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  • Valerie Kor

Aggression in Martial Arts



Is aggression necessary in martial arts? Some may argue that aggression is indispensable in the scene of martial arts while others may rebut that aggression impractical during fights. There is a difference in daily-life aggression and sport aggression. Daily-life aggression is defined as the feeling of anger or antipathy resulting in hostile or violent behaviour; readiness to attack or confront. On the other hand, sport aggression has two main types: hostile and instrumental.


Hostile aggression is portrayed when an athlete’s main purpose is to hurt the opponent. This form of aggression is coupled with anger and the intention to witness the opponent in pain. In the context of combat sport, an example would be when Tyson went against the rules and bit his opponent’s ear. For striking combat sports such as Muay Thai, athletes are allowed to punch and kick. For grappling sports like BJJ, athletes are allowed to execute legal locks and chokes. However, anything out of the accepted strikes such as the act of biting or intentional hits to genitals will incur a penalty and the fight may come to an immediate stop. Such aggression acts are classified under hostile aggression as the intentions are to harm the opponents on purpose. Opponents should be respected and valued, hence hostile aggression may be minimal to ensure that the sport remains morally acceptable.


On the other hand, instrumental aggression occurs when the athlete is obviously causing harm, but the main intention is to achieve something else such as to win or to score a point. Acts of aggression are allowed and approved in combat sports, with rules to abide. This form of aggression in combat sports is hence referred to instrumental aggression as the athletes are hurting their opponents in order to win.


Sadly, when aggression is being mentioned, people tend to hold on to the definition of aggression in general and hence, deem sport aggression to carry a negative connotation. This is a result of the lack of studies done on sport aggression and in more specific context, aggression in martial arts context.





In the scene of amateur fight sports, majority of the fighters fight with aggression where they are not in their calmed state of mind. It could be an advantage to them as they fight with no fear and constantly pushes forward against their opponents. However, fighters who are more experienced would rebut that fighting without putting emotions into the game is more appropriate. Hence it brings me to the question: Is aggression necessary in martial arts? Even though aggression may be necessary in martial arts since there is the element of fight involved, practitioners need to know how to control their own aggression levels and use it to their advantages. There are different types of aggression such as natural aggression, controlled aggression, emotional aggression, drive aggression and necessary aggression. Each form of aggression is independent of the other.

Natural aggression is a type of aggression formulated from life experiences or individualistic characteristics. Studies have shown that neurotransmitters in the brain affect aggression levels hence a deficit in any neurotransmitter may lead to increase in aggression levels. Also, experts have drawn a positive correlation between testosterone levels and aggression, thus people with higher testosterone levels tend to display more aggression. Fighters with natural aggression tend to fight more offensively where they dominate their opponents by moving forward and executing their moves instead of waiting for their opponents to come in. When a fighter continuously moves forward to attack, the opponent may be taken aback and afraid to retaliate against the constant forward pressure given by the fighter.


Controlled aggression refers to a form of aggression where athletes are able to regulate when to show aggression, and when to take a step back and fight defensively as they wish. By keeping their aggression levels in control, athletes are better able to perform whereby they will not gas out from driving forward unnecessarily. When a fighter is not able to control his aggression level, he may execute moves or hits that have no effect on his opponent. This causes an uncalled energy depletion and the fighter may feel exhausted quicker than expected.



When certain emotions are developed during competitions, emotional aggression arises. Examples of some emotions which may cause emotional aggression are anger, fear, or annoyed. Athletes use emotional aggression as a form of defence mechanism against their opponents. Some may get agitated when their opponents score against them, and hence they establish the urge to retaliate and react to their opponents’ attacks. Emotional aggression could be generated due to external pressure from the crowd, or internal pressure due to stress. Having enough confidence could have brought about an increase in emotional aggression where an athlete fights bravely, without any holdbacks. Apart from these, some athletes have the intention to hurt, incurring an emotional aggression as they execute their moves or throws, wanting to bring about harm to the opponents in order to score and for the fight to be in their favours.


Drive aggression is conditioned through the strong desires of wanting to perform well, yearning to win, goal-driven by motivation, determination and a never-give-up mentality. Some fighters are strong-willed, they refuse to take defeat as a conclusion, and hence they fight with drive aggression, wanting to excel in competitions. The fact that athletes undergo tough weight cut programmes and long training hours prior to their fights, motivates and keeps them going even in the face of adversities (such as having an opponent who is stronger than themselves or getting constantly dominated by their opponents). These athletes are able to drive through all uncertainties and fight strong, both mentally and physically. They are positively driven towards what they want to achieve. Some approach fights with the ambition to win, moulding their mentality to be undefeatable.


In any combat sport competition, it is always one versus another, in an exchange of blows, kicks, punches for striking combat sports or getting into advantageous positions to carry out a submission for grappling sports. If one chooses to fight without the implementation of aggression, he is putting himself in danger as the opponent will certainly attack and bring an end to the game. If combat sport athletes are not comfortable with attacking their opponents, they would not have chosen their respective combat sports to begin with. They might be demure beings in daily-life settings, however when it comes to competitions, they formulate necessary aggression in order to perform well and triumph the game.


Aggression like emotional, necessary and natural aggression needs to be harnessed and tamed in order to prevent negative effects such as over-committing to attack, which may result in an advantage for the opponents to seize. Otherwise, drive and controlled aggression are good to have as they keep athletes motivated and driven, and in control of their aggression levels. To conclude, aggression is necessary to a certain extent due to the nature of the sport, however it is important that martial arts practitioners are know how to control their aggression levels and not let their emotions take over.



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