Much of the media articles presented are primarily on subjective
interpretations of mortal combat (intensely hostile situation or
potentially fatal confrontation). These unique interpretations are
often synthesised and formulated, and furthermore generalised without
much consideration to other constructs of realistic training. Combative
technique is an important factor but the processes of 'Training'
determine the ability to maximise performance.
correctly have positive effects on not only good fighting skills
but optimal psychophysiologocal (mental and physical) health too.
However, poor guidance from the coach/master/instructor/sifu can
have detrimental effects on the students. Throughout my eighteen
years of teaching, I have heard vast amount of anecdotal evidences
of martial art practitioners dropping out from training as a result
of excessive hard work or injury. The philosophy of 'hard work'
instigated by many instructors is generally valid but often misplaced,
whereby students were told to train as hard as possible and as
often as possible. This vague approach is poorly structured and
it was inevitable students developed chronic conditions of fatigue.
It makes no sense to train 100% of effort everyday and every session
- any Olympic coach/athlete can tell you that. Hence it is not
how tough or skilful you are but knowing when to apply it.
article is based on the assumption that the readers are already
in training, and may have experienced some of the symptoms of
chronic fatigue, and to address the problem immediately. An example
study of an elite martial artist revealed some very interesting
problems within the martial art culture, and the manifestations
of low level of motivation. The story is true but some adjustments
were needed to protect the subject's identity.
The present study defines the 'elite martial artist/athlete' a
highly skilled person of a select class or group; and successfully
competed under various combative arenas, and recognised by the
martial arts community of great achievements. Throughout the essay,
the term martial artist and athlete are used synonymously.
(1969) claimed that athletes are more confident, competitive and
socially outgoing than non-athlete. Morgan (1997a) and Morgan
and Johnson (1977 & 1978) stated, 'the successful elite athlete
generally exhibits the psychological profile of a mentally healthy
individual'. The problem is how can this healthiness be accounted
for a large number of elite athletes when they lose a match or
fail certain task. What happens when elite athletes are compromised
by failure in training or competition? Negative response to high
psychophysiological stresses affects the athlete's internal desire
to continue training or competing. The amount of negative responses
can lead to physiologic fatigue, and increase cognitive anxiety,
thus reduces motivation (Bompa, 1999).
this case study, the elite martial artist William (fictitious
name) complained of lethargy, lack of energy, and lack of motivation
during training. Hence, performance deteriorated and he initiated
withdrawal from the sport and his peers. The subject was referred
by the General Practitioner (GP) to a London Hospital for a general
physical health check-up. There were no immediate indications
of ill-health, instead excellent physical results; hence the physicians
was no psychological evaluation or report, therefore unable to
ascertain the subject's feelings or mental health. Considering
the evidence of the physical examination, the face value of William's
problem appears to be psychological. Therefore, the initial part
of the study emphasised strongly on psychological investigation,
and latter part adopted interdisciplinary approach to tackle the
problem from a variety of perspectives.
"William" was the subject, and this fictitious name
secured his confidentiality. This case study reported William
a professional martial artist, age 21 years old, single, body
weight 66kg, height 172cm, teaches daily, competes at international
level, self-coached to a large extent. He had participated in
a British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) prestigious martial
arts documentary series, televised nationally and internationally
hence the notoriety attracted massive audiences. William is undefeated
in all combative arenas or situations, however, the successes
were paradoxically paralleled with feelings of dissatisfaction.
A governing body referred the subject to the first author after
the National Health Service (NHS) physicians were unable to assist
A professional martial artist often makes up a large part of the
financial income from teaching regular recreational classes at
various clubs. Most elite practitioners belong to an organisation,
and pledge loyalty to the organisation and the coach/master. High
level of skills, fast decision making under ever-changing environment,
agility and power is the cardinal characteristics of the martial
arts. Full physical contact is common in training and competitions,
and often strikes are delivered at high velocities of 8-14 metres
per seconds (m/sec) to any part of the body.
sporting contests are normally five-three minutes round with one
minute interval rest between each round. Unofficial contests behind
closed doors are fought on one round, and last anything from one
second to several minutes (usually less than 30 seconds). Both
types of contests are won on submission, knockout, choke-out or
highest scores on points. Depending on the type of competitions,
usually the martial artists wear a plastic or aluminium groin
guard, gum shield, and fight with bare fists or protective gloves
8 ounce (oz)-12oz.
The Assessment Phase
Stage 1: Interview
William was unsure about revealing his personal psychological
problems fearing his image and reputation would be damaged. It
was important firstly to build trust and confidence between the
interviewer and the subject. The initial interview was conducted
in the comfortable environment of the interviewers home, and this
made William felt at ease. Heyman (1993) suggested that sport
psychologists should build a rapport with the athlete in order
to understand the person as a whole.
interview revealed that the subject sacrificed academic education,
social life, time and money, and risked personal health and safety
to become a highly recognised martial artist. At this early stage
of investigation, the motivational problem seemed to be social
but further examinations were conducted to investigate the dynamics
of other interrelated factors. These motivational factors were
personality traits, achievement, identity, personal investment,
overtraining, and burnout (Box,1994: Bompa, 1999).
In the second meeting, William was asked to complete a brief self-report
of his daily routine and his complaints. The subject strongly
emphasised the lack of motivation to train, lack of energy, feeling
lethargic, difficult to sleep and dissatisfied with personal achievement
and feeling guilty for missing a training session. The daily schedule
appears to be extremely demanding with physical training of five
hours to seven hours per day. In addition, William teaches two
to four hours per day. The immediate problem was certainly excessive
long duration of any training session, and this led to the speculation
of overtraining and burnout.
Silva (1990) defined the consequential stages leading to burnout:
1) 'Staleness' is the initial failure of the body to adapt to
training stress; 2) 'Overtraining' is psychophysiological malfunction
and demonstrated inability of the athlete to adjust to the demands
of training stress; 3) Burnout also known as training stress syndrome
is the exhaustive psychophysiological response to repeated unsuccessful
efforts to meet the demands of training stress. Psychophysiological
symptoms associated with burnout (see below) in athletes had been
identified by several past researchers (Dale & Weinberg, 1990;
Hackney, Pearman & Nowacki, 1990; Morgan & O'Connor, 1988).
1. Increased resting and exercise
2. Increased resting systolic blood pressure
3. Increased muscle soreness and chronic muscle fatigue
4. Increased presence of biochemical indicators of stress in the
5. Increased sleep loss
6. Increased colds and respiratory infections
7. Decreased body weight
8. Decreased maximal aerobic power
9. Decreased muscle glycogen
10. Decreased libido and appetite
1. Increased mood disturbances
2. Increased perception of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion
3. Decreased self-esteem
4. Negative change in the quality of an individual's personal
interaction with others (cynicism, unfeeling, impersonal)
5. Negative cumulative reaction to chronic everyday stress as
opposed to acute doses of stress
William's demanding routine and his symptoms strongly suggested
that the speculation of overtraining or burnout was the correct
line of enquiry. It was then necessary to established: 1) How
long the problems have existed, 2) The severity of the problem,
and 3) Relationship to other issues in the personal life (Hayman,
symptoms of assumed overtraining or burnout had existed approximately
18 months, and William was too afraid to seek help any earlier.
The severity is extremely high since William was prepared to give
up martial arts in spite of high achievements and a recent fantastic
film offer. This suggested some other underlying factor(s) had
contributed to the lack of motivation.
psychological profile of William was necessary to obtain his personality
traits and his perceptions of the external environment. The subject
gave written consent for further investigation thus allowed covert
observation in his training hall, and at his day-to-day environment.
To maintain minimal invasiveness, the first author was introduced
to his coach and colleagues as a cousin on vacation, and very
interested in martial arts.
3: Rating Scales Observation
Shank (1983) identified the following characteristics and behaviours
as predisposing certain people to burnout: 1) perfectionism, 2)
being other-orientated and 3) lack of interpersonal skills. Rating
scales (Cofer & Johnson, 1960) method was used to ascertain
whether William possessed the same personality profile. Hence,
a checklist of the above three burnout identities were observed
over two weeks (2 microcycles) during William's training sessions
and his teaching period. Cox (1994) stated that several observations
or interviews must be conducted to realise the athlete's core
observation revealed William was constantly dissatisfied with
his techniques. His perception of correct feel to a technique
was ever critical, and he trained diligently, sometimes in the
excess of three hours on just one technique. This was also evident
in sparring whereby he was extremely unhappy with his own performance
when his opponent score just one point against him. William also
made extreme effort to be the best, and sought approval or reassurance
of his skills from his peers and coach. In the martial art culture,
hegemony is very evident, and the coach or master is a very powerful
and influential person. William had tremendous respect of this
tradition, and was unable to voice his needs or his opinions or
any difficulties, and was unable to say 'no' when he wanted to.
The characteristics and behaviour of burnout (Shank, 1983) were
evident during these observations. This was indicative that William's
predispositions were highly prone to staleness, overtraining and
predispositions did not necessarily mean William was burnt-out,
and therefore further measurement was needed to reliably ascertain
this assumption. The Maslach Burnout Inventory (Maslach &
Jackson, 1986) composed of 22 items, and it was administered to
assess three aspects of the burnout syndrome: Emotional exhaustion,
depersonalisation, and lack of personal accomplishment (Cox, 1994).
Again, William scored very high on these three aspects of burnout
which confirmed the prognosis. Having established burnout was
the primary factor to William's initial complaints of motivation
and fatigue, it is paramount to determine other variables that
may have contributed or caused the burnout.
4: Mood States Disturbances
McNair, D.M., Lorr, M., & Droppleman, L.F. (1971) Profile
of Mood States (POMS) 65 items' inventory was administered during
four environments. These were 1) training/competitive session,
2) teaching, 3) the social meetings with peers, and 4) coach-athlete
relationship. William's spent most of his time within the martial
art environment and not at home, and it was important to measure
mood disturbances within these parameters.
of 6 affective states (tension, depression, anger, vigour, fatigue
and confusion) were collected over the next two weeks at a frequency
of three times per week. The scores for mood states: 1) at training
session - exceptionally high score on tension and fatigue; 2)
at teaching- high scores on confusion, fatigue and depression;
3) with peers - high scores on depression, confusion and fatigue;
4) and finally with coach/master, the scores were the highest
for anger and confusion. All four states showed very low score
in vigour. This was a typical mentally unhealthy profile of athlete
as found in Morgan's (1985b) research on swimmers, runners, rowers,
and wrestlers. The unsuccessful athletes had an inverted 'iceberg'
profile, scoring low on vigour and high on 5 other affective moods
5: Determining Critical Factors
The inverted iceberg profile of mood states (Malasch, 1986) at
training sessions, teaching, with peers and with coach strongly
indicated William was generally unhappy with his martial art environment.
There was one particular environment whereby William scored extremely
high on 'anger' than any other situations. This external environmental
factor concerning the coach and William suggested a critical underlying
problem to his burnout. The POMS data reported William 'angry
and confused' when he was with his coach, and this had prompted
further interview on the coach-athlete relationship. William was
questioned on his feelings towards the coach, and he was emotional
when he revealed his disappointments.
lost this critical respect when he found out the coach lied about
his qualification and martial art ability, hence William felt
cheated and was mainly self-coached. In addition, the coach often
abuses his position of authority, and used William's martial status
as his own hard work. On several occasions William were manipulated
to protect his master's reputation by winning street-fights. Then,
this so-called master would brag about how he could do better
but he would never fight. He became very confused with morality,
and was disillusioned for 18 months with training, teaching, and
questioned his allegiance to this master or organisation.
and Stein's (1991) proposed an investment model of commitment
to predict the conditions of participation, burnout, and withdrawal
from sport (Cox,1994). The model suggested that unhappy athlete
continued participation because the athlete has personally invested
heavily in the sport or no better career alternatives. In William's
case, this was evident in that martial art was his life, and there
was nothing greater than martial art.
Mono-discipline of psychological investigation to an athlete's
problem is limited, and too one dimensional. The problem(s) are
tackled more effectively from various directions (Collins et al.,
1993), that is applying an inter-discipline approach through physiology,
nutrition, biomechanics, and sociology. Greenspan & Feltz
(1989) supports inter-discipline interventions and stated, 'psychological
only interventions such as cognitive restructuring or relaxation
are often effective, the complexity of sport often calls for innovative,
multi-focussed solutions.' Therefore other disciplines are used
to investigate William's problems.
From the physiological standpoint, Guys Hospital discharged William
reported a healthy individual based on the data collected on one
occasion. The antecedents were ignored hence, past resting heart
rate (37bpm) and resting blood pressure (120/80mmHg) were much
lower, past bodyweight (70kg) was notably 4kg higher. The onset
of symptoms and frequent illnesses (Dale et al., 1990) were the
obvious indications of an unhealthy athlete. Early detection would
have increased the chance of preventing burnout, but it is well
worth considering the implications of these symptoms.
well-planned training micro-cycle and macro-cycle ensure the type,
volume and intensities of exercises and rests are at performed
at an optimal level. Thus proper psychophysiological adaptation,
and peak performance can occur at the designated period of the
year. For example, William's three hours of heavy weight training
every day is far too much and counterproductive; in addition there
was only two hours rest before the next training session begun.
Bompa (1999) stated, 'Restoring glycogen takes 10 to 48 hours
after aerobic work and 5 to 24 hours following anaerobic intermittent
activity; and proteins take 12 to 24 hours, fats, vitamins, and
enzymes take more than 24 hours.'
intake was also a major part of William's nutritional problem
as later discovered, and he did not take any water during any
of his 2-3 hours training session. Noakes (1991) stated, 'Regularly
ingesting 150 to 250mL of fluid (at 15-minute intervals) throughout
exercise continually replenishes the fluid passed into the intestine
and maintains a large gastric volume during exercise.' Thus it
prevents dehydration, fatigue, and poor performance.
to William teaching in the evenings, the training session had
to be reduced. This consisted of 5 days-a-week microcycle - the
morning session start at 8:30hr to 10:00hr, and the second training
session start at 15:30hr to 17:30hr. This was subject to recovery
rate, and fitted well within his lifestyle. Each training session
must be varied to avoid monotony, and the type of exercises, intensities,
aerobic and anaerobic should be specific to the sport's demands.
Training ethos needed re-evaluation, fluid intake throughout training
session must be accepted as a positive value to prevent fatigue.
Energy deficiency or fatigue is not only a by-product of lack
of nutrition but exasperated by poor delivery of techniques.
Biomechanical analyses of William's techniques and transfer of
the forces can determine the efficiency of movement. Thus William
expends minimal amount of energy to produce maximum performance.
The first author observed William spending three hours on one
technique so that a good internal representation 'feel' was attained.
The techniques that William was unhappy with can be recorded from
high speed cameras (500 frames per second). Barlett, (1989) claimed
that high speed cameras are necessary to accurately collect and
collate data of high velocity movements. Subsequently, computer
digitisation can reveal the velocities, angular velocities, displacement
and angular displacements as well as response time. Acceleration
meters can be attached to the limbs to record the relationship
of acceleration and collision force. Force plates can test the
ground reaction forces as well as the transfer of force on a designated
target. These collected data can be compared to previous scores
or other elite martial artists to ascertain a model technique
or correction. William can use these factual data as well as his
internal representation as a mean to assess the so-called 'perfect
Morgan and O'Connor (1988) observed that over-training in athletes
represents a paradox because many of the benefits associated with
exercise are reversed in the athlete who trains too much."
The inability to recover from these excessive stresses can eventually
manifest itself in physical injuries or psychological dysfunction.
Cox (1994) stated, "Once the athlete experiences burnout,
withdrawal from the imposed stressful environment is nearly inevitable."
burnout was ascertained through multiple perspectives and methods.
It was clear that until POMS was administered- William was oblivious
or unprepared to comment on his coach. Durtschi and Weiss (1986)
stated, 'A psychophysiological model may be the most comprehensive
way to assess athletes.' Specifically, psychological measures
should be used with other measures, such as field observations,
self-reports, physiological characteristics, and social and environmental
self-report revealed William's heavy commitment and investment
in the martial arts, and his withdrawal in the sport fitted the
Schmidt and Stein's Investment Model of Burnout and Dropout (1991).
The prolonged intensive schedule over several years, and William's
personality traits were considered highly susceptible to burnout
(Shank,1983). The Maslach Burnout Inventory confirmed the prognosis
of William suffering burnout. Furthermore, McNair et al's POMS
inventory (1971) identified the mood states at four different
environments. The mood states strongly linked the primary underlying
problem to the coach-athlete relationship.
William's problem is not just psychophysiological but also psychosocial.
It is uncertain which of the two critical factors of overtraining
and coach-athlete relationship that caused burnout. However, the
inter-relationship between the two critical factors has affected
the burnout symptoms which manifested in William's unhappiness
and under-performance. Sport sociologist Jay Coakley (1992) argues
that stress is not the cause to burnout but merely a symptom.
According to Coakley (1992), burnout in young athletes is caused
by the lost of personal identity and victim of disempowerment.
However, Williams problems were addressed and actions implemented
from both psychosocial and psychophysiological perspectives.
Cox (1994) stated, 'The first and primary step in addressing burnout
is self-awareness, the next is to take time off work from the
offending activity.' Considering the severity of William's problem,
and he accepts the fact of burnout syndrome, William was advised
to withdraw from martial art environment, and take a complete
rest (Morgan & et al., 1987). The other offending factor that
contributed to William's burnout was the coach, and it was recommended
that William change coach or self-coach through further sport
science education. It is important that other enjoyable or social
activities must fill-in the spare time while recuperating from
the burnout. Otherwise boredom may exasperate William's mental
health (Bompa, 1999; Morgan, 1987; Heyman, 1993; McCardle, Katch
& Katch, 1996).
was also recommended that William referred to a licensed counsellor
to deal with his emotional complexities during the recovery period
(Heyman, 1993). Until William has recovered, the strategy must
be prevention of staleness and overtraining. This would entail
cognitive restructuring to martial practice and re-evaluate self-perceptions,
realistic goal-setting, imagery, outcome-orientation and well-planned
training programmes (Cox,1994; Bompa, 1999). The well structured
programmes must include daily and weekly monitoring of stresses.
This can be measured by heart rate intensities, blood lactate
biopsy, respiratory rate as well as psychological inventories.
Morgan (1987) stated, 'monitoring moods states offers considerable
potential for prevention of staleness.'
this case study ascertained William's low level motivation, lethargy,
and withdrawal were the symptoms of his Burnout. It highlighted
the important fact that underlying problems can be either psychological,
physiological or sociological, and that inter-disciplines can
provide multiple perspectives in resolving problems. Also, the
inter-disciplines of sociology, psychology, physiology, and biomechanics
are necessary to plan training programmes, and help athletes train
at optimal level. Thus prevent staleness, overtraining or burnout
and promotes peak performance at any chosen period.
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