My daughter trains in defensive martial arts, specifically Aikido, which is a mostly defensive Japanese martial art. While I am obviously no expert, I do understand the multiple benefits that martial arts provides.
One of the main reasons people train in the martial arts is for the knowledge of self defense. It is the real origin to these styles of hand-to-hand combat. Knowing how to defend oneself in a dangerous situation is still as important as it was a thousand years ago. Despite what many people think, martial arts is not all about the fighting.
Like any physical activity, it is a form of exercise. Training will improve your muscular strength as well as endurance. Over time, it can help you tone your body and increase overall flexibility. While this is not the same kind of muscle building you would experience if you were weightlifting, it is still a great way to strengthen your body as a whole and add power to your techniques.
Your range of motion often increases too through training. Certain styles of martial arts lend themselves more to this than others (like tae kwon do, Thai kickboxing), but overall your flexibility and coordination will improve.
This has nothing to do with religion. Similar to the mindset that yoga and meditation uses, martial arts often employ the spiritual element to improve the mind’s focus and strengthen self control. Self control is extremely important while training, and it is important to keep volatile emotions such as anger and fear in check. While I don’t want to sound too corny, you might as well call it a form of zen (too corny, yea?). These tactics can easily be applied as a way to control your stress levels. Also, I’ve heard that punching a pad is a great way to expel excess energy and anger (though not too much!). You can come out refreshed, energized and ready to tackle whatever life has to throw at you.
Training in martial arts usually involves many little steps and progressions. As one advances, the feeling of accomplishment comes with added confidence. Statistics have show the benefits for not only adults but children as well. These small successes which lead into the overall achievement of ranking a new belt can help increase one’s self confidence. This can have a cross over effect in other areas of life and create general self esteem.
The martial arts have strong Asian roots. As a result, these practices have unique formalities that tie into the influencing culture.. Respect is something that all instructors place great importance in during their classes. This emphasis helps to provide children with discipline and a behavior-code, often missing in our schools and the traditional team sports. How many of us have observed team players taking a respectful bow to the referee or ump. Instead the official is more like to be bombarded with scornful epithets or 3rd finger gestures? Well we know the answer to this. Disrespect is almost encouraged. Fans compete with profanity and parents are even tossed out of the games or red carded after going nose to nose with an official. This value in the martial arts is not to be underestimated.
Try it yourself!
Martial arts has grown in popularity, and it is obvious why. The benefits are great, and I encourage anyone remotely interested to explore this route. After doing some research on my own and talking with my daughter, I think it important to mention that every martial art is different from the other, and even within the particular style, there are different schools of thought and ways of teaching.
Programs that teach just combat fighting techniques may not result in the desired mental and spiritual benefits so it is important to search around for the right school that will offer the benefits one wishes to achieve. Do some research on what kinds of martial arts exist (Aikido, Kung Fu, Karate, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Jujutsu just to name a few major types of martial arts). Visit Live Strong Types of Martial Arts, List of Types of Martial Arts, About.com What is the Best Kind of Martial Art?.