Is Martial Arts Good for Your Mental Health?
There’s a reason why fight movies with training montages and underdog victories make you feel good and motivated. You experience moral and physical victories from a third-person perspective, while foregoing the idea of doing it yourself, and living vicariously through the character on-screen. The dopamine rush and flood of motivation is a placebo, or a substitution for the real thing.
Whilst not as flashy as the Rocky’s or Creed’s you see on-screen, real martial arts training has immense benefits to your mental and physical health, those of which you can’t achieve vicariously through film. Real, measurable advantages that can influence your life, outlook, and how you perceive yourself and are perceived by others.
Not just a gimmick
To the layperson, a martial art may appear to be a silly gimmick, masochistic, or of no consequence; however, any martial arts practitioner is well on their way to spiritual enlightenment, body-mind connection, and, ultimately, a better quality of life.
How does martial arts benefit your mental health?
Sound in Body & Mind
Consider having complete freedom of motion in any movement you make. Capable of tossing, turning, flipping, rolling, kicking, punching, and throwing. Total dexterity everywhere, with no limitations due to a lack of flexibility. This is the power of martial arts. By training your body, you not only discipline your mind, but you reach your physical potential.
We are, after all, animals, and we are not designed to sit for 8-9 hours a day. According to studies, even 30 minutes of physical activity per day can undo hours of bad posture.
If not flexibility, you’ll lose fat, tone up, and build muscle. The impact of a healthy body on the mind is immeasurable and very applicable to your daily life.
Have you ever heard of the term ‘deliberate practice’?
Deliberate practice is defined as ‘a type of practice which ‘is a highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance‘. Undertaking a martial art and staying consistent is a form of deliberate practice, and by doing so, you train your brain to apply deliberate practice to all facets of life. This could be showering every day, reading 10 pages of a book you’ve been deferring, or doing the washing up when you least want to tackle it.
We don’t do it knowingly, but by throwing yourself into the fire that is martial arts, you’re essentially rebuilding yourself from the ground up. For some, this could be rebuilding yourself from nothing; for others it could be destroying a negative sense of self and beginning anew.
Humbling in the Best Way Possible
What better way to build something than from the ground up? Training is difficult, and some gyms will break you down before rebuilding you. Martial arts make you reevaluate your ego, they’ll force you to be headstrong and keep you on top of your hubris. There is nothing more humbling than thinking you can handle yourself, then being absolutely shut out by a regular at the new gym.
Fret not, everybody starts out the same. Being tapped out in grappling, hit in sparring, feeling sick in warmup and going home hurting are all parts of the process. Being bad at something is the first step to being good at it. This logic applies to everything in life: new jobs, new hobbies, tasks, DIY, and so on. Training this mindset is critical for personal development because it teaches you perspective, that problems aren’t insurmountable, and that by putting one brick down every day, you’ll eventually have a wall.
The Obvious Benefits
It is impossible to deny that martial arts improve your self-defense abilities. You may be in a deep depression as a result of being mugged, assaulted, or worse. You may simply lack confidence from a lack of stature. Many of the greatest fighters to grace our midst were born in the face of adversity. Mike Tyson began training after confronting a bully who had killed one of his pigeons, and Georges Saint-Pierre began training due to bullying. Look at who, and where they are now. They appear untouchable, but they were once victims before discovering their potential in martial arts.
One of the primary selling points of martial arts is the resounding confidence that comes from knowing one’s capabilities. You don’t have to become violent, you just have to realise your capabilities. Many contemporaries claim they got into martial arts for self defense, and found that they got into less fights the better they became. It’s like what Roosevelt said: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”.
So is Martial Arts good for your mental health?
Absolutely yes. Martial arts is good for your brain and body. It’s good for your ego, your self-esteem, your self-image, and your discipline. These elements dominate your life, whether you think you’re in control of them or not. Practicing a martial art is deliberately placing yourself in an uncomfortable environment so that you may benefit from it; that is the definition of discipline.
So go ahead, study martial arts, it could be the catalyst to the biggest changes in your life. Find your ability, build your body, discover new role models, and most importantly, have fun.
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Mathew is a UK-based combat sports journalist. He currently works for MMA Knockout, part of the Sports Illustrated FanNation network. The Fight Fanatic is Mathew’s one-man operation. His past bylines include Heavy on UFC, Sportskeeda, and MMA UK.
Contact Mathew via Twitter or through [email protected]