While not being a martial artist myself, I have the unique perspective of an appreciator of the art. I get the opportunity to witness the impact of martial arts on some of my closest friends and the people with whom they work. A few weeks ago, this blog explored some physical benefits of martial arts through a piece about playing dojo dodgeball (developing spatial awareness, gross motor development, and exercise). No doubt that these are incredibly important! What I want to talk to you about today is something that I believe to be of equal importance when talking about the benefits of martial arts training: emotional health and wellbeing.
As someone studying and working in the field of mental health, I think it is worth exploring the huge impact that martial arts training can have on emotional development. A new field of research is emerging exploring the influence of martial arts training on mental health - for both children and adults alike. Below are just four areas of wellness that I have chosen to use to highlight the benefits of martial arts training on emotional development:
Having worked with kids, if a child falls down, the first thing I say to them is “breathe”, and it usually calms them down. Teaching breathing is such an underrated way of fostering emotional wellbeing in students. Its seems so counterintuitive; How can you teach something that happens automatically? The reason deep breathing is on this list is because it helps children relax, learn better control over their breath and body, and gives them something to focus on. “Remember to breathe!” is something I frequently hear martial arts instructors say, and its benefit cannot go unnoticed. Deep breathing is shown to help decrease stress and anxiety, and teaching students to focus on their breathing promotes relaxation, control, and awareness that translates well both on and off the floor.
In the context of martial arts training, the ability to concentrate is key. Concentration is what allows someone to listen and pay attention. The ability to concentrate has a huge impact on the emotional development of a student because it affects their social, school, and home life. Martial arts training helps develop concentration by promoting attentive listening, fostering unity between students, and practicing skills over and over. One example of this is having students complete drills as a team. They not only need to focus on what their own body is doing, but they also need to make sure they are paying attention and are in sync with their classmates.
There is nothing more frustrating than practicing a move over and over and STILL not being able to get it. However, what sets students apart is the patience and motivation to keep practicing. Martial arts training helps foster motivation in students by teaching them to persevere even when skills are hard. The hope for students who come into the studio and learn to work hard is that this becomes a habit at home and at school as well. Their emotional well-being strengthens when they learn that they can overcome tough obstacles.
Self-respect and self-esteem are inherently linked to the development of motivation. Martial arts training pushes students to try their best every single class. Watching a student become confident in their moves is one of the most satisfying transformations to witness. Once students realize what they are capable of doing, this confidence undoubtedly begins seeping into everything else. Developing respect for oneself has a massive influence on how students learn to respect their parents, teachers, and friends. It is not enough to learn how to treat yourself; Martial arts training is important because it undeniably teaches students the importance of respecting other people. Martial arts training teaches students to take pride in all the work they do, not just their hour on the floor each class.
Too often, I hear stories about active students who are reprimanded at home or school because they were disrupting class or not listening to their parents. Martial arts training helps strengthen emotional development because it gives students an outlet in which to channel that energy. Students improve their listening skills, increase their focus, and boost self-esteem. I’ve witnessed firsthand the awesome transformation students have at school and at home because of what they are learning in training. All of these skills (and countless more) build off of the other and allow kids to become more confident, better focused, and emotionally healthier students.