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  • Writer's pictureMaddie Cohen

Martial Arts: Overview and Benefits

Some associate martial arts with mindfulness. They wouldn’t be wrong to do so.

Others picture health and fitness when they hear terms like karate, tai chi, and tae kwan do.

This post will offer a brief overview of martial arts in general, describe the different types and styles, and list the key benefits of a martial arts practice. You won’t want to miss them.

What Are Martial Arts?

Martial arts refer to the different combat training systems that have been organized or systematized over time. The word “martial” comes from Mars, the Roman god of war.

Historically, the different types of martial arts were designed to help practitioners physically immobilize and ultimately defeat their opponents. The idea is not to instigate a fight, but to act in self-defense and protect against threats.

Today martial arts are a popular form of teambuilding, physical exercise, and so much more. Martial arts studios are available in most cities—even smaller municipalities. Some focus on a single martial art, while others offer a range of classes and programs practitioners can choose from.

Categories of Martial Arts

There are many different martial arts categories. These include stand-up or striking styles, throwing or takedown styles, low-impact styles, weapons-based styles, grappling or ground-fighting styles, and hybrid-sports styles like MMA. (You’ve probably heard of MMA. We’ll touch on it in more detail shortly.)

These are some of the better-known martial arts:

  • Karate

Karate comes from Japan and features a series of punches, kicks, and blocks. The name translates to “empty-handed” in Japanese, reinforcing the practice’s origins as a means of self-defense and combat. It incorporates principles such as discipline, respect, and so much more.

  • Kung Fu

Kung fu is an umbrella term for the many different styles of Chinese martial arts. It translates to “energy and time” and emphasizes that instead of overcoming your opponent, you have to look internally and learn to control your emotions, body, and even your thinking to come out on top.

  • Judo

Judo is a modern martial art influenced by many of the styles that came before it. Like karate, its origins trace back to Japan. A strong Judo practice relies on constraint to physically control your opponent—pinning them down and leveraging various techniques until they submit.

  • Aikido

Another contemporary Japanese martial art, aikido translates to “the way of harmonizing energy.” This hands-on practice is a system of striking, pinning, throwing, and more—also paired with the use of traditional Japanese weapons. If you’re looking to safely handle a sword or knife, consider aikido.

  • Tai Chi

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that originally served as a form of self-defense; it has since transitioned into a common holistic stress reduction technique. Many find it meditative, as it encourages serenity and calm through a series of flowing movements.

  • Tae Kwon Do

A Korean martial art form, tae kwon do includes a range of fast-paced punching and kicking techniques. It loosely translates to “step fight discipline” and involves the mindful use of different parts of the body to solve physical conflict. This martial art incorporates more active, rapid movements than most others.

  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian or Gracie jiu-jitsu is an adapted form of the Japanese martial art. It is a grappling-based style, with athletes using holds, chokes, and joint locks to overcome their opponent. The idea is to safely force your opponent to submit by taking a superior position. Talk about good self-defense!

  • Krav Maga

Krav maga comes from Israel. The military self-defense and fighting system, in fact, was initially created for the Israel Defense Forces. It includes a blend of techniques used in wrestling, boxing, judo, karate, and aikido. The focus here is on real-word scenarios and efficiency, making it ideal for self-defense as well.

  • MMA

MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts and is also referred to as ultimate fighting or cage fighting. This is a full-contact sport rooted in movements like striking and grappling—featuring techniques from different global combat sports. If you’re looking for more physical contact, this could be the martial art for you.

There are many additional martial arts available as well. Contact your local studio for details on the best fit for your needs, expectations, and goals.

Why Practice Martial Arts?

Now that you’re familiar with what some of the different martial arts are, let’s explore the benefits of a martial arts practice in general. These include:

  • Self-Defense

This is a big one. With aggravated assault taking place once every 43 seconds in the United States, martial arts play an important role in teaching people to defend themselves. People of all ages can benefit.

  • Discipline

All forms of martial arts are structured in some way. Sessions have similar formats and routines, increasing discipline in a way that carries over to everyday life. This is especially powerful for kids.

  • Healthy Living

Exercise doesn’t have to feel like a chore. With an emphasis on self-care, proper sleep, and physical activity, martial arts offer the perfect toolkit for healthy living. Sessions are fun and active.

  • Respect

Respect lays the foundation for all martial art forms. It’s a core value that students will notice in class from the very beginning. Practitioners are encouraged to respect not only their instructor, but one another.

  • Confidence

Unlike many other sports, martial arts prioritize self-improvement over competition. This helps students build confidence and commit to a consistent practice. Your progress will almost certainly empower you.

  • Teamwork

Good things happen when people learn and grow together. While martial arts aren’t competitive in the traditional sense, they still involve teamwork. The social, collaborative environment tends to be a big hit.

  • Agility

Mobility, agility, and balance come together in all styles of martial arts. As you learn to move quicker and more efficiently on your feet, you’ll find you become more agile. Your reflexes may improve as well.

  • Coordination

Spatial awareness and coordination play an essential role in martial arts. Many styles—like karate—feature the use of props and tools, presenting a great opportunity to work on your coordination.

  • Physical Strength

Martial arts are where physical form and strength come together. Different maneuvers target different parts of the body, and the repetitive nature of a martial arts practice can help to build strength over time.

  • Mental Health

We all know physical exercise works wonders for our mental (and physical) health. Martial arts take this a step further by highlighting healthy philosophies like goal setting, focus, and drive.

  • Blood Pressure

The vigorous training involved in martial arts has a similar effect to high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This can help to slow your resting heart rate and lower your blood pressure. How does that sound?

  • Professional Gains

Did you know that a martial arts practice can help you in your career? That’s right: The confidence, stress relief, motivation, and discipline this activity brings can absolutely translate to the workplace and beyond.

These are just some of the benefits of martial arts. Better concentration and improved self-defense are only the beginning.

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