By Zakaria Zerrouki

Nowadays, there are various martial arts which are practiced worldwide, namely for the sake of self-defence. Those require a combination of physical techniques, as well as mental coordination and concentration. There are many benefits, both mental and physical, that can be witnessed by practicing a martial art and they can even change one’s behaviour for the better.

Many Japanese martial arts, such as Shotokan Karate, require training that entails working out muscle groups from all parts of the body. This allows a full body workout and an increase in flexibility, agility, and stamina. Furthermore, training in martial arts can improve cardiovascular health and weight loss. On average, a one-hour training session in moderate intensity can burn around 500 calories (that’s a little under the average amount of calories in one meal).

Furthermore, martial arts can also contribute to the improvement of one’s focus, brain cognition, and reflexes. They can also improve one’s behaviour not only towards themselves but also towards others. For instance, in Karate, there is a dojo etiquette, a set of rules which every pupil must obey. Some of these rules involve certain gestures such as the standing bow (referred to as rei), which is expressed as a demonstration of respect to the instructor and other pupils of the dojo and is established upon entering and leaving the dojo. Or, more specifically from the England Karate-Do Federation (EKDF) dojo etiquette, these rules include the following:

• Be faithful and sincere and seek perfection of character.
• Be respectful and courteous to others and refrain from violent behaviour.
• Hands and feet must be kept clean.
• Never intentionally try to hurt anyone in training.

The purpose of an etiquette in martial arts is to have pupils refrain from aggressive, anti-social behaviour and stay disciplined in their lifestyle. But this is also achieved throughout training sessions. For instance, a martial art is often practiced with a partner, necessitating more communication and cooperation among the trainees, rather than isolating them. Every pupil should behave in humility and must not go against the purpose of training.

Due to the ever-growing appeal of martial arts in recent decades, there has been an increase in the amount of research surrounding their social and psychological impact on practitioners. Some authors, since the mid-1990s, mainly focused on the relationship between martial arts and aggressive/anti-social behaviour. In an article published by J. Vertonghen and M. Theeboom ; The Social-Psychological Outcomes of Martial Arts Practise Among Youth: A Review (2010), a series of reports and studies on the topic ranging from the late 1970s to the late 2000s were reviewed and the majority of them generally concluded that martial arts have positive effects on both personality traits and the reduction of violent and anti-social behaviour. Among those studies, for instance, it was found that training in Karate is able to improve the overall self-confidence, self-esteem, physical wellbeing, humility and autonomy of a practitioner, as well as reduce anxiety, anger, and aggressive behaviour, even outside the training environment.

Perhaps part of the controversy surrounding martial arts is due to the possibility of injury or serious damage to the body during training or competition. Nevertheless, the practice of martial arts primarily aims to positively influence the character and of people in general (hence the presence of rules and etiquette for training) and to give them a grounding in self-defence. As most findings suggest, not only do martial arts have physical and mental health benefits for one’s health, but they can also improve the discipline of one’s behaviour and attitude, even in their personal life.