(this is part of an article by Matt Thornton, it is an interesting perspective on MA training and its effects).
Awareness Versus Paranoia, the Realities of Self Defense Training
By Matt Thornton
One would think that by training in "street" orientated martial arts, or combatives that emphasize the self defense aspects of martial arts, to the exclusion of what they deem to be "sports" training, that these types of individuals would gain more confidence, more peace, more happiness, and become more comfortable within them as their skills at 'self-defense' grew. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that the opposite seems to be true. Individuals that come to strictly "street" orientated martial arts, that were already prone to feelings of inadequacy, shame, physiological fear, and paranoia tend to have those qualities magnified by such training, rather then eased.
I wouldn't ask anyone to take my word for it with that assessment. Instead I would suggest one visit the nearest "mercenary" convention, combatives or "street" martial arts forums, or speak with these individuals in person. This sadness, anger, and immense fear is palpable when you are forced to spend anytime around these types of individuals. Try reading the posts at the "street" forums. Many tend to read like angry notes from disgruntled 13-year-old boys. There is talk of "tearing out the mo-fo's eyes", biting, and various vicious things that can be done to the attackers. The posts speak to an intense anger and fear in the writers, and sadly, the Instructors of such curriculums cater to this need by exploiting their target audiences obvious weakness, and emotional frailty.
These same people could begin to realize a much deeper sense of peace, well being, and level of personal safety if they were instead steered away from the geeky-ness of the combatives crowd and into a more contact orientated, healthy, and sane sports environment, with "alive-arts" such as boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, muay thai, judo, and other "sports" systems. In that type of "alive-training" they will not only gain real skill within a particular delivery system of fighting, they will also achieve a higher level of personal conditioning, become used to a higher level of contact, understand exactly what an aggressive, resisting attacker feels like, and learn to perform under a certain amount of stress. They will also gain a real sense of peace that comes with understanding how to actually move the human body in effective ways against aggressive and dangerous attackers.
By avoiding the contact, resistance, and most important required willingness to tap, be thrown, hit, and be beaten over and over, that is required with Alive arts, the "self defense" student instead draws deeper and deeper into their own world of self defense fantasy. And in the process their fear, paranoia, and sense of overall unease only increases over time. The anger and sadness actually grow, and if not checked they can turn into the most destructive emotion a person can experience, hate.
Genericly, I agree, but there are some complications. Since when do 'mercenaries' have conventions? I've seen this only on some of the worst of tv fiction.
That many posts of 'street' forums sound like disgruntled 13 year olds. I have long suspected that many ARE 13 year olds.
It has been said that pain can be forgotten, but humilation lasts forever. Any shrink will tell you that most adults live their lives (usually unknowing) reacting to events from their childhoods. I was held at knifepoint twice before I was even out of the sixth grade. These and other incidents were the reason for my first martial arts training.
The negative emotional growth is discussed at length in Marc McYoungs books and sometimes it happens but there is another side which Thornton misses. When threatened with a potentially serious situation and you know that you can handle it should it become violent, this allows a quiet confidence which can help to defuse the situation. Further, many potential agressors, while warming up, will back down, if they can't induce fear in you, see that you will not tolerate violence, and may bite back harder than they can.
This factor can stop a lot of potential fights. This is common with police who have serious martial arts backgrounds
Many take up martial arts training because they have been attacked/bullied and felt inadequate in their response... others (I fell into this category as a teenager) also have a big mouth and not enough sense to keep it closed when you can't run very fast. ... others are natural athletes and competitive and want to sharpen their skills and demonstrate their excellence ... others are looking to feel as if they "belong" to something special that provides a sense of male bonding ... others need to learn how to fight to survive the urban environment that they live/work in. There are many reasons to learn these arts.
As to psychological motivation; fear is a powerful friend as it can keep you alive and it's also a powerful enemy as failing to cope with it can leave you bitter and alone even if you become strong and capable.
Those who are fortunate to find a decent style and teacher and who keep training often do so because they learn to love the discipline and the training and because they learn to stop being fearfull, if that was their motivation for getting started.
Decent internal arts training should leave you a better person in the long run: not just a better fighting machine; not just an impotent (to steal a phrase from this forum) "chi-hugger".
While it's a little too easy to generalize, I must say that most long-term martial artists who I have met are either absolute idiots (whether or not they have any real martial skills) or people (whether or not they have any real martial skills) that are a pleasure to know and associate with.
I spent a decade working in a major police force and I must say that the same thing seemed to apply to the police officers that I worked with -- they tended to be either really nice people or absolute pains-in the-fundament! Again, not much middle-ground. Perhaps some professions breed extremes of personality types?
Just goes to show if ya try to turn a sheep into a wolf, you end up with a psychotic sheep.