Feeling stressed out? No need to look beyond martial arts! Psychologists have found positive correlations between training in a traditional martial art and lower levels of hostility, aggression and higher levels of self-esteem and positive outlook compared to any other sport. Cutting stress and learning to handle yourself both physically and mentally are gifts of the martial arts that you can take advantage of.
Choose a martial art that suits your needs.
There are many kinds of martial arts, so spend some time reading about the different kinds and their underlying philosophies. What is important though is to focus on traditional martial arts, as the studies show benefits in terms of well-being and reduced hostility result from participating in the traditional forms only. If you have the chance, do trial lessons in several different types of martial arts to get a feel for the one that you enjoy doing the most. Keep your focus on the martial arts likely to bring you the most stress relief; some are not as likely to do this as others but again, it depends on you. Some of the martial arts in particular to check out include:
Choose between Hard Style and Soft Style: Hard Style arts teach striking and blocking in various combination. Some focus on speed and precision, others on power and toughness. Hard Style training involves a lot of time training with an inanimate, padded, target. Soft Style arts teach grappling and throwing. Some focus on receiving attacks, others are more similar to wrestling. Soft Style training involves lots of time spent with a partner.
Choose a culture: Traditional Martial arts are traditional because they are passed down through some culture. Japanese martial arts have become popular with our culture because of their presence in many movies and television shows, but they are not exclusive. The Chinese have several distinctive and interesting styles, as do the Philippines, Korea, and there are also some schools of traditional European Martial Arts. Different cultures place emphasis on different aspects of training, and also advance different visions of what it means to be a good person.
Choose a specific group: Each training group interprets the tradition which they come from differently. Some groups are very competitive, constantly comparing the students and forcing improvement through tension. Others are supportive and have great compassion for mistakes. There will also be differences between the interpretation of the actual techniques. Because no one can teach every aspect equally, some things will be taught more, and others less.
Visit a class: You can't know if a training group is right until you experience the class in action. Some groups make visitors watch, others invite you to join them right from the start. Even if invited to join, you can decline and watch from the sidelines anyway. Remember when visiting a group to be respectful. If sitting and watching, the goal is for the students not to know that you are there. Don't be secretive, just be unobtrusive. If you are training as a guest, be humble. You have no rank and therefore everyone is your senior. Always assume that they are right when they explain how to do a technique. If you think that they are so seriously wrong that you will injure yourself or another student by complying, plead ignorance or weakness, and don't do that technique. Do not correct them. You may, however, ask a student of senior rank for clarification. Once again, claim that you do not understand, not that you think that they are wrong.
Several types of Traditional Martial Arts
Aikido (Japanese) - This art was described by its founder (Morihei Ueshiba) as "A method for transforming conflict into harmony". The training focuses on receiving attacks from a partner, and redirecting their energy into either a throw or a drop. Joint locks are used. Main School Aikido is not intended as combat training. Instead, each technique is a philosophical metaphor for a way of life. Several of the first students founded their own schools which do teach Aikido as combat training. Chief among those is the Yoshinkai school, which the Tokyo municipal police, the Japanese National Police and the Japanese Military police train in.
Judo (Japanese) - This is more of a sport than an art. It is derived from Jujitsu, which is combat orientated. This art teaches the throwing and pinning of a partner after making contact, usually in the form of a "clinch". Training is done with partners, usually in the form of drills. Joint locks and also chokes are used at higher levels, but are omitted for the first several ranks of training.
Tai Chi (Chinese) - This is actually a mixed art, with both Hard and Soft elements, but is primarily recognized for its Soft elements. Basic Tai Chi is actually something called internalized training, which is merely an exercise for fully power training. Many people enjoy the internalized training so much that they never move on. Full power Tai Chi is combat training, but its internalized form is not.
Jujitsu (Brazilian) - While this art is originally Japanese, the Brazilians have made it their own by producing many masters of great skill, as well as by slightly modifying the style. This was mostly possible because Judo replaced Jujitsu in Japan. Training is similar to Judo, but the culture of the art is slightly more aggressive, and students learn joint locks and chokes sooner in their training.
Wrestling (Greek) - This sport is familiar to high school athletics in most European and European descended countries.
Boxing (American) - This sport is definitely not combat training, because of all of the restrictions on what techniques participants can use. However, there is no better way of building up your endurance and toughness. Knowing confidently that few things can injure you is great for your peace of mind.
Karate (Okinawan) - While Okinawa has been annexed by Japan for a long time, they do have a distinct culture, and Karate comes from their attempts to repel the Japanese occupation force. This originated as the primary combat method of secret revolutionaries. It focuses on unarmed combat or on combat with commonly available tools like farming equipment. Traditional Karate contains both Hard and Soft elements, but many dojos minimize or omit the soft style training. Karate has a heavy focus on Kata (memorized forms).
Kung Fu (Chinese) - This is a combat form originated by Buddhist monks. It assumes a very great time available to dedicate to training. Because of this the techniques can be quite difficult to learn. However, these techniques are very powerful once acquired. Because of its origin in the Buddhist quest for enlightenment, there is a heavy focus on improving all aspects of the student's life, not just their fighting ability.
Taekwondo (Korean) - This Hard Style is the national sport of South Korea, and has over the past several decades become divided between those who practice it as an art or a sport and those who practice it as combat training. Many Martial Artists consider Taekwondo masters to be the most knowledgeable about kicks of any martial art.
Learn to recognize the stress response.
In order to assess the difference that martial arts training will be making to your stress levels, you'll need to know what your stress response typically consists of. Some or many of the following responses are fairly commonplace in a highly stressed person, while the following step will clarify how martial arts will make a positive difference in reducing these types of stress response:
Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, with more blood going to the muscles (hence tension)
Your oxygen levels change, with less oxygen going to your conscious brain and more going to your reactive brain, leaving you open to mental blanking, memory failure, loss of logic, increase in emotions, narrow your attention and cause you to be edgy
Your blood clots faster and blood sugar levels increase, resulting in jelly legs, sugar cravings and sometimes heartburn
You may feel paralyzed, your stomach knotted, and your voice may change or be constricted
Your breathing can become more rapid, your sensitivity heighten, and your body temperature increase, potentially causing dizziness, fainting, increased hearing and seeing ability, sweating and hot flushes
Other noticeable or long-term changes that can damage health.
Understand how martial arts can reduce your stress and lessen your vulnerability to stress.
The purpose of traditional martial arts is to train a warrior spirit or mind. A warrior spirit can only fully form by developing the certain characteristics, all of which are highly helpful to building your coping mechanisms against stress, such as improving your decision-making, calming your fears, and projecting confidence. As the list in the step prior to this one shows, each of these elements is often absent in a highly stressed person, as hyper-sensitivity to other people's verbal and bodily cues and a high state of alertness for danger brought on by real or perceived dangers in the workplace, on the street, in social settings, etc. take over. And when anger or fear dominate, the thinking processes tend to shut down, and a constant state of being like this leaves you stressed. Learning the way of the warrior spirit may help you to contain your stress responses and teach you how to establish real focus and self-management. The following elements are usual parts of what you'll learn in your martial arts training:
You will be responding to situations that involve fear.
You will be learning how to develop non-verbal behaviors that manage to communicate confidence to others.
You will be learning how to remain calm under pressure.
You will be learning how to make rapid decisions under stressful situations.
Be prepared to expose yourself to fear stimuli.
In martial arts, given that you are going to be facing an opponent, you will be confronted by fear-evoking situations (including the fear of being physically hurt). This exposure is a good thing because over time, the practice of dealing with it regularly can alleviate your internalized fear and help to desensitize you to things that provoke your fear, such as feeling you're not safe, not confident enough, or that you're unable to defend yourself. From a stress point of view, this is exposure coupled with learning how to respond effectively will begin to reduce your anxiety levels as well as training you in how to respond logically and calmly.
Stress can be produced when you are afraid of something bad happening to you, even where the harm is imagined, mostly because you don't feel able to defend yourself. Training in a martial art can give you the confidence to start believing that even if something bad does happen, you have the wherewithal to respond and defend yourself, not just physically but also retaining your mental clarity.
If you're withdrawn and not particularly assertive, your desire to avoid conflict can increase your stress symptoms because your anxiety levels can leave you feeling unable to cope with the stressors around you. If you live a life feeling that you're not safe, a martial art can help to restore a sense of reassurance and will allow you to deal much better with conflict in general.
Fights almost never go to plan. Martial arts will teach you to intuitively rely on a series of fallback positions to keep changing the perspective and outcomes. This is precisely what you should do in the rest of your life as well, as life rarely goes according to plan either, and the person most able to bend with the changes and spring back up again is the person less likely to break under the pressure of stress.
When people first begin a martial art, there is a tendency to try to learn fast, to catch up with others, and to perform well from the beginning. What often happens as a result is that the beginner's movements are too fast and ineffectual, the posture is poor, and motor control is difficult. With practice, patience, and time however, you will find that your movements become more confident and slower, and your posture improves, with greater motor control and mental mastery also following. Each of these outcomes will aid in reducing your stress levels, as you master your body's responses and strengthen your breathing and reaction responses.
As you increase through the different levels of your martial arts training (usually denoted by different colors of belts), you will start to wield more and more mastery over your body's reactions and over your fear reactions. The resulting confidence and decreased fearfulness will give you greater positive thinking power that can help you learn to cope with and lessen the impact of stressors in your life.
Martial arts will give you the internal discipline to react to a world that doesn't slow down or stand still for anyone; how you react to external stimuli makes all the difference between staying stressed or coping and staying resilient.
Zen Buddhism a belief system that is often coupled with martial arts training. It is a mindset that is greatly beneficial to maintain. Almost eliminating stress, Zen teaches you to focus on the moment and to go with the flow.
Daily meditation will also help you to relax.
Martial arts and Zen teach you to forget the needs of the self and act accordingly. When you have fully grasped the inner discipline and the outer respect for others without fearing them, you will discover that craving objects or other desires lessens and that doing what is needed to be done can be achieved in a peaceful manner that does not disturb your mental and bodily processes, without reducing you to a constant state of stress. Through martial arts, you will become more confident in everything you do and less worried about the "what if", focusing only on the now.
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