How Martial Arts Can Boost Your Health – WebMD

If you’re looking for a way to get fit, reduce stress, improve your focus, and lower your risk of certain diseases, you may want to consider martial arts.


Many of us don’t even think of martial arts as we’re choosing a fitness activity – or, if we do think about it, we often dismiss the idea as not for us, thinking we are either “too old”, “too frail”, or it seems “too complicated.”

The reality, however, is that almost anyone can do some form of martial arts, and the health benefits make it worth leaving your comfort zone. It’s an effective way to burn calories, build muscle, and shed pounds. And it promotes balance and psychological well-being. There’s also some data that suggests that the combination of physical and mental in martial arts may even help persons with autism spectrum disorder improve their balance and communication.

I spent some time talking with my good friend and martial arts expert Michael Jai White about the benefits of martial arts. You probably know Michael from his roles in movies like Spawn and The Dark Knight; in the martial arts world, he’s known as a highly skilled and versatile artist – with black belts in eight different styles. Here are some of his thoughts on the intersection between martial arts and wellness.

Practicing the martial arts has such a wide variety of health benefits. From your experience, what is the most significant gift that the martial arts can give us, health-wise?

There are a lot of physical benefits, but to me, it’s the psychological benefits that make the martial arts so special – especially the way that it teaches you to overcome obstacles. When you practice the martial arts, you get more obstacles thrown at you than life would conjure up naturally, so your mind and will becomes well-equipped to mentally and physically face any obstacle life throws at you. Discipline, respect for others, being humble, truthful, healthy – they’re all part of being a true martial artist. For me, learning these qualities – and practicing them time and time again in the dojo – has not only improved my life and how I see myself, it’s also made me a better person for my family and everyone around me.

There are so many different types of martial arts – I think some people get overwhelmed by the choices. Can you break down some of the main forms and the specific kinds of benefits they offer?

While all of the martial arts improve your health through rigorous physical activity, there are some that focus more on internal factors. The traditional Chinese martial arts, like Ta Chi, focus on deep breathing and an overall balance of mind, body, and spirit. Most of the Chinese Kung Fu systems share these aspects and can be compared to yoga and ballet in terms of core strength, flexibility, and beautiful body mechanics. These can forms of martial arts be practiced safely well into later life.

If you want something more rigorous, you might like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which has recently enjoyed increased popularity. Jui Jitsu tends to appeal to the cerebral-minded practitioner in its strategic and chess-like aspects of trapping, capturing, and submitting one’s opponents.

Okinawan Karate and the Japanese and Korean martial arts have a more rigid and combative base to their systems. The most popular of these are Goju, Shotokan, and Tae Kwon Do, which emphasize destructive striking techniques. These arts, as well as countless offshoots of these striking styles, are unparalleled in terms of stress reduction. To punch, kick, yell (“Kiai!”), and fight is like a controlled version of a tantrum that you get to release on a consistent basis through training.

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