There are so many great ways to get your blood pumping and work up a sweat - a myriad of activities and disciplines that will help make us stronger and healthier. It’s hard to say that one is better than another. But some are definitely unique in the way that they combine so many of the things we’re looking for. And believe it or not, combat sports are one of them. Until you walk into a dojo or step inside a boxing gym, you might overlook all the benefits they provide.
Boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, MMA, karate, judo, taekwondo, krav maga …there are plenty of physical combat sports to choose from and they each have their own distinct qualities. But what they share is that they give you things you simply can’t get from cycling, running, or lifting weights. Combat sports force you to work with others and strengthen you not just physically but mentally. More engaging than a standard fitness class and more of a self-esteem boost than simply hitting the gym, a combat sport might be just what you need. As you pursue any one of them, you’ll build your endurance, strength, power, flexibility, speed and skill. Still need convincing? Let us count the benefits.
Any physical activity requires a certain amount of focus, but sports like boxing or martial arts require more than most. You have to balance your center of gravity, while clearing your mind to concentrate. Memorization of techniques comes into play, all while plotting your next two moves in order to stay ahead of your opponent. Combat isn’t just about fighting and reacting with anger - it’s learning how to remain level-headed under pressure. For example, if a fighter were to allow themselves to get wound up and aggitated during a fight, he might start swinging wildly in any direction. This will no doubt result in him getting knocked down by a more tactical and calmer opponent.
Strength and Conditioning
More muscle tone and improved stamina are only the beginning of the physical advantages of combat sports. Your sparring and matches will provide unrivaled cardio exercise while your training and workouts will increase your muscle mass and overall fitness. Developing your strength and mobility with combat sports will not only provide a killer workout, but it will heighten your body awareness and improve your overall balance, posture and reactive ability. Think of it this way: Lifting and moving a heavy sandbag is tough, but trying to move that sandbag while it pushes against you and tries to maneuver away from you is even tougher.
Confidence and Self Defense
Combat sports force you to think on your feet. You must act quickly in response to your partner’s movements, as well as remain calm when you find yourself in a defensive situation. Your training helps you develop your reflexes and coordination. You’ll be taught to be aware of your surroundings while honing your split second decision-making skills. This can help you in everyday life by providing you with confidence that you can be more assertive and protect yourself. Many martial arts emphasize that with skill, a smaller or weaker person can defend themself against - and even defeat - a larger and stronger opponent.
Respect and Discipline
A key part of martial arts is the respect extended to your teacher, fellow students - even yourself. When getting into the ring or on the mat, it helps to check your ego and learn as much as you can from your fellow fighters and soak up as much guidance from your coach or sensei as you can. Combat sports will lead to sparring and you’ll want to be as prepared as you can be - that’s a great motivator to put in the work and arrive prepared to fight. Even the best among us will lose now and then, and that inevitably keeps you humble.
These sports are not the easiest. They require know-how, guidance and a lot of hard work. In order to improve and progress, you have to engage, again and again, in practice. And, let’s be honest - there’s some pain involved now and then. Combat sports teach you that you won't be successful the first time you face something challenging. But if you learn from your struggles, you'll be prepared for the next challenge and those initial failures will lead to long term success.
* Further Reading: Will Morrill’s Combat Sports Strength and Conditioning Manual dispels common myths about combat sports while offering some expert coaching tips to maximize strength, power, and mobility.