10 Reasons Why You Should Use The Martial Arts To Reach Your Physical Fitness Goals

In 1891 or 1892, as I recall, a certain teacher at the Shuri Jinjo Koto Shogakko in Okinawa began to teach karate to his students in his charge. Primary school students then were older than they are today, and students as old as twenty were not uncommon. Later, when the military draft came in, it was noted that during medical examinations those who had karate training were immediatley distiguishable from the other draftees, because of their well- developed physiques, and this became a topic of conversation.
— An exerpt from Karate Do Nyumon by Professor Gichin Funakoshi

The physiological differences seen in martial artists are both inside and out. From great body composition to excellent mobility, the martial arts can without a doubt help many people to achieve their physical goals. In this short and sweet article, I will share 10 reasons why I feel this is possible. As a physical educator, strength coach, and martial arts instructor for many years, I have first-hand experience of all the fitness benefits highlighted below. Enjoy.

1. One class provides all of the components of fitness. cardio, strength, flexibility, and functional movement. Most fitness classes focus only on optimizing one component of fitness, whereas the martial arts utilize a combination of all the components in one class. (Athletic abilities such as speed, power, and agility are not considered components of fitness; however, they are also included in martial arts classes.)

2. It improves body composition. You will burn fat and build muscle. Just Google an image of any famous martial artist and you will see what I mean. I'll list a few to help you with your search: Bruce Lee, Ronda Rousey, Michael Jai White, Gina Carano, and George St. Pierre. Those are just the first five that come to mind, but there are many more (By the way, women need have no fear; muscle gain for men and women are two different things).

3.  The training is balanced. One of the primary reasons why the body experiences pain and injury is a lack of balance between muscles. Luckily, the martial arts are naturally embedded with an approach to balance; right and left side training, upper and lower body training, pushing and pulling, and much more.

4. It is functional training at itโ€™s best. Functional training is defined as training that uses your body in a way that it was intended to be used in daily life. The fitness world has just recently rediscovered the importance of this approach to training; however, the martial arts have always utilized functional training. (This encompasses training with free weights and body weights, training that incorporates balance, posture, and standing positions, and training that incorporates multi joint exercises, etc.)

5. The training incorporates your whole body. You are taught how to use your whole body from head to toe in all directions.

6. You can practice anywhere or anytime. With martial arts training, you do not need a gym or equipment to train. You can learn how to use whatever is at hand as a resource. You can train at home, on vacation, in the park, on the beach โ€“ whenever or wherever you feel the time is right.

7. It is a hobby that can last a lifetime. People who indulge in hobbies they love are a lot more fulfilled than those who just latch onto the next hot fad. The martial arts have many lifelong followers who continue to train throughout their lives. The martial arts have been used by many before us and will continue to be used as a great way for young and old to preserve health and wellness.

8. The training incorporates relaxation and breathing. To help explain this point, let me give a quick summary of an organization called PRI (Postural Restoration Institute). PRI provides a unique approach to physical therapists and strength coaches to help them teach clients how to move well in a pain-free way. One of its major claims to fame is its method of teaching people how to breathe properly and turn on their parasympathetic nervous system (pretty much getting them to relax). By doing this, it helps people to avoid pain and perform better. Strictly speaking, martial arts training may not be physical therapy, but it will definitely help you to balance relaxation with tension, and incorporate proper breathing.

9. It can preserve long-term health. Fitness is more than just getting in shape for the summer; it is a life long journey that requires smart programming and healthy practices with your future in mind. Some activities may show results in the short term but, as a strength coach, I question how well they work for long term health. With the martial arts, I am fully confident that it has the tools necessary for short-term improvement and long-term health.

10. Martial arts classes are more than just fitness training; they are a rewarding experience. The skills you learn can be used for self-protection, and as a means to keep your mind and spirit sharp. As you embark on your martial art journey, you will also meet many training friends. You will develop a sense of comradery that is distinctly different to that found in a regular fitness class. Instead of just moving to move, why not enrich your fitness experience with something more. 

Final words: Not all teachers and studios train the same way. Some instructors recognize the benefits I have mentioned above and some do not. In your search to find the right school for you, be sure to ask questions and get a feel for who they are and what their priorities are. If you live in the New York City area, come check out the Hoteikan Dojo and see what we are all about. You can be sure that our instructors recognize these fitness benefits, are educated in the science and application of exercise, and can program your training in such a way that it puts your health and fitness first.

Anthony Carrano

M.S. Kinesiology, C.S.C.S

There are many sports and activities I participate in, love, and will occasionally play, but when it comes to my year round workout routine, the martial arts is my primary source to maintain my physical fitness goals.

If you enjoyed reading, check out our in depth article on Martial Art Training and Fitness benefits by clicking the link below.