Martial Arts as Stress Buster

It’s a fact that martial arts are great to reduce stress: I have written one of my first posts on this topic.  Training keeps your mind occupied because most techniques are not obvious so you cannot really think about something else while doing them.  Then adrenaline is released during training,  endorphins and dopamine are released while doing something that works well and they are just excellent to feel great at the end of a session.

A challenge I recently encountered was to help group of students from the University of Cambridge and then some of the members of the Springboard(); startup accelerator to get some martial arts workout and have some fun at the end of a very stressful and demanding working week.  Delivering martial arts training to a large group of total novices can be difficult because of the following questions to be asked:

  • how do you get a bunch of total beginners to get some martial arts workout for an hour without spending the same amount of time teaching a one or 2 basic techniques?
  • are there techniques that people can do almost immediately without too much explanation and get a decent workout in the process?

When teaching martial arts at my club or in seminars and workshop I can rely on existing experience; when teaching to a beginner’s course I know I will have those students for several lessons so I can concentrate on a few basic techniques at the time, ensuring they assimilate the concepts before moving on.  Here it’s different, very different; I wanted to deliver a satisfactory experience, real stuff, while ensuring they would not hurt themselves or others in the process.

Most martial arts techniques imply posture, guard, balance, weight transfer and so on… so for these workout I cut to the very basics and relied on basic co-ordination from the various individuals to pick up the basic moves.

First we used Thai pads to protect the legs and deliver low round kick to the back of the knee; it’s nice and safe and a lot of power can be delivered with low risks of damages.   Round kick, particularly low one can resemble when people kick a football and it becomes pretty intuitive after a few attempts.  Most people were wearing shoes to protect their feet although some, initially wearing flip-flops trained barefoot.

Second we tested circular elbow strikes, hitting focusing mitts, easy and simply amd again low risk of injury for the person performing the technique, as long as they avoid sliding the elbow on the surface of the mitt and they strike well in a perpendicular trajectory.  I usually avoid punches on the mitts if, like in this case, we were not using boxing gloves and hand wraps available; there are too many things that can go wrong in a punch and it take too long for people to get all of the basic concepts.

Third we were striking the mitts in a descending hammering motion; it’s possibly the most powerful strike that any novice can learn in a few minutes and it delivers such an expectedly powerful strike.

Last but not least we tried hitting breaking boards; I had a set of three, yellow, green and brown with an increasingly high breaking point.  For many people breaking an object releases a great level of satisfaction; even great is when you have the impression of breaking it and you can put it back together.  Everybody managed to strike through the yellow and green and more than half attempted and succeeded in breaking the brown one.

Given the nature of the training and the limited time we simply used these techniques because they work, they can be physically demanding and a good workout without worrying too much how they would work for real; quite probably they wouldn’t and what we did was ignoring basic concepts  of guard, active protection while performing the technique and what to do next.  Result was good anyway as none of them have ambition of becoming martial artists anytime soon (although perhaps some might) and therefore I believe the workout did fit its initial purpose: being a stress buster and have fun.


Well done to everyone!

10 reasons why martial art are an effective alternative to gym, aerobic and lifting weights

Although martial arts are not team activities there are many elements of cohesion that motivate martial arts practice more that any other sport. Let analyse why this is true:

  1. Practicing a martial art is a long time investment in your health and well being: the time to proficiency is often long enough to establish good habits in your life, those that last for a long time. If and when you stop training for a while you’ll miss it, both physically, mentally and emotionally.
  2. Most martial arts teach a broad variety of techniques that keep you busy for many years just to master them all. In this you see a natural progression and having continuously new things to learn it makes it very interesting. Many masters state that perfection can be aimed but never achieved, therefore even after many years of training you are running after perfection while you keep adapting your knowledge and techniques to you ageing body.
  3. As are you naturally going to meet people that are better than you it will be natural to have a sense of challenge to improve day after day, session after session. In general the progression is easy to monitor and to measure therefore it is relatively easy to compare results against effort.
  4. The achievement of a certain level of proficiency, lesson after lesson will release endorphins that naturally make you feel good. At the end of each training session, with the natural tiredness you’ll have a feeling of well being that is quite addictive.
  5. Although martial arts manifest in many different ways and levels of intensity the overall training will ensure the practitioner to be a well round, balanced athlete with a decent level of fitness, stamina, strength, flexibility and coordination.
  6. Although martial arts are usually practiced in pairs and groups, some of the training can be rehearsed solo: that allows the practitioner to keep training, at least on some of the exercises, when she is on her own.
  7. Martial arts practice involves a reasonably complete workout rather than concentrating on a single part of the body. Different styles will put more emphasis on different areas of the body while practicing a balanced mix of exercises.
  8. Martial arts are a great stress relief: the aggression accumulated during work or while at school can be easily channelled and released in a controlled manner toward the practice of your techniques. It’s likely that after training the amount of aggression you had before starting is reduced or completely gone and you feel calmer and more in control.
  9. Martial arts training ensures that your whole attention will be directed toward your training, with minimal distraction. Even when your feel at an adequate level of proficiency and most moves come naturally without the need of thinking too carefully, your partner / opponent is there to punch you, to kick you or to throw you. Self preservation will naturally motivates you to put full attention in what you are doing.
  10. The sense of challenge and cooperation that can be found in many martial arts club I have experienced can foster friendship and social entertainment outside the training hall (dojo, kwon, dojang…).