trait, and they probably view martial arts as more poetic than pragmatic. In fact, Judging types (58%) were 10% less likely overall to agree with our statement than Prospecting types (67%). A Sentinel would find it much more sensible to sign up for a few basic self-defense classes than to invest years in learning a martial art.

Defenders (47%) and Consuls (48%), both Sentinels, were the least likely of all personality types to express a desire to learn a martial art. Defenders are always ready to protect their friends and loved ones, offering both practical and emotional support, but they have a tendency to neglect their own needs, which could include self-defense skills. Consuls also put a lot of energy into supporting those closest to them and ensuring their happiness, and they tend to look for more conventional activities to pursue; martial arts may strike them as too esoteric for their comfort. Both personality types are conflict-averse, lovers rather than fighters, which may cause them to take issue with the more “martial” qualities of martial arts.

Strategies

People Mastery, Confident Individualism, Social Engagement, and Constant Improvement (64%, 63%, 61%, and 61% agreeing)

Our Roles appear to have a more pronounced influence than our Strategies when it comes to our interest in martial arts. The difference between the responses of Extraverts and Introverts was negligible, although there was some slight variation between Assertive and Turbulent personality types. Self-confidence is no doubt a key factor in how willing we are to try anything new, especially something as challenging as martial arts, and since Assertive types are more confident, they were a bit more likely to agree with our statement.

Turbulent personality types, on the other hand, are more prone to worrying about what others think of them and to perfectionism, making them more reluctant to try a martial art.

Conclusions

While the study of a martial art may make one a better fighter, becoming better at fighting is hardly the only reason to undertake such an endeavor. For many, the pursuit of a particular martial art is as much about changing one’s lifestyle as it is about changing one’s fighting style.

More practically minded individuals, such as Explorers and Sentinels, may be turned off by the time-consuming and somewhat diffuse nature of martial arts – it’s not strictly a means of self-defense, or exercise, or spirituality, but something that combines bits and pieces of all of the above. Analyst and Diplomat personalities, on the other hand, may be more inclined to enjoy martial arts as not merely a means to an end, but as a journey rooted in new understanding.

Have you ever studied a martial art, or simply had the desire to do so? What, if anything, about martial arts appeals to your personality type? Let us know in the comments!

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, here. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

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1 week ago
I first tried to learn martial arts because Neo from the Matrix said “I know Kung Fu”. It’s not like I can take anyone down with it. I want to learn because they’re ‘art’.
1 week ago
I'm actually going for my black belt in taewondo this weekend!! I've done it for three years now and I love it! You're correct, that, as an Analyst, I enjoy the multi-faceted nature of it; it helps keep me interested and I've grown a lot in maturity and confidence since I started. I also enjoy doing forms, which are very precise and technical - kind of my forte as a Logician. Even sparring is well-suited, because I can bring out my competitive side, but it's not in my personality to be upset at a loss; I can always learn from it. And yes, the mystique of martial arts has always appealed to me, and that the masters were so capable and self-possessed. I admire the self-discipline it takes to get to that point. Taekwondo has given me other skills and perspectives too, such as the ability to teach, and how to be patient and engaging for students of different ages and personalities. It's just been one long learning journey. I'd definitely recommend it to any else who's interested. :)
1 week ago
Nice! Good luck on the black belt!
1 week ago
I passed today!! Whoo!
1 week ago
I used to take Karate lessons, and I loved it, though I had a tendency to run myself into the ground by practicing obsessively. I liked how it forced me to keep my mind off of my worries and in the present moment, and knowing how to defend myself increased my confidence.
1 week ago
The "Defender" is the least likely to want to learn a martial art.
1 week ago
I mean, I'm probably the Ryu of this site. Tae Kwon Do, Krav Maga, Muay Thai, ETC. They've overall had a good impact on my life.
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