Fighting through emotional trials: exploring the role of karate in emotional reflexivity

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Emotional trials – such as break-ups, abuse, bereavement and ill physical or mental health – are a common part of life. These are events that interrupt our everyday routine sense of normality, and are often accompanied by increased reflexivity. Much of the literature on how we reflexively come to understand and make our way through emotional trials focuses on verbal reflection. What we ‘do’ when we do reflexivity is often overlooked (Brownlie, 2014). This article, looks to expand Brownlie’s contention that leisure pursuits ‘are a way of engaging in reflexivity, that is, thinking and feeling through an activity’ (Brownlie, 2014: 158) by exploring the role of karate practice in reflexively working through emotional trials. This article draws on data from four photo-elicitation interviews and participant observations from two karate clubs drawn across nine months. Findings suggest that karate practice facilitated participants’ reflexive processes during times of emotional trial. Karate practice worked to provide temporal relief from inner talk related to participants’ emotional trials, and provided a space to ‘release’ negative emotions associated with their trials. Through achieving small physical accomplishments, participants perceived karate practice as a way to develop a ‘better self’ during or after an emotional trial. This article concludes that understanding active processes of doing reflexivity is essential for understanding how people make sense of and move on from emotional trials.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-261
Number of pages17
JournalEmotions and Society
Issue number2
Early online date14 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2021


  • emotional trials
  • emotions
  • karate
  • leisure
  • reflexivity


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