There are a multitude of resources extolling the positive benefits of regular exercise. Going to the gym or playing a sport will improve your health and fitness. There are a huge variety of exercises and sports that could be discussed. Practising a Martial Art, however, is one form of exercise that offers a number of ways to improve the balance of your daily life in addition to just improving your fitness levels. As well as the obvious physical benefits and improved motion and flexibility, from personal experience of over 20 years studying various martial arts, I can attest to the positive effect on self-discipline, confidence, mood, focus, concentration, motivation and even an enhanced social circle. Therefore, I am slightly biased towards this form of exercise and can recommend it to anyone looking a better balance in life.
There are numerous styles from all over the world, too many to cover here. Having only practised a small number of styles, it would be a little biased and impossible to judge which ones are better than others, or what areas of your life could be improved by choosing a particular art. Some are more biased towards self-defence and others towards competition. Again, from experience choosing a style or club and teacher that you feel comfortable with or the most benefit from, is the most important thing. The only advice I can offer here would be to try as many as you can before deciding.
Benefits of Martial Arts to Physical Health and Fitness:
You have to be flexible to practise many martial arts, especially those that emphasise kicking such as Karate or Taekwondo. Therefore, many schools including plenty of stretching routines in their practise sessions. Martial arts tend to be an anaerobic form of exercise. Fast periods of activity come in short bursts like sprinting but some forms such as kickboxing will also enhance aerobic fitness. If you are not as interested in the self-defence aspects of practise many gyms offer Boxercise, Tae Bo or similar classes. These classes have been adapted into purely fitness routines rather than full on martial arts.
Benefits of Martial Arts for Mental Health:
There is something about punching and kicking a pad (or someone wearing protective equipment!) that is an excellent way to de-stress. It is over and above just the feeling of relaxation that comes after a hard workout.
The peer pressure of attending a regular class with others helps improve self-discipline. I find it easier to attend a training session on a cold winters night with friends than drag out to the gym for instance.
Training with a partner improves focus and trust in order not to hurt the other person. Even more concentration is required at a competitive level to perform well. Learning how to defend yourself and even the regular routine of standing up in front of the class to demonstrate techniques, a typical aspect of any club, will improve self-confidence, especially in children.
For any martial art learning how to stay relaxed during practise is key to better technique and stamina. Many forms teach breathing exercises or can be combined with meditation. Tai Chi for instance is a form of moving meditation which is low impact employing slow, steady movements. Tai Chi is therefore, ideal for older or less mobile people.
Martial Arts for Balance & Harmony
Martial arts embody the essence of using mind, body and spirit in harmony. Seemingly exceptional feats of physical power can be achieved when all three are in alignment. If you have ever watched a demonstration of someone breaking tiles or bricks you will notice that the practitioners are not necessarily built like a tank. Some may be slight of stature but by executing good technique aligned with balance, timing and positive mental approach they break through the target item easily.
OK, after saying above we will keep it general I can’t leave it without a particular mention of Aikido which I have practised for over 12 years. In addition to being a passion, it gets a special mention as the philosophy and history closely follows the concept of this website. The interpretation of the word Aikido is “The way of harmonious spirit” or simply “the way of harmony”. It is purely defensive and emphasises protecting your opponent even if their intentions are to harm you.
Aikido does not teach the extremes of hurting or killing an opponent but rather to take away their will to attack you. A great deal of emphasis is placed on harmonising or blending with an attacker. The philosophy of Aikido as taught by the founder of the art, Morihei Ueshiba. It has also been adapted to improving other aspects of daily life by using key concepts of avoiding, blending and then controlling situations. Even if you are not interested in practising the Martial Art, there are several books on dealing with conflict and improving business skills using these harmonious concepts.
OK, last one honest! Tai Chi has its own philosophy relating to harmony and balance. Originating in China but now common throughout the globe, it is a mixture of slow-moving and lightning fast yet graceful techniques. It combines both breathing and mental control with physical execution. The movement cultivate Chi or internal energy and in western terms may have numerous health benefits such as improved strength, stamina and circulation.
Tai Chi is ideal for elderly or less able people and has many health benefits. Think of it as a moving meditation or a less physical yoga.