Martial arts is known to provide several health benefits in terms of physical, mental, and spiritual health. Broadly, the benefits may be classified as:
—Physical (fitness, flexibility, coordination, strength, endurance, balance)
—Mental (discipline, resilience, adaptability, perseverance, confidence, emotional stability)
—Spiritual (values, tenets, philosophy, moral culture, self-awareness, peace)
Besides the above benefits, martial arts can be used to address medical disorders like diabetes, cancer, PTSD, aggressiveness, and more, which means that martial arts also has a therapeutic role and thus, the term “Martial Arts Therapy”.
Martial arts therapy signifies the usage of martial arts as a therapy to address medical disorders. It can be used to complement the existing medical treatment, or as an alternative to medical treatment. Martial arts therapy can be used to treat:
—bodily disorders (e.g. diabetes, arthritis, COPD, brain injury, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, cancer, obesity, and more).
—mental disorders (e.g. anxiety, stress, mood, psychotic, personality, eating, sleep, substance use, and other related disorders).
—psychosocial disorders (e.g. behavioral issues, aggressiveness, ASD, antisocial behavior, inability to participate in society, low self-esteem, and more).
Martial Arts Therapy for bodily disorders
Traditional martial arts like Taekwon-Do, Karate, Ju-Jitsu, Tai-Chi, and more, can also be used as a complementary or as an alternative therapy for several medical disorders.
1. Taekwondo helps in combating COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a type of progressive lung disease that is accompanied with shortness of breath, chronic cough, a limitation of airflow and long-term respiratory symptoms. The following video shows that Taekwondo can help in the management of COPD.
EFA Patients video “#COPD Move – Zeca and Maria from Portugal”:
2. Karate can help overcome Diabetes
Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a group of metabolic disorders whose symptoms often include increased appetite, frequent urination, and increased thirst. The following video shows that Karate can help in the management of diabetes.
Become the CEO of your Health video “Karate Chops Diabetes”:
3. Tai-Chi can help recovery from Stroke
A stroke is a medical condition, which may be ischemic (due to lack of blood flow) or hemorrhagic (due to bleeding), resulting in improper functioning of some parts of the brain and thereby of the body. The following video shows that Tai-Chi can help in the management of stroke.
KARE 11 video “Tai chi classes help stroke patients recover”:
4. Karate can help fight Cancer
Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by cells growing in an abnormal fashion and having the potential to spread or invade other parts of the human body. The following video shows Karate can help in the management of cancer.
Art of One Dojo video “Fighting Cancer with Karate | ART OF ONE DOJO”:
5. Tai-Chi can help in Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system, often characterised by slowness of movement, tremor or rigidity, anxiety, sleep problems, and depression. The following video shows Tai-Chi can help in the management of Parkinson’s disease.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) video “Tai Chi for Parkinson’s Disease”:
6. Taekwon-Do can help treat Arthritis
Arthritis often signifies any disorder affecting the joints, and is characterized by joint pain, stiffness, swelling, warmth, redness, and with decreased range of motion of the affected joint. The following video shows that Taekwon-Do can help in the management of arthritis.
Bradenton Herald video “Tae Kwon Do for arthritis”:
Martial Arts Therapy for mental disorders
A human body is a complete single unit, hence any disorder, be it in the physical or the mental plane, it affects every aspect of the human body in varying degrees. Since the workings of the mind is relatively more complex than the human body, mental disorders are harder to recognize, treat and manage. Nonetheless, martial arts can help in overcoming such disorders.
1. Boxing can help overcome depression
Depression, in the context of mental health, can be an aversion to activity or a state of low mood, it can be a persistent depressive disorder, or a clinical depression. The following video shows that boxing can help in the management of depression.
BT Sport Boxing video ” Tyson Fury discusses Depression and Mental Health battles | #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek “:
2. Jiu-Jitsu can help in PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental and behavioral disorder, often developed due to experiencing a traumatic event like warfare, traffic collisions, sexual assault, domestic violence, or threats to the life of a person. The following video shows Jiu-Jitsu can help in the management of PTSD.
ABC15 Arizona video “Arizona veterans practicing martial arts to lessen PTSD”:
3. Taekwondo can help in ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder that is often characterized by excessive inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The following video shows Taekwondo can help in the management of ADHD.
Michigan Medicine video “Could Tae Kwon Do be the silver bullet for ADHD?”:
4. Taekwondo can help in promoting mental health
Broadly, mental health encompasses psychological, emotional, and social well-being, which influences a person’s perception and behavior in handling stress, decision-making, social interactions, and interpersonal relationships. The following video shows how Taekwondo can help in promoting mental health.
First Coast News video “Pursue Your Passion: Martial arts and mental health”:
Martial Arts Therapy for psychosocial disorders
Martial arts does not only teach martial movements, but it also teaches non-violence, non-aggressiveness, and peace. From a psychosocial perspective, martial arts teaches discipline, respect, empathy, and adherence to societal values, norms and customs, which all together contribute towards making the martial artist a respectable member of the society.
1. Taekwondo can help in gaining focus
To achieve any goal, focus is required. Children may drop out of school due to lack of focus. The following video shows how Taekwondo helped a school dropout to gain focus and earn higher academic qualifications.
WFAA video “From high school dropout to Duke University medical resident: How taekwondo helped this Plano man”:
2. Kung-Fu can help in ASD
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that is often characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behavior. The following videos shows that Kung Fu can help in the management of ASD.
Nick Loffree: Bioenergetic Health video “Kung Fu for Autism Recovery: Interview with John Hatfield on Autism Treatment”:
3. Taekwondo can help in caring for people with disabilities
Disability is a developmental, physical, mental, cognitive, or sensory condition, or a combination of multiple factors, that make it more difficult for a person to participate in society with others on an equal basis. The following video shows how Taekwondo can help to care for persons with disabilities.
TEDx Talks video “What Taekwondo teaches us about caring for people with disabilities | Kiley Adams | TEDxChennai”:
As a concept, martial arts therapy is a relatively new subject and more research is required to arrive at any definite conclusion. Nonetheless, for martial arts to be used as a therapy, it is imperative that martial arts instructors teach their students the tenets, philosophy, moral culture, well-being, and the “arts” in martial arts, along with the exercises and techniques of martial movements. With such all-round teaching, martial arts can serve a therapeutic cause and improve the overall quality of life of the martial artist. The following videos discuss how martial arts can improve the life of a person and the usage of martial arts as a therapy.
JRE Clips video “Robert Downey Jr. on How Martial Arts Have Improved His Life | Joe Rogan”:
TESSA Online video “Martial Arts as Therapy Short Documentary”:
1. Chen, Y. W., Hunt, M. A., Campbell, K. L., Peill, K., & Reid, W. D. (2016). The effect of Tai Chi on four chronic conditions—cancer, osteoarthritis, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a systematic review and meta-analyses. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(7), 397-407. Available at: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/50/7/397.full.pdf [Accessed on 15 Jan 2023]
2. Nguyen, D. M., Laffont, I., & Dupeyron, A. (2016). Martials arts use in physical and rehabilitation medicine: Literature review and perspectives. Annals of physical and rehabilitation medicine, 59, e55-e56. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877065716302081 [Accessed on 15 Jan 2023]
3. Wąsik, J., & Wójcik, A. (2017). Health in the context of martial arts practice. Physical Activity Review, 5, 91-94. Available at: https://bibliotekanauki.pl/articles/1031741 [Accessed on 15 Jan 2023]
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