Martial Arts and Mental Health

Martial Arts and Mental Health

In these strange days it is VITAL to take care of ourselves in all areas, mentally, spiritually and physically. 

Karate is a discipline, a fitness regimen, and a form of self-defence that is useful for all ages and abilities.

Research shows that Karate offers a myriad of benefits for the body and mind. While the physical benefits and advantages of Karate are apparent, the mental benefits cannot be discounted.

Have you heard someone say that practicing martial arts has transformed their life?

Maybe you are wondering if you can change your life too.

This is because the martial arts, according to many health experts, has a wide array of health benefits. These are not just limited to our physical bodies, but also our mental health emotional state.

At McKinstry Family Karate we teach a form of Karate know as Soo Bahk Do it will equip you and/or your child with skills to protect yourselves from physical attacks - However, we can be attacked in many ways. Mentally, Physically and Spiritually. 

A common misconception of the Martial Arts is that they promote violent behaviour but in fact it is quite the opposite. The Martial Arts teach peaceful, non-violent conflict resolution skills and emphasise that physical altercations must be avoided (but is also equips you for them also!)

Pressures and threats can come from any environment - school, work and even home through a multitude of ways such as negative comments, social media, news and TV.

These are all external factors, and you know they do not have as big an influence on you as your own “inner voice”.

There are so many things that can cause anyone to spiral into a negative mindset that robs you or your child of vitality and spark.

Right now, we are all under great mental stress in the world through the current health crisis which leading to issues with

  • schooling
  • work
  • day-care

just to name a few.

It can take a toll on us physically and our immune system is affected as stress increases. 

So, why is the Martial Arts and in particular Soo Bahk Do particularly helpful for mental health?

Self-control is a key part of martial arts training, which is closely related to mindfulness. This training ultimately helps with your overall wellbeing and mental health.

The health professionals from Expect Me emphasise that martial arts make people feel more in control of their emotions. They say:

It is counterintuitive at the surface level, but martial arts actually help people lead calmer, more self-possessed lives. One of the main reasons why this happens is mindfulness. To excel at martial arts, it is important to pay close attention to the present moment.

President A P J Abdul Kalam once said, ‘’ If you fail, never give up because F.A.I.L. means "First Attempt In Learning"; End is not the end, in fact E.N.D. means "Effort Never Dies"; If you get No as an answer, remember N.O. means "Next Opportunity".

Martial arts sessions train you to work on your inner energy along with your providing a great work out. It has an innate wisdom that after adequate practice, you and/or your child can start to do things you never thought you could do.

Once you have discovered your solutions this motivates you in a hugely positive manner and will spur you on to achieve more - combine this with the awesome feeling of a punching and kicking session on the bag or doing pad work will certainly give you a huge boost and get rid of all your frustrations.

At times we all suffer from a lack of Confidence and Low Self-Esteem.

In our classes we encourage you to try new things and help you and/or your child learn to embrace difficulties along the way - this will help strengthen your inner self and character, just like exercise to strengthen the body.  

Once you and/or your child realise that difficulties can be overcome you get a great sense of achievement and huge boost to your confidence and self -esteem.

According to MIND

  • 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.
  • 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England.

Specific diagnoses

In any given week in England:


If you are having a low moment in life, martial arts can boost your self-esteem. Most individuals with lower confidence levels experience this on a regular basis, and it really affects their ability to keep up with their everyday activities.

 In a 2014 study for the Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences journal found that there was “a significant relationship between confidence and martial arts.”

While the social confidence exhibited by people who did and did not practice martial arts was relatively similar, martial artists demonstrated higher confidence when it came to physical ability, ethics, and intellectual ability. 

The findings showed that martial arts are effective in different aspects of self-concept and can provide a proper background to advance,” the study’s authors concluded.

“Exercise in general has effect on improving mental health and self-confidence. But martial arts can increase readiness and the ability of persons for more self-confidence. Therefore, the martial arts from psychological view are critical and important.”  

Ilona Nichterlein, an emotional counselling expert from Hypnotherapy Canberra says that lessons taken from martial arts can be easily applied to your daily life. She explains:

Martial art teaches you that it doesn’t matter how many ‘hits’ you take in life – financial, mental, physical or emotional, it’s important to come back stronger and smarter after each blow, and to toughen up for bumps still to come. They teach you how to deal with these situations and build character.

Martial Arts improve Mental Clartity and Focus

Martial arts training is designed in a manner that helps you focus on one point, depending on the session. As the session starts, all those distractions go away, and you are left to concentrate on the present moment.

If you do this on a regular basis, your mind will learn to clear your perception as needed, and you will be able to focus on tasks like important work without getting distracted every single minute.

Participation in the Martial Arts can improve your self-esteem, manage aggression and improve discipline.

McKinstry Family Karate we know this too - because we’ve seen these developments in our students, and we’ve experienced those changes for ourselves as a result of our own journey.

That said, it is still nice to have some scientific proof to back up our anecdotal evidence and personal truths. So, it is always interesting to check in with the latest developments in the martial arts science.

For example, it will come as no shock to any of us that a recent study published in Frontiers and Psychology by Ashleigh Johnstone and Paloma Mari-Beffa found that martial arts can improve attention spans and focus in adults over the long term.

Helpfully a breakdown of the study down for the  in The Conversation , Ashleigh Johnstone, a PhD Researcher in Cognitive Neuroscience at Bangor University explains:

Martial arts require a good level of physical strength, but those who take up training need to develop an incredible amount of mental acuity, too.

Mental strength is so important to martial arts that researchers have found karate experts’ stronger punching force may be down to a better control of muscle movement in the brain, rather than increased muscular strength.

Which leads to an interesting question – does taking part in martial arts cause the brain to develop better control, or do people with these brain characteristics choose to do martial arts? It is something that our team has been researching, with interesting results.

For this study, Johnstone and Mari-Beffa assembled 21 adults who participated in various martial arts, including Karate and 27 with no training background.

Both groups took what is called an attention network test to assess their ability to maintain alertness, redirect their attention, and the ability to choose the correct response when faced with information that might conflict.

In the article, Johnstone notes that the demands in those tests are similar to the ones that are made on people who participate in sparring training.

Those who have studied and trained in the martial artists did notably better on these tests:

During our research, the martial arts participants produced higher alert scores than our non-martial artists. This means that the martial artists responded to the arrows fastest, especially when they were not given a warning. This signifies that they have a greater level of vigilance, which could reflect stronger cognitive control.

They also found that the martial artists in their study who had the most experience (some of them had more than nine years of training under their belts) performed better than their newer counterparts. “This suggests that the longer a person sticks at martial arts, the bigger their reward,” Johnstone wrote. “Taking this a step further, it appears that the effects of improved attention may be long lasting, rather than just a short boost after training.”

“While it could be argued that martial arts simply are among many activities that can lead to better health, what we and other researchers have found is that their practice is one of those rare crossovers that helps significantly improve the brain just as much as the body.”


Martial Arts is not Just good for your Mental Health but your overall Health and well being.

  • 1. Weight Loss

Improving your muscle tone and muscle mass can help you improve your metabolism, which is one thing that can contribute to weight loss. Martial arts are a great form of exercise, especially if you’re practicing at least 2-3 times per week.

  • 2. Mobility

Many martial arts disciplines require agility and mobility. By practicing martial arts, you are sure to improve your body’s ability to move faster.

  • 3. Reflexes

By learning moves through repetition, your reflexes will start to improve.

  • 4. Strength

By practicing martial arts, you have the opportunity to train your body to become stronger. Proper form is essential in order to execute an effective movements, we will teach you how to do this properly and thus will help you strengthen your muclar skeletal system as a whole

  • 5. Coordination

The Martial Arts techniques you will learn creates an overall stability and coordination when it comes to executing moves, blocking, and avoiding attacks. With practice, you will quickly improve both your stability and coordination.

  • 6. Flexibility

You training will have specific sections to help your flexibility - each session as a whole will help your overall range of movement in every aspect and you will be amazed how much progression you can make.

  • 7. Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular health is important to manage, especially since it is closely linked to your heart. Drills done during training can help you build cardiovascular endurance and increase the positive impact of aerobic exercise.

But thats not all!

Why you should keep training......from an immunologist.

Will being fighting fit help? “Physical activity is one of the best ways to prime and even rejuvenate immunity. A recent British study of male and female long-term cyclists aged 55 to 79 found that, when compared with those of twentysomething sedentary people, the older cyclists’ immune systems were far superior.

“Keeping your muscles active releases high levels of a specific chemical called interleukin 7 (IL-7) into the blood and that helps to prevent shrinking of a gland of great importance to immunity. The thymus gland, situated in front of the heart and behind the sternum, is responsible for producing new T cells, the master controllers of the immune system.

“It starts diminishing in size from our twenties, a process called thymus involution, but regular exercise halts this, keeping the thymus gland in healthy shape. Resistance training — lifting weights or your own body weight through press-ups, lunges and the like — is particularly beneficial in prompting the release of IL-7. But just moving throughout the day — getting up from your desk, walking at lunchtime — is more effective than sitting all day and doing a HIIT class after work.”


Dr Jenna Macciochi


She has an impressive scientific CV; a lecturer in immunology at the University of Sussex, she previously worked at Imperial College London and is a contributing editor of scientific journals including the Annals of Advanced Biomedical Sciences. Her new book, Immunity — The Science of Staying Well, delves into everything related to our immune system and what we need to do to protect ourselves against infection. Its publication is timely — not even she predicted a pandemic of these proportions coming.


To Summarise

Karate practice strengthens the mind, develops composure, a clearer thought process, deeper insight into one's mental capabilities, and more self-confidence. It strengthens the entire body, improves coordination, quickens reflexes, builds stamina and overall health.

Here at McKinstry Family Karate we not are not just a school of the Soo Bahk Do discipline but provide a complete physical and mental training regime underpinned by a sound value system.

When you stick to the core principles of martial arts, you will become a humbler, calm and inwardly peaceful person.

This makes martial arts an excellent solution for the physical and mental stresses the current world situation is placing on us all.

This is the best time to get into martial arts if you really yearn for a sound mind and a healthy body.

If you’re ready to experience the physical and mental benefits of practising martial arts, click here to find out about our online classes.

We are looking forward to welcoming you into our extensively refurbished Covid secure training facility as soon it is safe for us all to return to indoor training.