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Martial Arts: Health Benefits and Different Types

November 17, 2016 by Normand Richard, Certified Exercise Physiologist

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Types of martial arts and their health benefits

The karate classes I took three times a week during undergrad where a blessing. Not only could I blow off steam after frustrating lab sessions but I got to focus on self-discipline and fitness. Plus it was a great social activity. Martial arts are not always considered physical activity, but let me assure you they are.

What Are Martial Arts?

Although movies and TV sometimes portray martial arts as violent, almost all martial arts were developed for self-defence. Historically, martial arts gave peasants a way to defend themselves from thieves or oppressing regimes.

In a typical martial arts class, you will learn a series of strikes and blocks. These will progress as you move up from one belt or rank to the next. Most styles also do kumite where you can test and practise your skill by sparring against someone else in a live but safe setting. Kata, which refers to a series of techniques done consecutively (almost like a choreographed dance), is done individually and has a strong emphasis on focus and breathing.

Types of Martial Arts

There are many styles of martial arts and some of them are a blend of focuses. Here are a few categorized by their primary focus:

  • Grappling-focused arts like judo, jujutsu and Greco-Roman wrestling emphasize grabbing and throwing your adversary off balance. You’ll learn how to fall and throw safely and how to get out of holds.
  • Mixed-focus arts combine strikes with some grappling and throws. Karate, taekwondo, hapkido, and muay-tai are just a few examples. These are good styles for those who enjoy variety.
  • Striking-focus arts solely encompass punching, like in boxing, or a mixture of kicking and punching, like in kickboxing and savate. These styles have a long history in the western world.

Health Benefits of Martial Arts

  • Mental Benefits: Martial arts have a very strong emphasis on developing discipline, focus, respect and self-confidence; attributes that are all valuable in daily life. Being active will also help improve your well-being.
  • Physical Benefits: There’s no doubt that doing martial arts regularly will develop well-rounded fitness. Firstly, you’ll develop balance and agility while learning different poses and transitions. Secondly, muscle strength will be improved through many body weight exercises and, in some cases, additional weight lifting and plyometric training. Lastly, building good aerobic fitness will give you energy through the class and you’ll recover quicker between higher intensity routines.
  • Other Benefits: Martial arts have a strong sense of community within the dojo (martial arts gym) and provide an opportunity for friendly competition. And it’s a good place to be when winter weather is too cold or stormy to exercise outside.

Getting started is easy. Clubs usually allow you to take a free “try-it” session, and many community centers have classes. Whether you do it for fitness, self-discipline or for competition, martial arts is a good choice to keep physically active and feeling good.


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