When you ask the question, “should I take up martial arts?” your mind may automatically assume that martial arts are all about fighting. Martial arts can teach you both the skills and confidence to defend yourself, if necessary. However, the process of learning martial arts has many benefits for adults and children beyond self-defense.
These benefits may vary across the martial arts disciplines. For example, some martial arts focus on balance and flexibility, while others focus on strength, and yet others focus on mindfulness. However, all martial arts can lead to physical, mental, and emotional growth.
Physical Benefits of Martial Arts
Historians believe that many forms of martial arts have their origins in the physical preparation that monks used to defend their monasteries from marauders and bandits. This physical training came to be combined with the spiritual and mental training that the monks underwent in a unified system representing a martial art.
However, at its root, martial arts are a form of physical training to build the body’s fitness and skills. Children, active adults, and older adults can realise many physical benefits from martial arts including:
- Martial arts build muscles in the arms, legs, and body core. Aside from the added strength, muscle tissue burns over twice the calories of fat tissue. This kick starts your metabolism so that the more muscle you build, the more efficiently your body works.
- Balance developed through martial arts is critical, especially for older adults, for avoiding injuries due to slips, trips, and stumbles, and falls. Falling injuries are, by far, the most common reason for accident-related hospital admissions in England according to the NHS.
- Along with balance, flexibility is key to reducing the risk of falling injuries. Flexible muscles developed through martial arts training are also less likely to suffer sports injuries.
- Physical coordination is a skill in which the brain and muscles work together to perform an action. As a result, coordination skills learned through martial arts develop both the brain and the body.
- Stamina and endurance are related to the ability of muscle tissue and the cardiovascular system to function without tiring. Rigorous exercise improves the condition and efficiency of the muscles, heart, and lungs. As a result, you will not only feel less tired while exercising, you will also feel more energized at work, school, and home.
- Weight control. Martial arts provide an outlet to burn calories rather than store or consume calories. These benefits last even after your martial arts classes are finished. Exercise boosts your metabolism and lowers your blood sugar level so that you continue to burn fat when at rest.
Mental Benefits of Martial Arts
Learning martial arts requires students to follow an instructor as he or she explains and demonstrates various skills. After demonstrating a skill, students practice the skill alone or with other students. These skills, taken together, form the base of martial arts training.
In addition to the physical benefits arising from the physical activity, the learning process brings many mental benefits including:
- Most martial arts place a high degree of emphasis on form. Students must have a disciplined mind to learn the correct form and practice it correctly. This teaching method also encourages the development of listening skills and concentration. In this respect, anyone can participate in martial arts, regardless of athletic ability. If you can follow directions and accept instructions, you can become involved in martial arts.
- Boost mood. Like many physical activities, martial arts cause the brain to release natural pain relievers called endorphins. These hormones are responsible for the “runner’s high” because they reduce stress and physical discomfort. Moreover, regularly engaging in martial arts can trigger the brain’s reward circuitry, including a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine can boost mood and is sometimes referred to as the “feel-good” hormone.
- Improve mental function. Martial arts, like other forms of exercise, can reverse the effects of aging on the brain by encouraging growth and discouraging the decline, of brain cells. Moreover, the improvement in metabolism provided by physical activities like martial arts provides more energy for both the body and the brain. Together, these effects mean that martial arts can make you less susceptible to mental decline and more productive at work and school.
Personal Growth Through Martial Arts
Whether you term them spiritual or emotional, martial arts can bring intangible benefits to your approach to life. Martial arts training has a reputation for being a contemplative sport. However, these benefits are not mystical. There are a number of ways that you can grow and develop as a person from participation in martial arts including:
- Most martial arts disciplines begin by calming and focusing the mind. Your instructor may teach this explicitly through lessons in meditation. Alternatively, your instructor may encourage this implicitly through lessons in breathing techniques. In either case, a calm mind allows you to focus on your body and ignore distractions. Mindfulness can help you in work, school, and relationships.
- Goal setting. Martial arts is not just about learning new skills. It is about building on previously taught skills and bringing all your skills together into a skill set. This is one reason why martial arts are often taught in skill levels. This facilitates goal setting, particularly for children, and a sense of accomplishment when those goals are reached.
- Self-esteem and confidence. Self-esteem arises from the accomplishment of goals. Confidence arises from the knowledge that you can handle a situation. Together, these boost your view of yourself and the way that you project yourself to others. You will likely never need to use the self-defense skills you learn in martial arts classes. However, you will carry yourself very differently knowing that those skills are available if you need them.
- Social interaction. Martial arts can bring families, friends, or co-workers together. Martial arts can also lead to new friendships. Learning together, advancing through the training together, and accomplishing goals together can give your class a sense of shared experience and camaraderie. From this, you develop teamwork and co-operation skills.
- Martial arts are typically taught as a set of structured skills. Teaching these skills safely and constructively requires rules. Observing and learning these rules allows you to interact with classmates and instructors in a respectful way. Moreover, the martial arts that involve sparring teach the important life lessons of winning or losing gracefully, learning from defeat, and striving for improvement.
- Martial arts are often recommended for children and adults who cannot participate in team sports due to physical, developmental, and communication disabilities. By progressing at their own speed without feeling as if they are holding back teammates, these children and adults gain all the benefits of sporting activity without the negative aspects.
Range of Options Brings a Range of Benefits
Once you decide to take up martial arts, you are faced with the question, “Which martial art should I learn?” This is a very personal decision, based on factors that only you can evaluate. However, you should keep in mind that different martial arts emphasize different skills and bring different physical benefits.
For example, Tai Chi promotes relaxation and focuses on balance, flexibility, and mobility through slow, yet precise and flowing, movements. Kendo, on the other hand, is noisy and emphasizes speed through quick reflex movements.
If you have a specific set of benefits in mind, you may wish to research the various martial arts disciplines. Your research will likely uncover one or more styles of martial arts that can bring you the benefits you seek.
Most martial arts disciplines require no special equipment. You can typically practice at home after you clear some space to move about. Because martial arts have such minimal demands for equipment and facilities, it is a low-cost fitness option.
Moreover, there are many martial arts instructors near you. A search of martial arts classes will uncover several options for prices, disciplines, times, and locations for you to select from.