Martial arts can benefit the mind and body as we age

November 17, 2014

Mastering the martial arts is more than just learning to protect oneself.

Most people think of the benefits of mastering karate and taekwondo only in the context of self-defense. Typically, people enroll in classes to help them feel more confident in their ability to defend themselves in case their personal safety is threatened. While this is certainly true, there are other residual benefits that can be gained from practicing in certain martial arts disciplines that, in many instances, can be far more valuable and something that people don’t immediately associate when it comes to practicing certain disciplines.

The psychotherapeutic benefits of martial arts training
One of the primary tenets taught in any self-defense class is stillness. Quieting the mind as much as possible is what helps martial artists become even more effective. However, this principle can be applied in a multitude of circumstances.

A recent article in the Marin Independent Journal, a news publication based in northern California, highlighted the efforts of Larry Berkelhammer, a retired medical practitioner who spends his time teaching mindfulness practices associated with aikido and tai chi to elderly people who deal with chronic pain.

“Emotional distress plays havoc with chronic illness. It can exacerbate any chronic illness; so I teach people how to develop the skill of managing their stress levels,” Berkelhammer told the newspaper. “My teaching also helps patients with the loneliness of chronic illness. People with chronic illnesses often feel very alone because the rest of the world seems to be well and life is passing them by.”

A blog post from DC Taekwondo stated that in addition to helping those with a decreased level of physical ability, martial arts also contributes to a strengthening of the immune system in the elderly, which contributes to better overall health. Training in certain disciplines can also decrease anxiety. This is often common with people of advanced age who are rapidly coming to grips with their own mortality.

“I’m always careful to tell people, ‘You can do everything I teach you but I can’t tell you it will cure cancer, or anything.’ But it does improve the odds,” Berkelhammer said. “The body works better when you reduce stress.”

Stillness and mindfulness allow people to come to a place of peace within them that leads to clarity of thought and an improved state of mind. Martial arts training helps individuals to reach this place and it is one of many benefits offered by schools teaching these classes.