“How Kicking Butt Helps Your Health”
25 Feb 2020
For most people, the word karate conjures up images of martial arts flicks and kicks. But for those who practice the ancient discipline, it’s about so much more. It’s a mind, body and spirit practice that brings benefits like fitness, mental discipline, and character development.
Karate prevents bullying
At karate dojos around the country, bullied youth are learning to fight back—peacefully, yet effectively—or even prevent bullying in the first place. “Parents come to us seeking a safe space to increase their children’s resiliency, develop strong boundaries, and learn how to stand up for themselves and others,” says Ron Libel, executive director of Thousand Waves Martial Arts and Self-Defense Center in Chicago.
Students learn to adopt a strong, grounded “ready” stance, to make eye contact with an imaginary opponent; and to not be afraid to use their voice, whether it’s standing up for themselves on the playground or when saying “Kiai!” the spirited yell used to start training. As with most martial arts, a spirit of community, inclusion, and respect is always promoted. “We bow in and out of class, which helps teach kids to respect, and we talk a lot about using our karate as a force for good—that we need to be upstanders willing to speak up for victims of bullying, not bystanders, who remain silent.”
Karate can ease anxiety and depression
“Karate helps you ask for what you need.” This idea spoke to Angie Edwards who prior to practicing karate, had spent her life burying the secret of childhood sexual abuse and with the anxiety and PTSD, she endured as a result. It took me some time to feel comfortable shouting or yelling in class,” Edwards says. “At first, my kiais were small, quiet, and didn’t have much power behind them.” With time and practice, they strengthened into a release of energy that’s also calming and centering and brings me a sense of full agency of my body. I feel like I have new tools I can use,” she says. “It’s helped my self-esteem, taught me self-defense, and in situations with an unequal power dynamic, I know have this internal confidence that I didn’t have before.”
Brad Stennerson, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Norman, Oklahoma, and a regular judo practitioner. He believes karate can serve as a smart, strategic treatment option for individuals with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and more. “It improves self-confidence, because you’re learning a new skill and feel assertive” he says. “That’s helpful for anxiety, in which we overestimate perceived threats and underestimate our own capabilities. Karate also forces you out of the house and into a community of people who support you.” The communal nature of class serves as a sort of exposure therapy. Karate also provides a physical outlet, Libel notes, and the feel-good endorphins released during aerobic exercise have been shown to combat depression and anxiety.
Karate may improve symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
“Parkinson’s makes things small—patients take tinier and tinier steps, their handwriting shrinks down, even their voice. But practicing karate’s large movements, like punches, seems to help,” says neurologist Jori Fleisher, M.D., who examined 2018 Rush University Medical Center study that enrolled 15 individuals with early to middle stage Parkinson’s in twice-week karate classes for 10 weeks. “In the first class, their jabs come out small, slow. By the end, they’re punching with more force and even hitting targets.
The balance developed in karate can not only help reduce falls but because those with Parkinson’s struggle with executive function (remember what comes first, then next), it also helps with patterns of movement, building needed strength and control on both sides of the body.
Karate protects your bones
Aging and bone loss often go hand in hand; by 2020, at least one in two Americans over 50 will have or be at risk of developing osteoporosis. Women are especially vulnerable, thanks to the plummet in bone-protective estrogen that occurs during menopause.
Weight-bearing exercise like karate, can help build or maintain bone mass, says Carol Krucoff, author, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, and a second-degree Black Belt in karate. First, bone grows stronger in response to having weight placed on it or resistance applied against it—a phenomenon not exclusive to karate; it occurs with walking, running, dancing, strength-training, yoga and more. (One illustrative example of this: Tennis players have denser bone mass in their dominant arm.)
But for older adults who are naturally more prone to falling, karate’s emphasis on kicks—front, side, roundhouse and more—promotes balance and agility, as you must stand on one leg while the other leg kids.
Karate also teaches the art of falling properly. “In training, one of the first things you learn is to slap the mat,” Krucoff says. “When you go down, you want to go down on a fleshy portion of your body like your buttocks or hips, and slap or strike the mat to help lessen and distribute the impact.”
This kind of purposeful falling is not advisable for someone with osteoporosis, she says, but practiced in your 20s, 30s or 40s, karate can help lay down new bone while teaching proper fall technique, which will ideally become ingrained as you age, so if you do fall (around 650,000 people over 60 visit the ER every year due to falls) and your balance and agility don’t keep you upright, hopefully, your instinct will kick in and you’ll fall the right way.
That said, “if you would like to try karate in your 50s, 60s or beyond, ask your doctor; maybe you can incorporate certain aspects, like punching, but not sparring.”
This is a compilation of an article in February 2020 Parade Magazine newspaper excerpt and a more detailed version of the article that appears in Parade. com. It was written by Leslie Goldman.
At Ajay’s Karate we teach Tae Kwon Do and self-defense to students from age 4 up to teens, adults, and Silver Tigers. Ajay’s Karate is owned and operated by 8th Degree Grand Master Michael Ajay and his wife, 4th-degree black belt Lydia Ajay. We are located in Elk Grove California.