With a new year just starting, many are looking to add or change their physical fitness routine. While many people will choose the gym, fitness experts also suggest looking to alternative fitness regiments and centres as a way to break the tedium of current routines and kickstart the new you. The local pool and an indoor track are both great choices.
But, here’s a question: have you ever thought about going to a karate dojo?
Indeed, martial arts is a fantastic way to get in and stay in shape. What’s more, it can also build one’s spirituality and personal resilience. Martial arts encompasses a wide range of schools including, karate, taekwondo, kung-fu, jujitsu, and even Brazilian capoeira. Each martial arts school carries its own unique benefits. However, all can help to increase mobility and strengthen one’s body and mind.
Advocates for martial arts are quick to point out that a majority of people are misinformed—largely due to what they have seen in movies—about the true essence of the sport. These people believe martial arts is centered around violence toward others.
“Instead of competition against others, the focus of martial arts tends to be competition with one’s self,” points out the North West Indiana Martial Arts website.
The American-based organization believes martial arts is incredibly important to building self-respect and respect for others. The emphasis on respect results in an environment free of heckling and name calling.
Here’s a look at three major schools of martial arts: karate, tai chi, and taekwondo.
Karate derives from the Japanese words, ‘empty’ and ‘hand’, and is the most popular of the martial arts. Regular karate training is believed to benefit the cardiovascular system, while enhancing balance and focus. Those who practice the art of karate report having a more intense level of focus and an ability to meditate deeply.
Each martial art offers its own range of physical and health benefits. Due to its low exertion factor, tai chi is recommended for those with breathing issues, such as asthma, as well as those with heart disease and osteoporosis. The steady repetition of the movement, coupled with its slow pace, builds endurance and stamina, while also having a soothing and calming effect.
Stress reduction isn’t unique to tai chi. A report in the journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy credited martial arts with numerous long-term psychological benefits in addition to stress relief, mentioning that “Improvements in self-esteem, a more positive response to physical challenge, greater autonomy, emotional stability and assertiveness and reductions in anxiety and depression have all been associated with martial arts training”.
Taekwondo, a Korean school of martial arts, utilizes the entire body and calls upon participants to harness their focus, determination and discipline.
“Taekwondo helps relieve stress and diminishes the intensity of such physical ailments as muscle tension, headaches and chronic pain,” wrote Lana Bandoim for EMax Health. “Taekwondo becomes as much a physical exercise as a mental one.”
Jeffrey Lipton, a Barbados financial advisor and former President of mutual fund firm, Permanent Value Asset Management, is an example of many people who enjoy martial arts at an amateur level, and physically and mentally benefit from being a part of martial arts. Outside of work, Lipton competes in taekwondo competitions and has been doing so for almost 30 years.
He even credits practicing martial arts with improving almost all aspects of his daily life.
“Taekwondo is my stress reliever. I’m able to relax and clear my mind while I practice, and that’s something that’s been personally very rewarding for me,” Permanent Value’s Jeffrey Lipton explains.
With its heavy emphasis on mastering personal confidence and self-respect, paired with its focus on mastering one’s body, Lipton believes taekwondo is the ultimate fitness activity. “There are few activities that help you at a physical, emotional and spiritual level—taekwondo is one of those activities,” Barbados’ Jeffrey Lipton adds.
Lipton also emphasizes the importance of having a well-trained instructor and positive attitude when delving into martial arts. “The best thing about martial arts is it’s really for everybody, no matter their skill level or body type.” Jeffrey Lipton then adds to his encouragement, “I recommend anyone who is interested to give [martial arts] a try, you have nothing to lose.”
There are a number of online directories and resources for those interested in practicing a martial art. Dojos.ca lists more than 2,100 martial arts clubs and organizations throughout Canada. Its American counterpart, USADojo.com offers links to thousands of dojos and martial arts information.