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Goal orientation and performance in martial arts.

Interest in two distinct goal orientations, mastery or task orientation and ego or performance orientation, has dominated research on motivation in educational and sports settings (e.g., Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Elliot & Dweck, 1988). Mastery orientation refers to concern with learning goals, improving skills, and gaining understanding. Ego orientation refers to concern for success at competition, gaining accolades, and establishing superiority over others. Characteristic patterns of behavior have been associated with both mastery and ego orientations. These orientations emerge from dispositional preferences for mastery or ego goals and situational influences (Duda & White, 1992).

Dweck and colleagues (e.g., Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Elliot & Dweck, 1998) have demonstrated that goal orientations carry implications for individuals' theories of ability (e.g., intelligence). Mastery goals imply an intuitive theory of ability as malleable. From this perspective, hard work is seen as necessary for success and indicative of potential for learning. Failure is understood as useful feedback about the effectiveness of one's learning strategy. Ego goals imply a theory of ability as fixed. From this view, effort is seen as indicative of a lack of "natural ability" and failure is interpreted as diagnostic of low ability. In short, goal orientations color an individual's understanding of the nature and meaning of achievement situations (Dweck, & Leggett, 1988).

Past research has identified mastery and ego orientations in both sport and academic areas of achievement. Research has shown that these orientations predict beliefs about the nature of success (Duda & Nicholls, 1992; Duda & White, 1992; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). For instance, Duda and Nicholls (1992) found mastery oriented high school students believed that success requires interest and effort; ego oriented students believed success requires high ability. In a sample of elite skiers, Duda and White (1992) found mastery oriented skiers believed success stems from ability and high effort, while ego oriented skiers believed success stems from superior ability, an illegal advantage, and external factors. Research with elite adolescent tennis players has produced similar results, particularly for women (Newton & Duda, 1993a).

Goal orientation has also proven to relate to aspects of experience (c.f., Duda, 1989) in noncompetitive recreational sports. Even in a bowling class that emphasized learning, Newton and Duda (1993b) found goal orientation predicted thought content and enjoyment. In this case, mastery orientation related to less worry, more enjoyment, and the belief that effort would contribute to performance. Ego orientation related to the belief that ability would contribute most to performance. The present study addressed the issue of goal orientation in the context of a noncompetitive sport, the traditional martial arts.

Traditional Martial Arts Training

Martial arts schools are generally divided into two types, namely, contest-oriented martial arts training and traditional martial arts training. Contest-oriented martial arts emphasizes preparation for tournament competition. While the contest-oriented system may devote attention to learning technique, this approach is not primarily concerned with perfecting technique. Thirty year martial arts veteran Herman Kauz (1993) explained that a contest oriented practitioner would resort to additional physical strength or speed to overcome an opponent when a non-perfected technique fails.

In contrast to contest-oriented training, traditional martial arts emphasizes mastering self-defense techniques. A traditional martial arts practitioner would consider the use of additional strength or speed to overcome or escape an opponent risky. Speed and strength alone may ultimately fail in a street situation where the attacker is much stronger or faster than oneself. The traditional practitioner strives to master a self-defense technique to such a degree that he or she is able to push an attacker off-balance, apply a joint lock, or evade an attack with minimal physical strength (Kauz, 1993).

Goal Orientation and the Martial Arts

Because the traditional approach emphasizes perfecting technique for the purpose of self defense rather than winning competition, this style of martial arts is arguably more inherently mastery than ego oriented. The alignment of traditional martial arts with mastery orientation and contest-oriented martial arts with ego orientation is justified in several ways. Mastery orientation emphasizes personal improvement, effort, and task mastery. These concerns are reflected in the traditional martial art's goals of perfecting technique through practice and determination. Ego orientation emphasizes demonstrating superior ability and defeating others. These goals find expression in the tournament competitor's desire to win even if it requires additional strength or speed over technique. To some extent the approach of traditional martial arts requires that students seek mastery, over an above concerns for adulation. Although a student may, in fact, have the capacity to "win" against an opponent, skill and technique is required to succeed in traditional martial arts.

One aspect of the traditional martial arts that may serve ego oriented goals is the possibility of obtaining belt promotions. However, students who compete for belt promotions in order to demonstrate ability would be seeking a goal that conflicts with the mastery goals of traditional martial arts. The current study, then, presents an interesting case in which situational demands clearly emphasize mastery over ego concerns.

The first purpose of the current study was to identify mastery and ego orientations in martial arts students. Previous studies have used variations of The Task and Ego Orientation in Sport Questionnaire (TEOSQ; Duda & White, 1992) to assess the existence of these orientations in athletics (e.g., Newton & Duda, 1993a, 1993b). In this study, the TEOSQ was revised to pertain to novice martial arts students. The underlying factors of ego and mastery orientation were expected to emerge from factor analyses of the TEOSQ in this sample. Based on the findings of Dweck and Leggett (1988) concerning beliefs about the nature of one's ability, belief in the fixed nature of karate ability was expected to relate positively to ego orientation and negatively to mastery orientation. Based on the results of previous studies concerning goal orientations and beliefs about success (Duda & Nicholls, 1992; Duda & White, 1992), mastery orientation was expected to relate to the belief that interest and effort determine success. Ego orientation was predicted to relate to the belief that superior ability and external factors are responsible for success in karate. Because the traditional martial arts emphasize task mastery, mastery orientation was predicted to relate to heightened performance, higher satisfaction, and more enjoyment of training. Ego orientation was not predicted to relate systematically to performance. Because performance concerns would not be met within the context of traditional martial arts training, ego orientation was expected to relate to lower satisfaction and enjoyment.



Subjects were 68 (33 men, 35 women) community college students ranging in age from 17 to 45 (M = 22.90 years, SD = 5.8, mode = 20) enrolled in one of four semester-long martial arts (Kenpo) classes.

These students represented a broad range of physical fitness. Heights ranged from 48 to 76 inches with a mean height of 66.33 inches (SD = 4.6). Weight ranged from 95 to 270 pounds with a mean weight of 147.4 (SD = 28.03) and a median of 135. Forty-six of the students had no previous martial arts experience. Among the remaining 22, previous experience ranged from 2 to 156 months (M = 24 months, SD = 39 months). Students with martial arts experience had participated an average of 26 months prior to the class (SD = 49 months). The belt ranks in the classes included 59 white (beginner) belts, 8 purple (beginner) belts, and 1 green (intermediate) belt. Students' exercise routines reflected the variability of the sample. Ten students reported exercising hardly ever, two exercised a few times a year, two exercised at least once a month, eight exercised a few times a month, 20 exercised one to two times a week, and 26 exercised at least three times a week.

The students were given the opportunity to participate in the study or write a paper for their mid-term exam. Out of a total enrollment of 72 students, 68 chose to participate in the study. The four students not participating in the study were unable to participate because they missed the first few class periods (when a number of questionnaires were administered) for reasons ranging from illness to scheduling problems. The participating students were told that the purpose of the study was to understand the relations between goals and performance in sport. The students were assured that the answers they reported would in no way affect their grade in the class.


Students completed measures of goal orientation, beliefs about success, and beliefs about ability. In addition, performance measures were also taken.

Goal orientations and beliefs about success and ability. Students completed the Task and Ego Orientation in Sport Questionnaire (TEOSQ; Duda & White, 1992). Previous studies have reported acceptable internal reliability ratings for the TEOSQ for both task orientation (alpha = .79) and ego orientation (alpha = .81). Items on the TEOSQ were designed for elite athletes, so they were adapted to assess the orientations of novice martial arts students. The TEOSQ includes 13 statements pertaining to the times when the student athlete feels most successful. Subjects rated their agreement with these statements on a scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Table 2 shows the items of the TEOSQ.

To assess beliefs about the causes of success in karate, the students were given a list of 21 reasons an athlete might succeed and were asked to express their agreement with these items on a scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). This scale was adapted from Duda and White (1992). The original scale tapped 4 factors: effort, external factors, illegal advantage (e.g., drugs), and ability. Items include: Athletes succeed if they... "like improving," "train hard," "know how to make themselves look better than they are," and so forth. For the purposes of this study, items from the illegal advantage factor were dropped because they were deemed irrelevant to the context of traditional martial arts training.

Students also completed an eight item scale measuring their perception of the nature of karate ability as malleable or fixed. Students rated items like "A person is born with natural ability or not" and "If they work at it, anyone can acquire excellent karate skills." Items were rated on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely). Items were coded so that high scores on this scale indicated belief in fixed "natural" ability and low scores indicated a belief in malleable ability (alpha = .62).

Performance measures. Instructors evaluated students performance in basic skills and combinations tests, as well as student effort and consistency. Basic skills tests consisted of fundamental techniques such as blocks, pokes, punches, and kicks. Instructors rated each of six consecutive blocks, pokes, punches, and kicks on a 10-point scale with the final score for each skill consisting of the mean of the six individual skills. The other physical test measured different combinations of skills that the students learned during the semester (appropriate to their skill level). These arts were rated by instructors on a 7-point scale. Total scores were assigned as percentages of possible total points earned.

Three instructors completed ratings of subsets of students. Because of time and logistical constraints, overlap of performance ratings was not possible, therefore ratings are confounded with instructor. However, previous research in the area of martial arts using similar performance tests found high inter-rater reliability among instructors (Seabourne, Weinberg, & Jackson, 1983). Research in the area of sport has shown that instructors and coaches provide valid ratings of performance (Prapavessis & Carron, 1988). Furthermore, a one-way analysis of variance on evaluations by instructors revealed no systematic differences (F [less than] 1.0).

Instructors also made ratings on a 5-point scale for 11 items assessing student effort, persistence, and consistency in the class (e.g. "This student is likely to persist when not doing well," "This student shows consistency in performance from one class to the next;" alpha = .96). Instructors also rated overall performance in the class on a 4-point scale. Instructors were blind to the hypotheses of the study as well as students responses on other questionnaires.

In addition to the instructors evaluations, students rated their own performance as well as their overall satisfaction and enjoyment with the karate training on a 5-point scale. The 5-point scale used to rate performance ranged from (1) poor to (5) excellent performance and the 5-point scale used to rate satisfaction and enjoyment questions ranged from (l) not at all to (5) extremely fun or satisfying.


Data were collected in three phases over the course of the semester. At the beginning of the semester, students were ask to sign a consent form and provide general information. Shortly after their mid-semester break the students completed measures of beliefs about ability and the causes of success, and the TEOSQ during their regular class time. The first basic skills test conducted by the instructors were completed at midterm. At the end of the semester, the second basic skills test and the combinations test were administered by instructors. At this time, instructors completed effort and consistency evaluations and students also rated their own enjoyment, satisfaction, and performance.


Table 1 shows the means and standard deviations for subjects' beliefs in fixed ability, satisfaction, enjoyment, and performance. Descriptive statistics are also shown for instructors' performance ratings.
Table 1

Means and Standard Deviations for Performance, Satisfaction, and
Enjoyment Measures

 Mean SD

Student Ratings

Fixed Ability Beliefs 2.88 .45
Satisfaction 3.89 .87
Fun 3.29 .50
Self-rated Performance 3.22 .48

Instructor Ratings

Skills Test 64.39 13.26
Combination Test 68.58 22.72
Evaluation of Effort and Consistency 3.53 1.05
Overall Rating of Performance 2.76 1.02

Note. For student ratings and instructors' evaluations of effort
and consistency, ratings were made on scales from 1 to 5, with high
scores indicating higher performance. For the instructors' overall
ratings, the scale ranged from 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent). For
Skills and Combination Tests, scores are percent correct.

Factor Analysis of TEOSQ. In order to determine if the mastery and ego orientation factors would emerge in novice martial arts students as in other populations, an exploratory factor analysis was performed on the adapted TEOSQ. Consistent with previous studies, examination of the scree plot suggested that a two factor solution would best fit the data. Principal components extracted 2 factors. Varimax rotation was used to facilitate interpretation. Table 2 shows the rotated factor loadings for the TEOSQ items. Items loading on the first factor (eigenvalue = 4.40, 33.8% of variance) were items such as "The others can't do as well as me" and "I'm the only one who can do a particular skill." This factor was labeled the "ego orientation" factor. The second factor (eigenvalue = 2.92. 23% of variance) included items such as "I work really hard" and "A skill I learn really feels right" and was labeled "mastery orientation". Factor scores were computed using unit weighting. The internal consistency measures for both factor scores were at the same level or higher than previously reported alpha's (alpha = .83 for the mastery scale and .87 for the ego scale). In support of the assumption that the traditional martial arts training would be more mastery than ego oriented, students scored significantly higher on the mastery factor score than the ego factor score (M for mastery = 4.35, SD = .53; M for ego = 2.72, SD = 1.05; paired t(67) = 12.79, p [less than] .001).

Mastery vs Ego Orientation and Beliefs About Success. Next, to examine the perceived beliefs about success in martial arts students, a factor analysis was performed on the adapted version of the 21-item belief scale. Again, examination of the scree plot suggested that a two factor solution would best account for these data. Principal components extracted two interpretable factors as opposed to four as in previous studies (Duda & White, 1992). Varimax rotation was used to facilitate interpretation. As shown in [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] Table 3 the first factor (eigenvalue = 4.13, 28.8% of the variance) consisted of items defining success in terms of hard work, practice, and the enjoyment of learning new skills (e.g. "Train hard," "Like improving," and "Like to learn new skills/techniques"). This factor was labeled "effort." The second factor (eigenvalue = 2.95, 18.4% of the variance) contained items defining success in terms of superior ability and external factors. For instance, "know how to make themselves look better than they are" and "are better than others in tough competition" loaded highly on this factor. This factor was labeled "ability/external factors." Thus, in contrast to previous research (Duda & White, 1992; Duda & Nicholls, 1992) a two factor, rather than four factor solution was retained. Factor scores were computed using unit weighting. The internal reliabilities of the two factor scores were acceptable (coefficient alpha for effort factor score = .89, for external factors/ability factor score alpha = .72). Students were significantly more likely to endorse the effort factor than the external factors/ability factor (M for effort = 4.68, SD = .52; M for external factors/ability = 3.10, SD = .67; paired t(67) = 14.98, p [less than] .001).

To investigate the relations between mastery and ego orientations and beliefs about success, Pearson product-moment correlations were calculated among the factor scores. Consistent with previous findings (Duda & White, 1992; Duda & Nicholls, 1992), the belief that karate success results from external factors and ability was significantly positively correlated with ego orientation (r = .33, p [less than] .01). Mastery orientation was not related to these beliefs (r = -.07, n.s.). In contrast, beliefs that hard work, training, and the enjoyment of learning new techniques accounted for success was significantly related to mastery orientation (r = .50, p [less than] .001). Such beliefs were independent of ego orientation (r = .16, n.s.).

Mastery vs. Ego Orientation and Beliefs about Ability. Next, the relation between the belief that karate ability is fixed and goal orientations was examined. Recall that subjects completed a scale measuring the belief that karate ability is a fixed quantity. As predicted, belief in fixed ability was significantly negatively correlated with mastery orientation (r = -.34, p [less than] .01). Such beliefs also tended to be positively related to performance orientation but not significantly so (r = .24, p [less than] .06).

Mastery vs. Ego Orientation and Performance, Enjoyment and Satisfaction. Finally, analyses addressed the relations among mastery and ego orientation and performance in and enjoyment of the martial arts. Subjects' performance had been evaluated in four ways: instructors' consistency and persistence ratings, two skills tests, and a combinations test. The correlations among the four performance items ranged from .28, (p [less than] .03) to .82, (p [less than] .001). These correlations justified forming a composite performance score, by standardizing each of the four performance measures and averaging these standard scores (alpha = .85). Nine subjects were not present for one of the skills tests. Composite scores were computed for these subjects by aggregating standard scores for all completed performance measures.

Correlations were calculated between goal orientations and the composite performance measure as well as students' self-ratings for performance, satisfaction, and enjoyment. Results are shown in Table 4. In support of predictions, mastery orientation was significantly positively related to overall performance as well as self-rated performance, satisfaction, and enjoyment. Contrary to predictions, ego orientation was not [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 3 OMITTED] negatively related to enjoyment or satisfaction.


It is notable that although neither mastery nor ego orientation were significantly correlated with previous experience (r's = -.12 and .17, respectively) or exercise (r's = .04 and .16, respectively), both previous experience and frequency of exercise were correlated with instructors' ratings (r's = .25 and .23, p [less than] .05). In order to examine the independent relations of mastery and ego orientation to performance controlling for these potentially confounding variables, a hierarchial regression equation was computed. Mastery and ego orientations were used to predict the performance composite, controlling for previous experience, and exercise routine. As shown in Table 5, control variables were entered on the first step contributing significantly to the equation ([R.sup.2] change = . 11, p [less than] .03). The control variables of exercise and previous experience both had significant positive beta weights. Entered in the second step were mastery and ego orientations, also contributing significantly to the prediction of performance ([R.sup.2] change = .09, p [less than] .05). In this case, controlling for previous experience and exercise, only mastery orientation positively predicted performance.
Table 5

Hierarchial Regression Equation Predicting Performance from Mastery
and Ego Orientations

Variables Entered Standardized Beta t p[less than]

Step 1 [R.sup.2] = .110(*)

Exercise .21 1.83 .07
Previous Exp. .28 2.39 .02

Step 2 [R.sup.2] = .085(*)

Mastery Orientation .30 2.55 .02
Performance Orientation -.06 -.51 n.s.

Note. Multiple R = .44; [R.sup.2] = .20; F(4, 62) = 3.74,
p [less than].01.


The results of this study address three main issues: a) the structure of goals in students of traditional martial arts; b) the relations among this goal structure and beliefs about ability and success; and c) the prediction of performance in traditional martial arts from goal orientation. The factor analysis of the TEOSQ indicates that novice martial arts students organize their goals in ways similar to more experienced elite athletes. Even when engaged in sport for noncompetitive reasons, athletes organize their goals along the superordinate dimensions of mastery and ego orientations. Results extend evidence for these orientations and for the reliability and validity of the TEOSQ to include a previously unexplored non-competitive domain.

Results with regard to success and ability beliefs were also in keeping with past research on elite athletes. Ego oriented martial arts students believed that external factors and superior ability lead to karate success. Mastery oriented martial arts students believed that effort and enjoyment lead to karate success. These results are particularly impressive given the tendency of students in this sample to be largely mastery oriented and to endorse beliefs in effort rather than ability as a factor in success.

Mastery orientation was negatively related to belief in fixed ability and ego orientation was marginally related to such a belief. Dweck and Leggett (1988) suggested that theories about the nature of ability could lead one to pursue either mastery or ego goals. In the context of martial arts, belief that ability can change is likely to be accurate. The doctrine of traditional martial arts holds that ability is malleable and that hard work and determination lead to success.

As predicted, mastery orientation positively related to performance in martial arts. These results support the notion that situational factors such as the training objectives of a specific sport can relate to the success of individuals with different goal perspectives. It makes sense that an instrumental relationship between the training goals of a particular environment and one's goal orientation would enhance performance. Consequently, the positive relationship found between mastery orientation and performance in traditional martial arts is not surprising. Mastery orientation also related to increased fun in the course. Again, when a student is seeking goals that are congruent with class demands, he or she is likely to experience more enjoyment.

It was interesting that ego orientation did not predict performance or enjoyment. This result is not due to unreliability of ego orientation in this sample. Ego orientation related to success and ability beliefs in the predicted directions. One possible explanation for this result is the lack of emphasis on ego concerns in the traditional martial arts training. Considering the potential conflict between ego goals and the situational goals of traditional martial arts, it is not surprising that this goal perspective did not relate to performance. Future research might test these ideas by comparing contest and traditional martial arts classes.

Additional informal data from the students in this study may shed some light on the current results. At the beginning of the martial arts courses, students were asked to give their reasons for taking the course. Placing the results of this study in the context of students' free responses illustrates the interplay between individuals' goals, situational demands, and goal pursuit. Students provided reasons ranging from fulfilling a physical education requirement to desiring a sense of empowerment after leaving an abusive relationship. Many students mentioned the desire to gain self defense skills (e.g., "to not be afraid to walk alone;.... to know I could defend myself"). It is intriguing that goal orientations play an important role in predicting performance in a course which students believe has relevance to their survival. While a systematic exploration of these free responses remains for future inquiry, these types of responses do provide anecdotal evidence of students' concern for mastering self defense techniques. In addition, the role of martial arts training in students' feelings of safety and personal empowerment is notable. Traditional martial arts training concerns itself with mastery of tasks to provide students with the necessary skills to defend themselves. This training appears to offer the opportunity for enriching physical activity, even for students in less than optimal condition. The results of this investigation indicate that the course lives up to its philosophy. Students who work hard, persist, and undertake the training to master self defense skills can and do perform well.


Portions of this investigation were completed in partial fulfillment for requirements in undergraduate distinction for Teresa Williams. We would like to thank Philip Leitch of Brookhaven College and Sling Patterson and William Todd of Eastfield College who served as instructors and provided performance ratings during the course of this research. Preparation of the manuscript was supported in part by NIMH grant 1R29 MH54142-01 to Laura A. King.


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Seabourne, T., Weinbert, R., & Jackson, A. (1983). Effect of individualized practice and training of visuo-motor behavior rehearsal in enhancing karate performance. Journal of Sport Behavior, 7, 58-66.
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Author:King, Laura A.; Williams, Teresa A.
Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
Date:Dec 1, 1997
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