Martial Arts Training-The Best Activity For Your Physical Health

Martial Art Training-The Best Activity For Your Physical Health

By: Anthony Carrano

C.S.C.S., M.S. Kinesiology, B.S. Physical Education, Hoteikan System of Martial Arts Instructor, NYC DOE Physical Educator and Health Teacher


Next time you or a friend are considering what you want to do to stay in great shape, consider Martial arts training. In this article I will go into many details about why I believe martial arts training is the best activity for optimizing your physical health. For the sake of this article, I separated the benefits associated with the arts into three categories, including the benefits associated with mixing the arts (MMA), the benefits associated with traditional training, and the benefits associated with our unique style at the Hoteikan Dojo. Each of these areas brings about their own unique traits that can help improve your physical health. By the end of the article, you will have a much clearer understanding as to why I recommend martial arts training and why I personally use it day in and day out to cover all of the aspects I need to stay in great physical shape. Let me add that all of the components mentioned in this article can be applied to adults, teens, and even kids.

The contents of the article are outlined below. you can read about the aspects that interest you most or dive straight in to read it all. :) Enjoy. 


I. Benefits of MMA Training on physical heath

1.1 Development of speed power and strength 

1.2 Decrease fat and build muscle 

1.3 Functional movement 

1.4 Flexibility 

1.5 Variation in training

1.6 Some of the benefits seen in traditional training depending on your purpose and dojo.

II. Benefits of Traditional M.A Training on physical health

2.1 All of the benefits seen in MMA training depending on your purpose and dojo.

2.2 Heart health and aerobic conditioning 

2.3 Functional movement in depth

2.4 Decreased pain

2.5 Learning how to turn muscles on when they are in use and off when they are not in use

2.6 Development of the mind in order to enhance the body

2.7 Improvement in breathing  

2.8 No fancy equipment or gym space needed. Train anywhere, anytime. 

III. Benefits of training at the Hoteikan Dojo on physical health

*3.1 Awareness and application of the benefits of MMA training as well as traditional training

3.2 Experts and educated instructors helping you to reach your health goals in the most efficient ways possible. 

*3.3 Corrective exercises for breathing and the musculoskeletal system

3.4 Expert programming

3.5 Enjoyment that keeps you coming back

*3.6 Creating lifelong practitioners by implementing a focus on balance in training

3.7 Environment for success

I. Benefits of MMA Training

Before I begin let me fill you in on a couple of details. At the Hoteikan dojo we combine Shotokan Karate, Judo, multiple forms of Jujitsu (san do ichi ryu, soshuishiryu, aikido), and Kickboxing. We practice the sports associated with these arts, the traditional components of these arts, and practical modern self-defense in relation to these arts. For this first section I will talk about the benefits of the sports associated with the arts. Generally speaking we can simplify the components of the sports to standing, take-downs, and grappling. When all three are combined together it is called MMA.

1.1 Development of speed power and strength- According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association there is a power range from lighter loads moving at very high velocities to heavier loads moving at slower velocities. The range can be divided into three main areas shown below. Each area is associated with an athletic ability such as speed, explosive power, or strength. 

Figure 1. Power range

Light load /High velocity-SPEED

Moderate Load/ Moderate velocity- EXPLOSIVE POWER

Heavy Load/Slower velocity- STRENGTH

 It is very important to train across the range to maintain each ability since each one can play a vital role in our health. Most sports only focus on optimizing one ability within the range, whereas combining the arts of striking, take downs, and grappling can provide for the perfect stimulus to touch on a combination of all of them equally. Think about punching as your lighter load moving at a faster velocity (speed), take downs being a moderate load at a moderate velocity (explosive power), and pulling someone’s arm into an arm bar as they resist (similar to an arm wrestling situation) as heavier loads at a slow velocity (strength). These are just a few of the many examples. MMA training relies heavily on all of the abilities in the range and because of this we find many opportunities to train all of them within our workout. 

 1.2 Decrease fat and build muscle- MMA training focuses primarily on anaerobic capacities, and more specifically, high intensity intervals. Whether it be the sport of judo, sparring, grappling, or all three together normally you are presented with short explosive rounds lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Full-body activity, using large muscles, at a high intensity, for multiple rounds, and short rest, creates the perfect stimulus for the release of specific hormones such as growth hormone and IGF. These two hormones help to build muscle and decrease body fat. 

 1.3 Functional Movement- In your training you will develop the sagittal (forward and back), frontal (side to side), and transverse (rotational) planes of movement. You will use your upper and lower body equally.  You will learn how to move your body in many natural positions such as: squatting, crawling, rolling, lunging, etc. You will learn how to move on your back like a baby all the way to standing and holding other humans over your head like a barbell press. No longer will you have to do numerous exercises to maintain your functional movement. Train in the arts and you will naturally preserve this ability while keeping the movements as real and useful as possible. 

1.4 Flexibility- Throughout MMA you will find many opportunities to improve your range of motion using both dynamic and static methods of stretching. Whether it is static stretches to improve your high kick, dynamic stretches in your warm up, or even the techniques themselves, flexibility training is embedded throughout the training. 

1.5 Variation in training- The combination of the arts also provides for the perfect variation in training to avoid over-training, injury, boredom and plateaus. The moment you feel like you are ready for something new there is always a venue. The moment your body needs a new stressor there is always an option. Focus on your striking, take-downs, or grappling individually or focus on all three at the same time. With MMA training you can consistently rotate your focus, helping to maintain your excitement to train and giving your body the stimulus it needs for healthy progress.

1.6 Some of the benefits seen in traditional training depending on your purpose and dojo- I make sure to mention this point because you will find people who want to participate in MMA to stay in shape as a fitness class, some who want to participate in MMA as a sport for fun, and lastly there are some who use MMA as a sport for competition. Each of these different reasons for training will determine what the participant will either include or exclude in their training routine. Some will use parts of traditional training, while most will not. Ultimately it depends on where and why you train  

II. Benefits of Traditional M.A. Training

For the second section of this article I will focus on what makes the traditional aspects of training beneficial for your health. In today’s time MMA is a very popular sport. It has been a great resource for keeping the arts alive and known by many, however because of its popular demand it has also become very commercialized. There are many “MMA classes” out there which barley touch on what MMA really even is. Beyond this, MMA (as a sport) itself lacks many of the training methods originally taught by martial artists because of the demand of winning the sport. Remember as an MMA fighter your goal is to win. Winning is first, health is second. Unlike MMA, the traditional arts put health first. The arts were meant to be a lifelong practice, not a brief professional career. With this the arts were taught with health in mind. Jigaro Kano, the founder of modern day Judo, specifically said, “Judo should be used as a form of physical education” (along with its many other purposes beyond just self-defense). Preserving the body and staying in good health was a priority. As this is seen in traditional philosophies we also see this in traditional training. 

2.1 All of the benefits seen in MMA training depending on your purpose and dojo- All of the traditional training will touch on the benefits seen in MMA training. Remember MMA stands for mixed martial arts, meaning that majority of the MMA practiced today originated with some kind of traditional martial arts. The reason I make the statement “depending on your purpose and dojo” is because each dojo will have a different focus and depending on their focus is what they will emphasize most. If the dojo only practices one art you will see less variation in training. If the dojo is more concerned about technique and less concerned about physical abilities such as strength or power, you may see less attention given to these areas. Every dojo is unique in their own nature however all of them have the ability and resources to reap all of the benefits seen in MMA training.

2.2 Heart health & aerobic conditioning- According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention the leading cause for death in the United States is heart disease. In today’s time we are fighting a new form of self-defense. We are fighting self-defense against ourselves. The aerobic training will help to combat heart related problems by improving your oxidative systems and overall cardiovascular health. Along with heart health, aerobic conditioning has the ability to benefit numerous areas in life such as sleep, stronger immune systems, and stress relief to name a few. In your training sometimes you will be tested to perform short bouts of high intensity exercise as mentioned above in the MMA section but there will also be numerous times you will have to last through continuous movement for over 10 minutes, such as in repetition training known as basics and basics with movement. In addition to this, anaerobic bouts with short rest also touch on aerobic capacities. As you recover between rounds you are using your aerobic system to prepare yourself for your next burst of energy. Both areas help to reap all of the benefits seen in aerobic training while also dismissing the common overuse injuries seen in other aerobic sports such as knee pain in long distance jogging programs.

2.3 Functional training in depth- In traditional style training you will dive further into functional movement. You will learn movements not commonly seen MMA training either because they are illegal, lethal, or not intended for a ring setting. For our system I personally believe this is seen most easily in the Shotokan Karate. In this art you will learn how to apply nearly every joint in the body in just about every direction it can be applied to. The joints of the foot, ankle, knee, hip, lumbar thoracic and cervical spine, shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand joints. You will learn how to use all of the muscles around these joints to move in all directions including internal rotation, external rotation, abduction, adduction, flexion, and extension. You will also learn how to stabilize areas that are not intended for movement. You will learn a range of movements and combinations of movements associated with these joints. For the sake of this article let’s just dive into one example. Let’s give a very general analysis of the hip joint and martial art movements that develop it:

Internal rotation- roundhouse kick, and hook kick

External rotation- reverse round house kick and the pivot seen in all kicks by the non-kicking leg

Abduction- sidekick, crescent kick (inside outside)  

Adduction- leg sweeps, crescent kick (outside inside)

Flexion- front kick, and knee strike

Extension- back kick, ax kick, and stomping kick.

Since I’m having fun with this, let’s dive into one more; let’s do the shoulder:

Internal rotation- reverse punch, and ridge hand

External rotation- back hand strike, and outer ridge strike

Adduction- hook punch, elbow strike

Abduction- side sword hand strike, rear elbow strike, back fist strike

Extension- hammer fist strike, tiger claw down (also known as a rake) rear elbow straight back (rub your body)

Flexion- upper cut, rising punch, elbow strike under the chin

2.4 Decreased pain- As mentioned above, preserving movements throughout the body is essential for function but more importantly to help decrease pain. It is known that a lack of oxygen to muscles causes pain associated with them. By keeping those muscles alive and moving you will enhance the blood flow that carries oxygen to them. In return, delivering oxygen to muscles that have not seen oxygen for a while will help make them feel good.

 2.5 Learning how to turn muscles on when they are in use and off when they are not in use - The same way you learn how to turn your body and muscles on is the same way you need to learn how to turn them off. For example most body builders are good at turning their muscles on but they will probably have a hard time shutting their muscles off. A good martial artist will learn how to separate their tension and relaxation to the two opposite extremes. On a scale of 1-10 you want to have the ability to tense at a 10 and relax at a 1. If you are always at a 10 you will cause undue stress on the body. If you are always at a 1 you will not provide enough stress for a response. In additional to this, in order to really display great technical ability one must be able to turn some muscles on while having other muscles off. Think about it like this. Next time you drive a car try pressing on the gas and the brakes at the same time - you probably won’t get very far, however if you fully let go of the brake and fully press down on the gas you will excel a lot faster. Strength, speed, and power all rely on the body’s ability to shut some muscles off while having other muscles on.  In the dojo we give strategies for learning how to develop both ends of the spectrum.

2.6 Development of the mind in order to enhance the body- As any good coach will tell you, the mind and the body are connected. In order to function at your best physically you must be in a good mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Real traditional martial art teaching always focuses on making this connection and bridging the gap between the mind and body. By learning how to perfect your character and control your emotions you will find that your physical training will grow to the next level. It will help to decrease unnecessary stress and help you to focus on directing your energy to the task at hand. Happy and relaxed people perform better than unhappy and stressed people. Just think about it.

2.7 Improvement in breathing- In order to breathe your body uses muscles such as your diaphragm and your abs to inhale and exhale. Knowing that your breathing requires the performance of muscles, it is essential to train these muscles just as you would any other muscle on your body (*note- developing the abs with crunches and developing the abs with breathing exercises are two different things). Breathing can also be used to help control mood, relax, and decrease stress. It can also be used as a tool to excite stimulate or improve power output. In traditional martial art training you will see many avenues for practicing your breathing. You will also learn how to apply the breathing strategies learned in class to your everyday life.

2.8 No fancy equipment or gym space needed. Train anywhere anytime – The beauty of traditional martial art training is that it can be practiced anywhere, anytime. Train in the convenience of your own home, at the beach, park, on vacation or anywhere you enjoy. It can also be practiced any time of day that might call for a workout. Get a quick session before the shower, when you wake up, or before bed. You do not need the dojo or any special equipment to practice and train. Changing your environment can really add to the spice of training as well. 

III. Benefits of Training at the Hoteikan Dojo

In this article I have gone into many details about why I believe martial art training is amazing for your physical health, however you will not see all of the aspects I mentioned in this article in all dojos, and even if you do it does not always mean they are doing it effectively. In addition to this, the Hoteikan system is unique in its nature, which brings about some extra benefits not seen by all martial art practitioners. It is the combination of traditional training, mixed with modern concepts of combining the arts, and the expertise and years of experience that really help to make what we do at the Hoteikan dojo a great formula for improving one's overall physical health. In the following paragraphs I will dive into what we do that separates us from the rest.

3.1 Awareness and application of the benefits of MMA training and traditional training- Having the ability to recognize the points mentioned previously in this article is first and foremost. There are too many schools I see nowadays that promote MMA and have people just randomly hit the bag without much intent or thought behind all of the areas mentioned above. Secondly, there are too many schools that focus on creating the next best MMA fighter and forget about putting health first. Considering that less than 1 percent of the people who participate in MMA will be successful fighters, I think we should think about catering to the other 99 percent who should be more concerned about their health and well-being. This does not undermine our technical skill at the Hoteikan Dojo in any sense. It simply means that for most of our members considering health first is key.

3.2 Expertise and Educated instructors helping you to reach your health goals in the most efficient way possible –We are thoroughly educated in modern and traditional methods. Look under our bios on the Hoteikan Dojo Brooklyn website - from college degrees to seminars with the greatest martial artists and fitness professionals in the world, we are truly experts in what we do.

3.3 Corrective exercises for breathing and the musculoskeletal system-Having an in-depth understanding of how the body is supposed to function and understanding corrective exercises that help to keep the body functioning in that manner helps me organize our training in a way that capitalizes on this knowledge. In our training I include some exercises in our warm-up as well as modify movements we already currently do to reap the full benefits of corrective training.

Since September of 2014 I have been studying with the Postural Restoration Institute, which specializes in physical medicine. With them I have grown to grasp an even deeper understanding of how imbalances in our breathing and imbalances in our musculoskeletal system can lead to pain and/or leave us unable to fully recover between activity. I can write a whole article on just this but for this article I will simply say that generally speaking, we have imbalances in our body due to normal human anatomy and lifestyle choices. In addition to this, the way we stand, sleep, and live can play a large role on how we recover and how we feel throughout our day. At our dojo PRI exercises and methods are put in play to help minimize these imbalances, minimize pain, and help people to get in a state where they can truly relax and recover between activity. Ultimately this is just another way that we help our members to feel good.

3.4 Expert programming- knowing all of this stuff is great. Now putting it all together in an hour class is an art in itself. Believe that there is a great deal of thought that goes into our lesson planning and every area is considered in our training. We want to be the best at what we do

3.5 Enjoyment that keeps you coming back- Most doctors will recommend lifestyle changes in order to improve our physical health. We need to figure out ways to move more and sit less and then make them apart of our daily routine. I have found that it is much easier to incorporate things into my daily routine when I enjoy them. With this, yes our training is still serious and practical but it is also enjoyable. This enjoyment is what helps to keep our training a consistent part of our daily lives.  

3.6 Creating lifelong practitioners by implementing a focus on balance in training. I am fully aware that in order to see gains you must stress the body, but I am also fully aware that in order to see gains you must remove stress from the body and let it recover. Finding this balance between stress and recovery is something that one must master in order to see healthy gains. Understanding when to press on the gas and when to press on the brakes so you don’t get hurt. I am a true believer in balance for health. Too much or too little of anything can harm the body. With this, my approach to teaching is with balance (or at least as close that you can get without consuming all your energy trying to be a perfectionist). Balance on the right and left side development, balance between the development of abilities such as speed power and strength, balance between the upper and lower body, balance between pushing- and pulling-dominant exercises, balance in your breathing muscles, balance in what you consume, balance in all fields of life, including relationships, work, play, and other things that could potentially effect the mind which will in turn effect the performance of the body. I have found that learning how to balance these aspects in your training as well as the aspects of your everyday life will truly help you to lead a physically healthy lifestyle. At the Hoteikan Dojo we are sure to put a focus on this idea so that our training coincides with this message.

Part of the beauty of the arts is that this balance of all the aspects mentioned above can be easily incorporated into any martial art program. I have also found that many of these aspects of balance are already naturally found in most traditional martial art programs, making my job of incorporating them much easier to do.

 Final Note

3.7 On a final note I would like to touch on one last point in relation to physical training. I want to take note of the great environment the Hoteikan System brings to the table; known for our tough warriors, and positive environment. When I recently attended a workshop with one of my mentors, Dr. Patrick Davidson the director of training methodology at Peak Performance NYC, he gave a workshop on how to build a monster. Being a monster himself, mentally and physically, I knew this would be a great seminar. Of the many great lessons given that day, one that stood out to me was simple - if you want to build a monster, you simply have to surround that individual with other monsters. Build some type of logical program and then put that person in a room full of high performing athletes. The high-performing athletes will help to fuel, motivate, and trigger the athlete to become the best they can be. My connection made with this statement was that whatever it is that you want that person to be you must surround them with others who are already excelling on the same path they wish to go down. Environment is key. At the Hoteikan Dojo you are surrounded by people who will help to motivate you. A positive environment with individuals who will always push you to be greater than you were yesterday. The environment at our school will help to motivate you, challenge you, and keep you on track with your health goals. We aren’t necessarily preparing our members for a professional athletic career, but we are helping to build the best physical humans on this planet. Balanced in all aspects of physical health.