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Both your mind and your body could benefit from this type of activity

Martial arts require a good level of physical strength, but those who start training must also develop an incredible amount of mental acuity.

Mental strength is so important to martial arts that researchers have found that karate experts’ punch strength may depend on better control of muscle movement in the brain, rather than increased muscle strength. Other studies have also found that children who practice taekwondo score better on maths and behaviour tests.

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 our team is looking for, with interesting results.

Martial attention

Researchers have continued to specifically measure attention to assess mind control, as previous research has suggested that mindfulness and exercise can both have beneficial effects on attention. It could be argued that martial arts are a combination of both: active sports involving aspects of meditation and mindfulness.

In a recently published study, 21 amateur adults practicing martial arts (karate, judo, and taekwondo, among others) and 27 adults with no experience in sports, were recruited to take part in an attention web test.

This test evaluated three different types of attention: alert (maintaining a sense of alertness); orienting (shifting attention) and executive (involved in choosing the correct answer in case of conflicting information).

The researchers were particularly interested in the alert network, which can reveal how alert a person is. If a person has a high Alert score on this test, it suggests that they are better able to respond to unpredictable timed goals than those with a low score.

Although there are differences between each martial art in terms of basic philosophies, intensity and whether it is more of a “fighting” or more “meditative” martial art, we did not discriminate the type our participants took part in.

Future research may compare the different types, but for this study we were more interested in the general attention of martial artists than that of non-martial artists.

Combat test

Researchers invited participants to workshop and recorded details of their martial arts experience (including type, how often they practice and how many years they have been involved in the sport) before asking them to take part in the computer-based activity .

This resulted in participants seeing a row of five arrows and having to respond to the direction of the central arrow by pressing a letter button on the keyboard (“c” for left-pointing arrows and “m” for right) as quickly as possible. In some trials, they were given a warning sign telling them that arrows would soon appear, and in others they were not.

Typically, in most martial arts training there is an element of sparring, which is a form of simulated fighting with a partner. One of the goals of this is that partners will try to stay focused and prevent their partner from contacting. After all, no one wants to be punched in the face.

It is rare for a sparring opponent to give a clear warning of the exact timing of a punch, so the defending partner must be alert, or alert, always, to be ready to dodge the blow.

During our research, martial arts participants produced higher alert scores than our non-martial artists. This meant that martial artists responded to arrows faster, especially when they did not get a warning. This means they have a higher level of alertness, which may reflect stronger cognitive control.

Researchers also looked at the effects of long-term martial arts practice and found that vigilance was better in martial artists with the most amount of experience. Many of the participants who had more than nine years of experience in sport showed the best readiness in our tests. This suggests that the longer a person sticks to martial arts, the greater their reward.

Taking it one step further, it appears that the effects of improved attention may last for a long time, rather than just a short pulse after training.

While it could be argued that martial arts are simply among the 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. as much as the body.

Ashleigh Johnstone is a PhD researcher in cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University. This article was first published in The Conversation

Ashleigh Johnstone /  Tuesday 27 February 2018