By Chris Hershberger
With a barrage of options in the world of fitness, it’s no wonder few fancy the martial arts to alleviate the usual wellness woes highlighted on many popular magazine covers.
“Get buns of steel in four weeks!”
“Secrets to ROCK SOLID abs!”
Sure, these phrases are calls to action as our eyes glaze over the check-out racks filled with candy bars, gum, beef jerky, and the mountain of magazines adorned by multitudes of fonts and colors competing for our undivided attention.
We may even take the leap of buying a magazine, or two (likely though, the candy bar wins). That next crucial step: reading beyond the cover, often times eludes us. We could confound a spur-of-the-moment motivational blast with an often times subconscious epiphany.
“I want to look like that cover model!”
We’ve all likely been there. I might have even eaten a candy bar in delight while reading the cover.
The cues most receive to entertain an interest in martial arts training differ greatly from merely satisfying an aesthetic mindset. In my experiences, a more primordial approach, using the “lizard brain,” considered part of our brain’s oldest functions, is governed by the fear associated with fight or flight. In other words, people take up martial arts to kick butt, not to prep for swimsuit season. What gets lost in this exclusionary idea is understanding the benefits of martial arts training. What many come to realize is: “I feel confident I can defend myself, and I’m in really good shape. More importantly, I feel great!”
Here are four of the many reasons why:
1. Martial Arts training encompasses, to great degree, all elements of wellness. Cardiovascular health, stress relief, muscle building, flexibility and mobility enhancement, mental acuity, and balance are among the many proven benefits from regular martial arts training.
2. Moving with purpose. Goals are important for any wellness program. Many of us can easily get bogged down by the minutia of exercise. Martial Arts training offers a built-in mechanism for progress: rank (belts). In any reputable martial arts program, attaining black belt is a sure sign of “making it,” and all of the earned benefits become part of the new you.
3. Ambidexterity. Go ahead, try writing your name, in cursive, with your least-dominant hand. You may as well eat soup with chopsticks. Martial Arts training is one of the few systems of movement that not only encourages, but requires ambidextrous mastery. From a young age sports and recreation have programmed us to throw with one side, or catch with a dominant hand. So what does this mean? It means your brain is getting fired up on both sides more regularly. This is proven to promote a healthy brain.
4. Martial Arts training is a life-long activity. Consistency is key in any wellness program that promotes longevity. It’s no secret that many of the world’s centenarians live in Eastern regions of the world. Martial Arts training originated in many of these countries and the culture of a “martial arts life” is deeply embedded. All said, regular martial arts training can promote healthy living from childhood to your elderly years.
You might be thinking, “But wait! You mentioned being ready for bikini season?”
I challenge you to find an active (at least 3-6 days per week of training) martial artist who is stressing about being ready for the beach or summer barbecues. They will most assuredly be in great shape, and equally important, there’s a good chance they’ll not care what other people think. Confidence, remember?
Always proceed with caution. Not all martial arts programs are the same. If your primary objective is to get into good physical conditioning while learning to defend yourself, please use common sense. Unless you’re an aspiring sumo wrestler, keep in mind the wellness habits of those who wish to “teach” you. I’m not saying every instructor, myself included, needs to be an Adonis to share the beauty of martial arts, but it’s simply the measure of one’s credibility in the effort to be the best version of one’s self that will reflect your chances of reaching an established wellness goal.