How Martial Arts Can Improve Your Life – Physically, Mentally and Spiritually
"trust the training and the system, and follow my coaching instructions. I will mentor you and you will succeed!"
--- encouragement words from kung fu master, late Grandmaster Paul Chan, to his disciple.
It is common knowledge that Martial arts training can provide a great number of physical benefits. Many people seek out martial arts classes in pursuit of greater fitness and to learn self defense skills, but perhaps what is less commonly known is the fact that it also has great mental, emotional and spiritual benefits.
The experience of martial arts practice is unique to every individual and training can lead to much self discovery. Most practitioners gain confidence and feel more secure in themselves as their skills improve. Some discover connections to nature's greater force through the practice of yin/yang philosophy. Some find camaraderie with team-mates or training partners and many lose weight, gain muscle and begin leading healthier lifestyles. People often attest that they have better focus, more energy, are less stressed, and feel an overall improvement in their quality of life.
Positive psycho-social benefits of Martial Arts practice
According to Brad Binder, Ph.D. in his research paper titled Psychosocial Benefits of the Martial Arts: Myth or Reality?
“…there is a growing body of literature about the longer-term effects of martial arts practice. The findings of most of these studies show that the practice of martial arts leads to positive psycho-social changes in the participants…It is gratifying to know that research is beginning to support the claims of the old masters: the martial arts can help develop both better bodies and better minds and may lead to a better, more peaceful society.”
Robert Downey Jr. is a good example of how martial arts practice can help one overcome life’s great challenges. At the height of his career, addiction and substance abuse had taken control of his life. For years he was in and out of jail and rehab facilities. Then in 2003 he began practicing Wing Chun kung fu, a Chinese martial art discipline. During an appearance on Oprah, the Iron Man actor said:
“Martial arts has just been... I can’t even say how much it’s impacted my ability to stay well and focused.... It’s a spiritual practice. It’s grounded me and its primary purpose is to promote a sense of spiritual warrior-dom and to respect your society and to be prepared to defend yourself and your society if necessary.”
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Research finds martial arts practice increases attention
So, what is it about martial art training that helps to develop laser-sharp focus and grittiness?
In an article written by Ashleigh Johnstone a PhD researcher in cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University (originally published on The Conversation theconversation.com)
“…recent research has shown a link between (martial arts) practice and improved alertness. Backing this idea up further, another study showed that martial arts practice…is linked with better performance on a divided attention task.”
Martial art training develop perseverance
There’s more to martial arts practice besides the superficial idea of punching and kicking. The training is challenging and builds character. Honing skills for punching and kicking takes focus, discipline, perseverance, self-control and lots of practice.
Firstly, you need to make sure you have the physical conditioning to land the punches on the bag without hurting yourself. Secondly, you need to build up tolerance to pain and be ready to get cuts from skin lacerations and some friction burns while punching the bag. Thirdly, the punch delivery needs to be strong enough and directed accurately to its target. In order to overcome these challenges, you will have to possess the determination and perseverance to succeed.
Discipline, inhibitory control inherent in martial art practice
In a Psychology Today article titled Positive Psychology in Martial Arts by Neil Farber M.D, Ph.D., CLC, CPT, Neil writes:
“Regular practice of martial arts helps us gain the ability to control our emotions, desires and reactions. Martial arts teach us to think before acting, regulate our movements, and focus on action rather than reaction. The discipline involved in fine tuning and honing skills and techniques cannot be overstated...People with perseverance are more likely able to accomplish long term goals in the face of adversity. Excelling in martial arts is extremely difficult – it takes thousands of hours of practice and dedication encountering many challenges along the way to developing new skill sets...”
Lessons learned from punching a bag – My own personal experience
From my personal experience many, many, many moons ago as a novice trainee in martial art, the tasks seemed gargantuan. At the outset, there were multiple failures, my punches were weak. No matter how much willpower I tried to muster I couldn’t move the punching bag. It was over 80 pounds and rock hard. Over and above that, my skin had begun to split from the friction burns.
So, what kept me from giving up? My Sifu gave me a heartfelt reassuring chat. He said,
"trust the training and the system, and follow my coaching instructions. I will mentor you and you will succeed!"
What my Sifu had done was indirectly diffused my self-doubt and removed my insecurity.
From that point onward, I opened up and gave myself to the martial arts training, to the Kung Fu school and Choy Li Fut Kung Fu. My attitude was, "I will take in whatever the punching bag returned to me; I will take in the pain from punching the bag. I will take in the muscle soreness from the many punching and kicking repetitions. If I can remain standing and not breaking myself physically, day in day out, I will return and pound on the bag over and over. I know my body will recover and allow me to do that again and again! I will never ever go away!"
Several months that followed, I also started to discover some biomechanical technical details of punching and kicking. With further tips from my Sifu and him sitting on the side and observing me worked on the punching bag, I began to explore more and more details of punching and kicking the bag.
The nerd in me surfaced and I became curious and wanted to discover more. Many more moons later, while I was pounding on the bag, one of the elders at my Sifu's kung fu school came down from the 2nd floor to the training area and yelled out, "Hey! you're shaking the entire house!" I wasn't sure if he's annoyed from the noise, or just yelling out praises to me.
Then, it occurred to me that I had a powerful punch, my skin did not break, and no more muscle soreness for a very long time. My punches and kicks were strong enough to rock the entire building up to the 2nd floor. WOW! 😮 💪 That felt really good! I had overcome the lists of challenges that seemed unattainable on the day one.
What I have learned while working on the punching bag was, perseverance, discipline, and focus.
The Teacher, Coach, Sifu, Sensei - positive role model in traditional martial arts
Your Sifu or sensei, or master is an elderly positive role model that you should respect and receive knowledge from. Traditional martial arts like Kung Fu, Karate, Judo, Jiujitsu, Muay Thai, and Taekwondo, have character building values already incorporated. These martial arts traditions have endured many generations.
Being part of a school is like being part of a family which is one of the many differences between traditional Martial Arts training and going to a bootcamp class at a gym for example. There’s a bond formed between a teacher and their students. Sifu literally means teacher/father, and fellow students are like brothers and sisters. The bond helps people to connect with others, to belong and to feel like part of a community. As research has shown this type of connection can help people heal from many mental and emotional disorders which plague our society including addiction, anxiety and depression.
Put in the hours, be focused, stay on course and let nature take its course! Be respectful to self and others, appreciate your own abilities. In the process learn, discover yourself and the art, and most importantly enjoy the ride. In the end the reward comes. Confidence naturally appears and you will be motivated.
At Bamboo Kung Fu, the Choy Li Fut Kung Fu we practice places emphasis on conditioning of the stances – horse stance, cat stance etc. These stances ground the practitioner using core, hips, and leg strength which lead to stability, control, flexibility, lightness in footwork, and protection of the centre line. Our belief is to respect and appreciate personal space, both of the opponent and self. We wait for the opponent to initiate offence first before we intercept the opponent's offence.
Check out our kung fu classes, you will get all of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits, but only if you allow it!
- Kurchak, S., How Wing Chun helped Robert Downey Jr. battle addiction, Fightland Blog, Feb 8, 2016, available online: http://fightland.vice.com/blog/ how-wing-chun-helped-robert-downey-jr-battle-addiction
- Kasim, A., Seven Skills Martial Arts Can Teach You, HuffPost, Nov 15, 2012, posted online: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/ abubakar-kasim/bullying-martial-arts....
- Farber, N., Positive Psychology in Martial Arts, Psychology Today, Dec 2017, available online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ .../positive-psychology-in-martial-arts
- Evolve MMA, 5 Things That Martial Artists Wished Their Parents Understood, Yahoo Lifestyle, Jan 2020, available online: https://sg.style.yahoo.com/5-things-martial-artists-wished-084011130.html
- Johnstone, A., Marí-Beffa, P., The Effects of Martial Arts Training on Attentional Networks in Typical Adults, Frontiers in Psychology, Feb 2018, posted online: https://doi.org/10.3389/ fpsyg.2018...
- Binder, B., Psychosocial benefits of the martial arts: Myth or Reality?, 1999, available online: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ 30ce/ ...pdf
- Johnstone, A., Martial Arts offers Brain Boosting Benefits for All Ages, Research Finds, Indy/Life section, Independent:UK's largest quality digital news brand, available online: https://www.independent.co.uk/ life-style/ .../martial-arts-physical-mental-benefits...
- Johnstone, A., Martial arts can improve your attention span and alertness long term - new study, The Conversation, Feb 2018, available online: https://theconversation.com/ martial-arts-can-improve-your-attention-span-and-alertness-/...
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