The Mental Benefits of Martial Arts for both Children and Adults
Helps Alleviate Stress:
The intense workouts involved in martial arts help relieve stress, the same as going for a jog or going to the gym. Cardio and breathing helps with the adverse effects of stress and anxiety.
The difference-maker for me is the exercise comes by surprise. Running and going to the gym you know what you are getting yourself into. That takes a whole other level of discipline! The purpose is to push yourself. And there is a great benefit to that. However, I like surprise exercises where you don't know you have exercised until after leaving it all on the mat or in the ring.
Martial arts teaches self-discipline:
In martial arts, you have to pace yourself. You can go all out in the first round, which leaves little in the tank for going against an opponent with more stamina. The more techniques you learn, the more you can focus your energy instead of using brute force. I remember this from my wrestling days when someone with more training could dominate me when all I had to go on was my size and strength. The more frustrated you get, the more you try to exert that force, which gets used against you all the more. You have to learn to channel that energy.
You learn to channel your energy, structure, and discipline in training, which easily transfers to school and work. When you begin to focus on, understand, and control your internal emotions, learning how to respect others becomes much easier.
How might this transfer into the real world? One instance I can think of is that when in a confrontation with another person, you are put into a situation where you can use brute force, either physically or verbally, or use what is known as verbal judo (the gentle art of persuasion). Which of the two do you think will be more beneficial? Which of the two do you think a student of martial arts would be most likely to utilize?
Increases Self Confidence:
What I like about the martial arts confidence boost is that it does not give you the ego boost one might think. It gives you a boost in squashing any of your insecurities. You do not need the boost to your own ego that self-esteem often implies. In Jiu-Jitsu it is not uncommon for a blue belt to get beat by a white belt or purple by blue. You have to leave the ego at home. The confidence I am speaking of often involves losses and humility.
With this self-confidence you can walk away from the bully who is trying to intimidate you. You have nothing to prove to yourself or others. You do not have to have the last word when dealing with a disgruntled co-worker.
By training and focusing on performing under pressure, you learn how to operate under pressure in stressful environments that extend outside the mat and ring. In this way, you lower your emotional temperature. In other words, it takes a lot more pressure to cause you fear and anxiety, and when you get to that point, you know what to do with it because you have trained under this environment multiple times. I tell my clients our brain works by association. When we have anxiety, that is because our brain is telling us danger, danger; I have seen this before. Anxiety is in the preconscious mind and is meant to help us act quickly for survival. Without proper training, we do not know how to act under pressure. Anxiety begets more anxiety. This is why EMS and first responders train over and over with what to do in high stressful situations because it is not uncommon for our thinking brain to check offline. We have to result back to our training. The martial arts practitioner has this advantage when it comes to stressful environments that may stimulate some form of anxiety. Again our brain works by association. When your brain tells you, you have seen this before, but this time it knows how to handle the situation because of training, and your brain will have no need to tell your body to prepare for fight or flight as it might in another individual. And in this sense your thinking brain is capable of remaining online to properly evaluate and tackle the stressful events. The anxious preconscious mind will be less overworked lowering your overall emotional temperature.
Here are just a few off the cuff to the many benefits martial arts can have on your mental health. If you or your child struggle with some form of anxiety or depression, I highly recommend getting involved in some form of martial arts training.
Odell Terrell is a mental health counselor in Greensboro, NC. He graduated with a MS in Counseling from Divine Mercy University in Arlington, VA, and places an emphasis on working with spiritual integration, adults and adolescents, trauma, family and children, and grief and loss. Odell received his undergraduate degree from the University of St. Leo's in St. Leo Florida, with a degree in Psychology. He has spent his last 15 years working in the field of emergency services. It is in working with people in emergency situations, both patients and first responders, that Odell has learned how to deal respectively with people in crises mode, helping instill a sense of hope and healing. Odell is happily married, for 17 years, and is the father of 9 children and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his family and child therapy practice.