To Mend A Soul: The benefits of martial arts


Today’s world faces the grim reality that people, especially those barraged by social media, endure higher levels of anxiety, stress and self-esteem issues. Though the cause of these alarming trends can be found in many places, it is clear that all individuals must pay attention to their emotional well-being. And one way we can do that is by exercising — specifically, by engaging in martial arts.  

People often view martial arts as just a physical sport. We associate it with rival dojangs in “Cobra Kai.” We associate it with the lovable Po using his enormous appetite and unique view to fight off Tai Lung in “Kung Fu Panda.” And it is true. Like any other sport, martial arts can help improve your physical abilities; physical activity is known to help significantly better your brain health, reduce your risk of disease and improve your everyday life. However, there is an entire facet of martial arts that is often overlooked: the mental side.  

“there is an entire facet of martial arts that is often overlooked: the mental side. “

In a study done by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, researchers found that Taekwondo, a martial arts form originating in South Korea, is “an exercise program that optimizes effects on cognitive functioning”. Martial arts have also been seen to help in attention and behavioral control. These findings come as no surprise, as self-control is a pillar of many martial art forms.   

The physical brain is not the only thing transformed by martial arts. In all its forms, martial arts teaches patience and discipline, virtues that can intertwine into our daily lives, and make us better. More than that, martial arts can alter your psyche. As a student of Taekwondo myself, the knowledge that I can defend myself both physically and mentally has transformed me from someone afraid of the dark to someone with the courage to face my fears, big and small. Angelia Liang, an instructor and student at Tiger An’s Taekwondo, agreed that Taekwondo has served as her “safe spot” along with helping her “adapt to situations faster” and learn how to “play the unknown by ear.” In a study done by Ronald Smith, a professor at the University of Washington, researchers found that women who knew how to defend themselves “felt more effective as people”. I wholeheartedly agree; the “perception that you have the skills to defend yourself” has immense power — the power to transform individuals for the better.  

“The mental effects of martial arts are tremendous, both in the brain’s physical health and psyche.”

The mental effects of martial arts are tremendous, both in the brain’s physical health and psyche. But there is a place where martial arts deviates from mainstream exercise methods. Martial arts is not just a sport; it is an art. And this originates from the real purpose of martial arts, the goal that fueled individuals centuries ago to create martial arts: to defeat the enemy within. When you engage in martial arts, you are not just learning how to kick or punch; you are learning an art form, one as beautiful as painting or writing. However, students of martial arts don’t use a paintbrush; they use their bodies. They use their intellect and lessons of precision and strength to create something brilliant. Not all those who engage in martial arts will do it as an art form; but it  will become more than a sport for those who do. It will become a tool to conquer inner demons, whether it be anxiety or greed or the abominations that tell us we’re not worthy.  

Martial arts are, unfortunately, not magical. Engaging in martial arts won’t simply poof your problems away. However, practicing martial arts correctly can better your physical, mental and spiritual state. And though you won’t get superpowers, you will be armed with the ability to defend yourself from many of the evils plaguing this world, and along the way, you may even learn how to kick ass.  

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