Deciding if you should train in martial arts is a complex question that is specific to the individual. I wrote this article based on my experiences and observations so that people have a way to evaluate whether or not they should learn martial arts.
For most people learning martial arts is a value-added activity. Martial arts offer significant benefits in developing physical health, mental health, and social health while building valuable self-defense skills in a community of like-minded individuals.
In this article, we will break down some of the advantages and disadvantages of learning martial arts in more detail in order to figure out if learning martial arts is the right choice for you.
What Are the Benefits of Martial Arts?
Martial arts offer a wide range of physical and mental health benefits and can improve your life if approached in the right way. You learn how to strengthen your body and use it to defend yourself in dangerous situations. You’ll also master situational awareness and stress-relieving skills.
1. Martial Arts Build Self-Defense Skills
Learning martial arts is one of the best ways to learn self-defense. Most arts start with conflict avoidance but also include methods to protect yourself if dangerous situations come to physical conflict.
Having a baseline ability to defend yourself through learning martial arts can be very beneficial if you’re looking for a way to improve your confidence and feel safer in your everyday life.
Most martial arts skills provide some effectiveness in self-defense – but some martial arts stand out in creating martial artists that can defend themselves with high proficiency. I personally train in an MMA gym and primarily train BJJ alongside some wrestling – but intend to round out my skillset over time to include competency in MMA.
Some notable martial arts that are highly effective for self-defense include MMA (mixed martial arts), Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Wrestling, Boxing, and Muay Thai or Kickboxing.
2. Martial Arts Provide Stress Relief
One of the main benefits of learning martial arts is that it can help you to relieve stress. Stress affects your health as well as your ability to concentrate and focus. I personally have much lower levels of stress when practicing martial arts regularly.
Martial arts can help you reduce your stress levels in several ways:
- Martial arts encourage mindfulness. Focusing on being present through mindfulness practice reduces stress. This is because stress often comes from worrying about the past or future. Being present offsets this source of stress.
- Physical activity from martial arts helps to release stress. Using your body through practicing martial arts allows you a way to fulfill your social needs while releasing pent-up energy through sparring or other forms of training, which offsets stress significantly.
- Learning martial arts also teaches you how your body reacts when tense and anxious. Doing certain martial arts provides a controlled high-stress situation and builds stress tolerance while allowing you to be aware of when you are physically feeling stress. Being more in tune with your stress levels will enable you to seek stress relief.
3. Martial Arts Improve Mental Health & Well-being
Martial arts can be an effective addition to traditional therapy. For example, many people with social anxiety have reported that martial arts helped them feel more comfortable in social situations. The mental health benefits of martial arts may also help you cope with depression and other mood disorders.
When I first started training martial arts as an adult it forced me to socially interact (I had moderate social anxiety) and helped even out my mood throughout everyday life.
Martial arts training builds mental stamina via actual physical activity. As it turns out, improving your physical health also boosts your mental health and vice versa. If you’re looking for a fun way to boost both aspects of your health simultaneously, consider learning martial arts.
Your mental health will also be boosted due to the stress-relieving properties of practicing martial arts that we discussed in the previous section.
4. Martial Arts Improve Concentration and Focus
Martial arts can help you improve your concentration and focus. Both of these elements are highly valuable and show up everywhere in your daily life.
Putting in time focusing on the basics and approaching it with discipline and attention to detail is a valuable skill. This can happen in any martial art.
In traditional martial arts like karate, there is a strict sequence of movements that you must perform to execute particular techniques correctly called “kata.” Learning these sequences requires concentration and being present – which is crucial for building your focus and concentration “mental muscles.”
Finding mastery in the skills of concentration and focus translates beautifully into getting more out of your daily life.
5. Martial Arts Develop Self-Discipline
Self-discipline is a key ingredient in achieving success in all domains of life. Discipline is a developed mental muscle and skill, not something that you are born with.
Using martial arts to develop self-discipline can be done in every martial art.
Martial arts are an effective platform for the development of self-discipline due to its difficulty, complexity, and long-term goals. Any martial artist who sticks with their art for long enough will learn how to deal with the emotional ups and downs that come with pursuing a complex and meaningful long-term goal.
Since it is happening over a long period of time you will get experience in working towards a long-term goal in many mental states and persevering through them to train and learn martial arts. This is the core of self-discipline.
In short, taking a self-development slant toward learning martial arts allows you to build up self-discipline, and can serve as a path to enable you to reach your full potential.
In order to best use martial arts to develop self-discipline take a look at How To Use Martial Arts To Develop Self-Discipline for more.
6. Martial Arts Improve Social Skills
Learning martial arts can help you acquire some useful soft skills, including improved social skills.
I am a heavily slanted introvert and training in martial arts over a long stretch of time has given me an opportunity to develop better social skills. This isn’t something that happens overnight and social anxiety can be a tough hurdle to overcome.
I am thankful that I only had to deal with some social awkwardness and social anxiety and never had severe issues with them. However, I knew that I was underdeveloped in these areas so I put forth effort into sealing up these weaknesses.
Using martial arts in this way is an excellent way to meet new people and make friends with common interests. It builds up social confidence and teaches you how to interact with others in a more natural, confident way.
Developing these skills in the right martial arts community helps you to become better both as a leader and as an effective part of a team. This has a lot of carryovers and is a slept-on benefit for training martial arts.
7. Martial Arts Increase Confidence
Confidence, in part, comes from feelings of self-acceptance and belief in your own abilities, skills, and experiences. Martial arts training provides a tangible set of skills and abilities that can provide martial artists with increased feelings of confidence.
Confidence from practicing martial arts can stem from simply learning something difficult and accumulating experiences where you are making tangible progress. Building your own capabilities and stringing together positive experiences can also just increase feelings of overall well-being.
For people who have dealt with bullying or have concerns about self-defense – building skills around dealing with self-defense can provide a great boost of confidence. Having a martial arts background can go a long way toward ensuring your safety during such encounters (even if nothing else does).
8. Martial Arts Improve Fitness & Cardiovascular Health
Martial arts training is a full-body workout that utilizes muscles all over the body. This can establish some baseline strength. One of the main physical fitness benefits is better cardiovascular conditioning and aerobic health.
Most martial arts are a form of aerobic exercise with an element of basic strength that requires little equipment. Ultimately, martial arts provide exercise that often does not feel like exercise because you are combining exercise with an enjoyable activity.
9. Martial Arts Help You Lose Body Fat
Martial arts training is a full-body workout, which means that you will burn more calories and have more energy after training than if you had just done traditional forms of cardio like biking or jogging. The exact number of calories you’ll burn depends on your size and body fat percentage alongside what type of martial art you choose to practice (and at what intensity).
Martial arts combined with a balanced and healthy diet can create an environment for its students to lower their body fat percentage and have better overall fitness. For maximal results, balancing in some form of resistance training for increased muscle mass will further boost metabolism and fat loss.
10. Martial Arts Can Increase Strength & Muscle Mass
When you practice martial arts you get some decent increases in strength and muscle mass – especially if you are an untrained individual. Developing your muscles is essential for a healthy body. They provide a plethora of physical benefits, including improved joint health, balance, and injury prevention.
Building up these muscles also helps to increase your basal metabolic rate. This makes you primed to burn fat more effectively with less effort if fat loss is something that you’re interested in doing.
Even though martial arts offer some strength and muscle building, you can’t expect the same results you’d get from a hypertrophy-driven lifting program. There are limits to how much martial arts will build your physique, but pairing a diet high enough in protein alongside martial arts will build these attributes to a point.
If you want to maximize muscle growth and strength performance while training martial arts check out my post Should You Choose Calisthenics or Lifting for Combat Sports? for helpful tips on how to decide what types of strength training exercises you should incorporate into your routine to best achieve your goals.
11. Martial Arts Increase Flexibility and Mobility
Martial arts are an excellent way to improve your flexibility, which is essential for balanced physical development. Dynamic stretching with an emphasis on mobility is a mainstay in most martial arts. This allows martial artists to build a useful range of motion in their techniques, and this is far superior to passive flexibility in practice.
Building up flexibility and mobility carry over into many other domains of life and helps you to avoid injuries both in physical training and in most circumstances outside of martial arts. Having these attributes is just a good all-around win that happens when training in martial arts regularly.
The most obvious benefit of flexibility training is that it helps prevent injury; the more flexible you are, the less likely it is that you’ll be hurt when engaging in physical activities. People who are generally more mobile and flexible also deal with less chronic pain overall.
12. Martial Arts Improve Coordination
Through martial arts training, you can improve your coordination. Coordination is the ability to use your body together smoothly and efficiently in space. This skill improves with practice in martial arts and can help you avoid injuries and improve overall sports performance.
And let’s just point out that being physically capable and coordinated just makes it easier to have positive feelings about yourself.
Athletes who have a base in martial arts tend to have greater gross movements and coordination in my observations. This carries over to most sports, even ones that require a lot of hand-eye coordination and balance.
Being coordinated while moving your body fluidly in sports allow you to change and set your balance more quickly and more stably. If you’re in a martial art that has acrobatics you’ll get a solid boost to kinesthetic awareness and the ability to land gracefully and absorb shock when jumping.
13. Martial Arts Have a Low Barrier to Entry
While martial arts can be hard to learn, anyone can get into martial arts, and that’s part of what makes the activity so remarkable. There are no prerequisites or special skills you need before starting your journey into the world of martial arts training.
You don’t have to be fit to start martial arts, athletically inclined, or experienced in martial arts. You can often attend class at a local gym or community center and reinforce these concepts and skills in the comfort of your own home. Depending on your goals and the specific martial art you can even do all of your learning at home.
If you’re interested but unsure where to start, plenty of YouTube videos and online resources exist that can help you get started.
Caveats to Consider Before Starting Martial Arts
While martial arts offer many benefits and are worthwhile to many people, there are certain risks and disadvantages of practicing martial arts that could affect your decision to learn martial arts.
1. Martial Arts Have Some Injury Risk
Though martial arts are generally safe, injuries do happen. In almost every case, injuries are relatively minor and mostly consist of bruises, black eyes, jammed fingers, etc.
There are more severe injuries that are extremely rare that can happen like joint injuries, broken bones, or even brain damage. These are avoidable if you train conscientiously and avoid dangerous situations and wear the appropriate gear.
Choosing your training partners wisely and avoiding bad training partners is the number one skill that you can develop to avoid major injuries.
Another important factor is to ensure that you properly develop your body to be as injury resistant as possible by building up your basic functional strength and ensuring that you have a decent baseline of flexibility and mobility.
Always ensure you’re trained by a professional and follow their instructions to help with injury prevention.
For more about which martial arts have the highest injury risks, types of injuries, and how to reduce the chances of sustaining these injuries check out my post Which Martial Art Has the Most Injuries? | A Qualitative Look that goes over these topics in detail.
2. Martial Arts Can Be Difficult to Learn
Martial arts take a long time to learn. There’s a wide range of styles and disciplines, and each has its own nuances and subtleties that can take years to master. Even if you’re one of those few who can become reasonably proficient in only weeks or months, it will likely be years before you master most aspects of your martial art and earn your black belt—if you even do so at all.
So if you are looking for instant gratification and mastery, you may find training martial arts frustrating. Mastery will require that you work on basics and fundamentals for a long period of time to set the base for having overall mastery in your martial art.
3. Martial Arts Can Be Expensive
Some people think that martial arts training is a cheap hobby, but that isn’t necessarily true and varies a lot from region to region and from school to school.
- Cost of Training. Depending on your locale and what type of martial art you’re training it can be anywhere from $50 to $300 to train. These costs are significant and are a pretty big outlay of money depending on your budgetary constraints.
- Cost of Equipment. Equipment costs vary a lot based on what martial art you’re practicing. The equipment you pick up can range from just needing a uniform and a mouthguard to needing full striking gear or even acquiring weapons. This is usually only an outlay of a few hundred dollars upfront alongside the cost of training.
Generally speaking, most people do have the ability to make room in their budget to train in martial arts. But if you don’t, then picking up martial arts might not be the right thing to do until you improve your financial situation.
For more on how to practically fit martial arts costs into your budget check out my post Practicing Martial Arts on a Budget | A No-Nonsense Guide to understand how you can train martial arts if you feel that you have financial constraints.
4. Martial Arts Can Be Time-Consuming
You have to train and practice martial arts regularly, not only to learn martial arts but also to keep up your physical conditioning. This means that you have to set aside enough time to practice martial arts on a weekly basis and attend class in order to progress with your training.
Busy schedules could hinder training and class attendance due to needing to balance other commitments. For many of us, martial arts can quickly become a time-consuming hobby and we can get frustrated when we have to miss training.
Martial arts can become a way of life and take up a large portion of your mental bandwidth as well as dominate your schedule if you let it.
Reframing how you view martial arts and committing whatever spare time you have is a healthy way to integrate martial arts.
But you also need to be honest with yourself if you actually have no time to do martial arts at this time. Look at when the class schedules at your local schools fall. Can you make enough sessions to feel fulfilled and balance it in or not? These are important considerations to take into account before starting.
Is Learning Martial Arts Worth It?
Learning martial arts is worth it for most people. It provides a platform for physical, social, and mental development that benefits its students. These benefits are wrapped into a package that is typically fun to participate in while building basic competency in self-defense.
Here’s a table outlining the advantages and disadvantages of learning martial arts.
|1. Building self-defense skills
2. Providing stress relief
3. Improving mental health
4. Improving concentration and focus
5. Developing self-discipline
6. Improving social skills
7. Increasing confidence
8. Improving fitness & cardiovascular health
9. Losing body fat
10. Increasing strength and muscle mass
11. Increasing flexibility
12. Improving coordination
13. Low barrier to entry
|1. Injury risk
2. Difficulty to learn
3. Financial cost
4. Time cost
This table highlights the merits and demerits of learning martial arts. The reasons to learn martial arts clearly outweigh the reasons not to learn martial arts. However, if the disadvantages are high for the season of life that you’re in, then maybe put it off until your circumstances change, but I recommend giving martial arts a try to most people.
There are a great many benefits to picking up martial arts. It is an effective platform for building up your physical, mental, and social health.
Martial arts also provide exercise and stress relief while having fun and building up basic self-defense. Practicing martial arts has had a large positive impact on my life personally and I enjoy having it as part of my regular routine.
I believe that most people can truly benefit from picking up martial arts and that the disadvantages associated with training martial arts can be worked around for the majority of the population.
For more check out How Can Martial Arts Improve Your Life?