Friday, 19 June 2020

Karate and Mental Health

Emily writes about how karate has helped her mental health.

- Emily Maybanks


It is certainly true that exercise in general has countless benefits, such as improving physical fitness and strength, as well as many positives for our mental health too, especially as students and graduates. But what do we know about the effects of specific types of exercise? For example, researchers have already shown that jogging can increase life expectancy, while yoga makes us happy. From my experience, one activity which particularly improves physical fitness and mental health is martial arts. Examples of martial arts include Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Kung Fu, and Aikido. I have been training in Karate since I was in secondary school but unfortunately I had to give it up when I went to university, however since graduating from university and moving back home, I have been training with a new karate club run by some very good friends of mine for over a year now. It is true that while there are certainly many benefits to participating in other sports and activities like football or rugby, gymnastics, and tennis, in my view, very few can come close to the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual health and wellness benefits that stem from serious martial arts practice. 

Unfortunately, many people view Karate and other martial arts as violent and don’t think they hold any suitable benefits; but it’s actually about the opposite of violence. It is more about finding peace within yourself and learning how to cope with daily life with your feet firmly on the ground. Though somewhat physically challenging, training in one or more forms of martial arts can be very rewarding for your mental health due to the aforementioned peace it gives you. This method of dealing with some of your demons can be used regardless of how old you are. Training in Karate has personally helped me to cope better with many challenges in life recently, such as unemployment, feelings of failure and anxiety, as well as challenges with my health. Having a safe space to train helps to relieve the stresses of everyday life, and training with like-minded people who are very supportive and inclusive of each other regardless of age, gender, sexuality, race or ability is increasingly important in today’s society. Furthermore, the club that I train with is called Kazoku which translates as family from Japanese. 

Karate also helps to increase self-confidence and other attributes in those who train in it. Karate excels at promoting self-confidence and self-esteem in those who practise it. By teaching respect for others, including your opponents while instilling the importance of individual responsibility, Karate promotes balance between humility and confidence. There are endless opportunities for achieving goals and developing self-confidence. Karate, and other martial arts also show you how much your mind and body can do - how much you didn’t even know they could do - and this also helps make you deal with everyday issues like they’re nothing. 

Another thing commonly present in martial arts – including Karate - is meditation. This is something everyone can benefit from as it allows you to gain a deeper understanding of your own mind. This is one of the many reasons people who have depression should get involved. Finally, in some forms of martial arts, specifically Karate, there are certain poses and stances that need to be practised over and over again. This can be calming for those who have depression because it allows them to master one simple task multiple times, thus making them feel more capable, and also increase their self-confidence and self-esteem. 

As you can see, martial arts are so much more than just your average sport. As the name implies, it is an art. The best thing is that there are many forms of martial arts, so you can choose which one suits you best physically. All of them have very similar psychological benefits. After practising for a while, you’ll notice you’re becoming more relaxed and more comfortable with yourself. Aside from everything mentioned above, perhaps the biggest benefit of martial arts is how long-term the effects are. Karate has helped me feel more capable in my abilities both inside and outside the dojo (training hall). Furthermore, in these unprecedented and uncertain times with the COVID-19 crisis, continuing with my Karate training online has been invaluable for maintaining a sense of normality and still having some social interaction albeit via Zoom. I regret not finding a Karate club, or another martial arts club to join while I was at university because I strongly believe that it would have helped me cope better with the stresses of university life. However, I will be fortunate enough to be able to keep training with Kazoku while I am studying for my PGCE and undertaking my teacher training at the University of Reading this coming September. 

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My name is Emily (Em). In 2018, I graduated from Swansea University with my BA degree in Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting where I was also passionate about and dedicated to Swansea Student Media and the University students’ newspaper – Waterfront. In September 2020 I will be starting a PGCE at the University of Reading to train to teach Secondary MFL (French and German). I blog for Student Minds because I have experienced mental health issues as a student and now also as a graduate, as well as various other health issues, and I support friends who also have mental health difficulties. I am a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences – both in helping me to explore and to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help and inspire others.

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