Dear Aspie: Should Aspies Take Martial Arts?


Dear Aspie:
“I am a social worker working with a 13-year-old-boy with Asperger’s. He wants to learn martial arts, in part because he’s in a rough school and gets bullied. His father is concerned that the boy’s impulse control problems will result in him using his martial arts skills to seriously hurt or kill someone. The father, who is most likely an undiagnosed aspie himself, said he would have (literally) killed someone in high school if he’d had those skills. Do you have any knowledge or could you point me to any research on this topic?”

–Paula Soto MSW, LSW

Read on for GroovyDruid’s response!
I can see why you’d be concerned, since you’re NT, and the mindset of Asperger’s is to you completely foreign territory. What would an aspie think to do with such skills?

Here’s a place to start on this question: I got bullied occasionally when I was small. I got in a few fights. I then took martial arts for a couple of years.

I haven’t been in a fight since.

Any good martial arts instruction teaches the ability to handle force. That’s the goal. Whether the force is directed AT you or OUT from you, martial arts teaches you how to control, manipulate, generate, and nullify force.

Once you can handle force, you usually find out you don’t need to fight. Most people think of force as just the physical aspect, but really, force starts and ends in one’s thoughts. When you have experience and skill in the application of force, you can see it coming far away in an opponent. You can also see anger or frustration building in yourself as merely emotion that needn’t translate to physical action. Training in martial arts tends to promote self-confidence and responsibility in the area of force.

I recommend the boy try martial arts, and I would put the following reasoning before the boy’s father: self-confidence and ability to handle force are not dangerous; fear of force is. It’s the scared child who slaughters neighbors and schoolfellows with a shotgun, not the black belt. Thinking to make anyone less dangerous by taking away his ability to manage force is backwards logic. It’s the other way around: a person becomes irrational when finally confronted with things he feels he cannot face, and refusing the boy training denies him the chance to confront force in a constructive environment. If done properly, martial arts should instill a feeling that the boy can face any situation with his wits intact, and that’s a good, solid recipe for a sane and peaceful human being.

You can assuage your concern by monitoring the boy’s progress. Some martial arts centers are lax teaching self-control; and sometimes the training fails to stick with a child, either because of immaturity or premeditated aims to use whatever new skills he learns to hurt those that hurt him. However, the signs of poor training or immaturity show up immediately. The child will go around karate-chopping doors and slapping up dogs, for example. He won’t become Bruce Lee overnight, so you and the father can observe him and see how he responds to his new training. If he shows signs of increased self-confidence coupled with restraint, then you’re all set. If he karate-chops doors, well then …

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9 thoughts on “Dear Aspie: Should Aspies Take Martial Arts?”


    • Ettina on March 14, 2015

      Research has shown that kids involved in martial arts tend to be less aggressive than kids involved in other sports – even sports that don’t involve combat at all.

    • Katidid on April 18, 2015

      My son, aged 13, has just been diagnosed with aspbergers. He has been learning aikido, which is a defensive and gentle martial art. I do fear that if he knew an offensive art he would use it and be in more trouble. But even from the very beginning he has been able to use aikido to defend himself and to let the bullies know they can’t harass him…. which is hos primary goal. He doesn’t like going to aikido, he can find it a bit intimidating but, he goes and he learns and he loves the control it gives him.

    • djirsas on February 15, 2016

      I took karate in second and third grade. The dojo explained very carefully that I could hurt someone with it, so when I was bullied and attacked, I never used my skills to defend myself. Looking back, it was a mixed blessing. I gained more self control, and at the same time, I learned to be a fast runner. So, karate and track.

    • Haytham on May 3, 2016

      I didn’t know that I’m an Aspie till around 5 years ago– I thought I was just odd.

      When I was about 5 (I’m 38 now), my mom enrolled me in my first Tae Kwon Do class ever. I added martial arts very quickly to be short list of obsessions.

      I have gone through various systems for years. I have always sought what system seems best to me. I like to think I know a thing or two about martial arts.

      In any case, I have never attacked another person with what I have learned over the years, but I have defended myself many times.

      If the kid in-question is an Aspie but has no psychological difficulties, then I don’t know why it would be a problem if the kid did martial arts. I’m an Aspie, but don’t hurt people. If the kid only is an Aspie (and that’s all), then I should think the kid might enjoy it.

    • Haytham on May 3, 2016

      I apologize for the typo in my post above. I should have previewed it before posting it.

    • AspieJD on June 9, 2016

      I also believe it would be good for the child to receive training in martial arts. As for myself, from an early age I have felt the need to acquire some fighting skills – perhaps as a psychological defense mechanism, self preservation, feeling threatened – what have you. Anyways, I too have never, despite my meltdowns and episodes of mind blindness that I have experienced, have never used those skills out of anger or frustration – quite the opposite – I has given me a lot of inner peace and has proved meditative through repetitive practicing of the motions and techniques. Meditation doesn’t hurt either!

    • jupiterz child on July 25, 2016

      I wanted to enroll my son in martial arts. Paternal parental unit said no, for the very same reason given here. I knew my kid–he was not a bully. After years of being bullied, he fought back and ended up getting kicked out of school. The school system will not protect our children. In some cases, school personnel provoke the ridicule, by ridiculing a quirky child in front of others. Anything that can teach a child control and give them insight into their own emotions and behavior should be explored. If the child hates it, they won’t cooperate anyway. A few lessons should be enough for a parent to know.

    • virgule on January 26, 2018

      I think that if the child wants to learn martial arts, then he should be allowed to do so. There is nothing wrong with martial arts and there are many opportunities to improve oneself, autism spectrum or not. I see such request from the child as a positive step forward, that should be encouraged.

    • 3elegant on January 12, 2022


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