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Everybody exercises, or works out for a different reason, some for health issues, some for stress release or maybe just for the fun of it.

The result of each one is the same…

In every reason for exercising, the result benefits your body, your mind and your conscience or soul. It just keeps you alive, inside as well as outside of your body.
Just as many practices such as Martial Arts, Yoga, Tai-Chi, or Chi-Gong are readily understood as mind/body disciplines, you can re-imagine your everyday routine and experience any form of exercise as a vehicle to refresh and renew mind, body, and soul. Practice awareness as you do jumping jacks, lift weights, or pound away on your elliptical machine. Repeat a mantra or affirmation with each movement. Keep your attention in your body and on your breathing, and you will restore yourself on multiple levels. Exercise is an essential element of the mind-body-soul balance because it literally affects all three.

Sacred texts throughout the ages have spoken of our bodies as vessels or temples that need to be honored and cared for. When we exercise, we display reverence for the magnificence of our bodies. Exercise has been shown to have several positive effects on the body. First exercise will increase blood flow to the brain, providing the brain with essential nutrients such as glucose and oxygen.  Abnormal glucose tolerance can lead to brain impairments, and exercise helps regulate blood sugar levels.

Studies show that very active people who engage regularly physical activities have much lower rates of memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s and do better on cognitive function tests over time. Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for the overall health of your body. Participation in physical activity improves several body functions. These include: weight control, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, decreased risk of diabetes, reduced risk of cancer, improved strength of bones and muscle, enhanced emotional status, decreases the natural degenerative changes that come with aging, and increases your chances to live longer.

In children, exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function, and improve motor skill development. In adults, especially as we age, regular physical activity increases memory and slows the aging process of the brain.

Here are some examples and explanations of the positive effects as a result of your exercising (example – Martial Arts):

Boost your confidence

The most common thing that a lot of people suffer from is exactly this, the confidence needed to continue forward. Again I will say, don’t quit on yourself yet. The more you exercise the more secure you become of yourself, especially on how your body looks. You don’t need something to go sideways so you can start exercising and make a change, but spit on your hands and just go do something, be active!

Discipline

Having discipline means you are dedicated to what you do. Discipline will allow a person to learn how to structure important aspects of their lives to accomplish tasks and goals. In martial arts, discipline is a foundational practice. Martial arts instructors are keen on not tolerating disruptions, excessive talking or goofing around. This type of discipline is especially important if the child is not receiving it in school. The discipline taught in martial arts also teaches how to control anger, how to diffuse situations without fighting and how to be self-accountable.

Respect

Followed by discipline, respect is another foundational practice taught in virtually every martial art. Trainees are taught to respect their instructors, their co-students, opponents and themselves. Respect is deeply ingrained in martial arts and it is a lesson that is taught from day one until the end of practicing martial arts. The respect associated with martial arts comes from the close interaction students have with their teachers. Naturally, as the student learns more from the instructor they begin to increase in belt ranks, which also facilitates respect for their techniques, knowledge and abilities.

Social Skills and Friendship

The ability to make and have friends is a major factor in a child’s satisfaction and comfort level in school. It is also a key factor in their abilities to interact with the world as they get older. Martial arts provides children the ability to feel incorporated in a nonthreatening family environment. Dojos are extremely structured and facilitate a family-like atmosphere. Ultimately, that makes it a perfect environment for shy children to begin to open up and make friends. Martial arts training also teaches the concepts of compassion to opponents, patience and conflict resolution.

Reducing stress

If you had a tough day, don’t quit on yourself yet. You can still throw away every negative energy inside and make it positive. Hit the gym and do whatever makes you happier, like riding the bike, running on the treadmill, lifting weights or just find a punching bag and let it all out on it.

Responsibility

In many dojos, children and older people are required to maintain the cleanliness of their uniforms, the dojo and to be punctual. Along with the personal responsibility trainees have in memorizing moves, these elements impact their ability to achieve higher belts. Ultimately, that system of personal responsibility is important in independence especially to a growing child.

Attention to Detail

Martial arts are all about details. When trainees learn moves, they will learn how important every little movement needs to be and how it can impact outcomes. This emphasis on attention to detail helps a child increase their focus, concentration and memorization.

Martial arts are great for boosting your physical and mental health. Many of the positive aspects of healthy mental health are incorporated within the martial arts system of respect, rewards, accountability and confidence.

Lastly, physical activity is the best way to boost energy levels. Regular physical activity increases the blood flow and will allow more oxygen to get to the body providing energy to do work. Regular physical activity also increases production of vital hormones such as thyroid-stimulating hormone, testosterone, human growth hormone, and catecholamines, all of which help increase your metabolism and give you more energy. Regular physical activity also makes you more efficient at utilizing your body’s stores of fat and sugar for fuel, which allows you to burn them for energy and also helps regulate blood sugar levels and prevent the peaks and valleys that can cause fatigue.

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Initial comment

As a rule, the differences between schools are greater than those between systems, at least when it comes to self-defense focused systems, and the quality is more dependent on the instructor than on system.

Even so, much could be said for the general advantages and disadvantages with each system, and a comparison could be made both between so called “traditional” and “modern” systems, as well as between purely self-defensive systems and systems that also implement, or even primarily focus on sport.

Furthermore, a system must be evaluated with consideration to the practitioner. A person of naturally heavy build and short stature might find that the techniques of judo come more easily than those of French savate, for example. At this point the discussion becomes whether a person might reap the greatest benefits from developing ones natural strengths, or from complementing ones natural weaknesses.

In addition it has to be considered whether a person wishes to be prepared for a real world situation in one year, in five years or in ten years, because different systems are adapted to different time frames.

All of these are debates of their own, and may be discussed in greater depth in future articles.

This article will merely present a greatly generalized overview of a few select systems, and argue for their benefits in relation to their weaknesses (from a self-defense perspective).

The Systems

 

 

• Koryu Uchinadi

A multifaceted system of self defense developed by martial arts guru Patrick McCarthy, Koryu Uchinadi offers tools for every situation, wrapped in a neatly organized system heavily tied to scientific research.

Includes both standing techniques and techniques performed on the ground, and focuses on both quality impact techniques and grappling, including everything from mid-distance striking to elbows, knees and headbutts, as well as throws, strangulations, joint-manipulation, and so on.

Has a strong focus on self-defense, with great variation in the training, including both individual training, drills, padwork and sparring.

 

 

• Muay thai (thaiboxing)

A system developed for sport, but one of the more multifaceted martial sports on the current market, including strikes with fists, kicks, elbows, knees and very basic grappling, both from a long distance, a mid-distance and fighting from a clinch.

Puts emphasis on mental toughness as well as physical fitness, and works with slightly less cumbersome equipment than for example western boxing (smaller gloves).

The system is adapted primarily for fighting an opponent of similar size and weight, has little focus on grappling, no techniques for handling being dragged to the ground, and is limited to a strict and vast set of rules, but its realistic take on impact still prepares a person for one of the more dangerous aspects of fighting.

 

 

• Judo

Another strictly competitive system, judo is a system which is almost entirely centered around throws and takedowns, with some techniques for controlling an opponent on the ground.

The techniques of judo tend to work well even against a larger opponent, and puts a person in a very good position to either escape or, if necessary, continue the struggle from a more advantageous position.

The techniques of judo are quick, often simple, require very little strength and there are techniques for just about every body type.

The main disadvantage of judo is that it has practically no focus on preparing a person for handling a striking opponent, which is one of the main elements in most assaults, but with just a bit of experience, the techniques can be used as effective counters even against striking, which is why judo ends up so high up on the list.

 

 

• Savate

A combat sport originally from france, savate is much like the more familiar kickboxing, but relies less on the big gloves that are so central in other forms of western boxing, making its defenses more applicable to a real life situation.

More rich in content than boxing in the sense that it employs both strikes and kicks, but more limited than muay thai in that it does not teach the use of close distance impact weapons such as elbows and knees, and does not allow any form of grappling, savate, like all impact based combat sports, is adapted to fighting an opponent of similar size and weight, under a strict set of rules, but still maintains the value of giving a practitioner general tools with which to handle strikes.

 

 

• Krav Maga

Krav Maga simply means “close combat”, and refers to three Israeli combat systems, one developed for the military, one developed for the law-enforcement and a scaled down version for the civilian population.

Krav Maga puts a great emphasis on using your natural instincts to handle situations, relying on very simple movements, physical force and aggression to cope with an assault. This makes it one of the most quickly learned systems, but can also make it one of the least accessible ones, depending on who you are. For a small person of gentle temper, running head first into a much larger, angry assailant and kneeing them in the groin while flailing wildly and shouting, is not always the best option, and the simple movements mean that more strength is often required to perform the techniques.

This said, however, Krav Maga does endeavor to prepare a practitioner for a multitude of situations, including both standing assaults and being dragged to the ground, as well as for both impact and grappling attacks, and strives to give the practitioner as much of a sense of realism as possible, unlike for example judo, for the practitioners of which a real life situation might feel less familiar, and thus come as more of a shock.

Final comment

Hopefully this quick review of some generally available systems has been able to give some hint as to where to look first to find whatever you are looking for.

For more discussions on martial arts and self-defense training in more detail, which give you tools both to evaluate specific systems, and to improve your own training regardless of which system you have chosen, see our other articles.

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3 common misconceptions about martial arts

1. Martial arts encourage violence

Naturally, the tone of a class is set by its teacher, and there are always people who do things for the wrong reasons. This said, the martial arts community, including all disciplines, is one of self-control and compassion.

To put it into perspective:

Would a person who merely wants to go out and beat people up…

1. … download one of the many “100 ways to kill a man with your bare hands”-type e-books for free, search youtube for “street fighting tips”, buy a knuckle-duster and head out?

2. … pay monthly to practice complicated techniques, along with things like breathing and meditation, for twenty years in a martial arts school, together with children, middle-aged men, and women, in weird clothes, in a foreign language?

In theory, yes, if a raging psychopath practiced a serious martial art in a good school for 20 years, and then went out to beat people up, that person may cause some problems, but even if that would have been the original intent of the person, martial arts systems are designed to either change or root out such people, who are given plenty of time to grow and learn in a positive environment, often with many years before they actually learn anything they could simply take to the streets and use, giving the instructor plenty of time to get to know the students, and choose who gets to progress in the system.

2. Martial arts are only for fit, young people

Different martial art systems and martial art schools can differ greatly in content and quality, but something which joins almost all of them is that they are organizations that intend to help their members grow and develop, not test them. Most schools already have members of different sexes, ages and levels of experience and fitness, with the training being adapted accordingly. If a school is homogeneous, most likely it would still warmly welcome any new member, and adapt the training to suit the new needs.

In fact, the varied nature of the training, the often high emphasis on individual exercises, and the slow progression that tends to characterize martial arts often make them optimal for gradual physical development, for training at your own pace without having to feel like a burden for anyone else, and for complementing physical inability with technical excellence, something which almost anyone can achieve with enough practice.

3. Martial sports, martial arts and self-defense are the same thing

Often in informal speech, the label “martial arts” is used as an umbrella term for many things, including both modern and traditional systems from all reaches of the world, both armed and unarmed, combat sports, civilian self-defense, policiary techniques, the hand to hand combat of the military systems, the dance- or acrobatic movements of Capoeira and Kalaripayattu, and so on.

Understanding these terms is necessary for you to find what you are looking for, but separating them is not always easy. This article will make an attempt at clarifying the most important of these concepts and at explaining both their differences and the relationships they have to each other, so that you can find the school with the best prerequisites to help you reach the goals you are striving for.

Martial sports:

These are systems that are designed mainly or entirely to prepare you for optimal performance in a sport containing mandatory elements of violence. Some common examples include:

• Judo

• Taekwondo

• Boxing

• Wrestling

There are great differences between these different systems, and there can be almost equally great differences between different schools teaching the same system, but a few denominators are so common that they can be generalized with a fair amount of accuracy:

• They have strong elements of physical exercise

• Their techniques and exercises are bound by the rules of their sport, thus preparing their practitioners very well for that which is a natural part of the sport, while not to the same extent preparing them for things that are not a natural part of the sport

• They are designed for quick progress, potentially taking a practitioner from beginner to world class athlete in just a few years

• They include strong elements of competition, even in training

Martial arts:

These are systems that are not adapted to a sport, and often have elements that are not directly connected to self-defense either, such as certain rituals, meditation or philosophy. Some common examples include:

• Aikikai aikido

• Goju Ryu Karate

• Hung Gar Kung Fu

• Jiu Jitsu

Here as well as with the martial sports, there are great differences both between systems, and between schools, but here as well, a few denominators are so common that they can be generalized with a fair amount of accuracy:

• They are designed for slow progress, so that great prominence in the system can take many years to achieve

• They have at least some (in some cases even mainly) aspects that relate more to growing as a person than to being able to fight

• They have less focus on physical exercise than the martial sports

• They have elements that are more or less unique to their system

Self-defense

These are systems that have the ability to defend oneself as the primary goal of their training. Self-defense systems can be designed for quick or for slow progress. They can be a part of a martial arts-system, in some cases a very small part, and in other cases almost the entirety of the system, the system in those cases being perhaps best labeled as a “self-defense martial art system”. Self-defense training can also be included as an element in some schools focusing on a martial sport.

When it comes to the self-defense training itself, however, regardless of whether practiced on its own, or as an aspect of another system, some common denominators exist:

• It will teach the practitioner to use every tool available, including both impact- and grappling techniques

• It will teach the practitioner to perform realistic attacks, and to perform them well

• It will include pair-exercises containing both elements of cooperation and of resistance

• It will consist partly of pair-exercises performed with minimal equipment, meaning for example no vests, no helmets, and no thick gloves.

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