Mental Benefits of Martial Arts

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on February 25, 2024
2 min read

Martial arts is an ancient tradition of combat practiced for self-defense, competition, physical, mental and spiritual development. Martial arts began over 3,000 years ago in Sri Lanka, gradually spreading to China, India, Korea, the West, and the United States.

Martial arts teachers have passed the tradition down from generation to generation, teaching the arts of karate, kung fu, jiu-jitsu, aikido, taekwondo, judo, and others. Although many of these practices include throwing, kicking, and punching, the physical side of these skills is only one element.

Martial arts offers an opportunity to not only enhance your physical health but your mental health, too.

Stress relief. Martial arts can help reduce stress and anxiety by encouraging you to practice deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. It helps train your mind to keep your attention focused while remaining calm and alert. This can be especially helpful when you're trying to do multiple tasks that divide your attention.

Life purpose. People who practice martial arts often feel a sense of calm, confidence, and renewed peace with who they are and their purpose in life.

Physical exercise. Practicing martial arts also offers a nice boost of "feel-good" chemicals like endorphins that lift your mood. And as you master the craft, you'll likely get a boost in confidence, too. It's a great way to channel and direct your energy toward something positive that you can build on over time.

Emotional regulation. By practicing martial arts, you can master your mind and your emotions. That can help you develop greater emotional stability, assertiveness, self-confidence, and lessen aggressive feelings.

Increased self-esteem. Just like exercise strengthens your body, challenges strengthen your mind. Martial arts can help by teaching you how to bounce back from setbacks and the importance of not letting life get you down, no matter how hard things get.

Personal Development. Martial arts encourage you to dig deep, uncover where you're stuck, and move through mental blocks. It helps you identify what you want to improve in your life and gives you the confidence to make positive changes.

Forgiveness and healing. Martial arts can help people establish boundaries by redirecting feelings of powerlessness. It can empower you to find inner strength and heal past trauma.

Finding the right martial arts practice can feel empowering and validating, but what you get it out of it depends on how much effort you put in.

It's important to remember that while martial arts can be a powerful tool for regulating and shifting your emotions, it's not a substitute for mental health treatment. 

If you have distressing emotional experiences that affect your ability to function, consider talking to a licensed mental health professional.