Why Studying Traditional Martial Arts makes sense in 21st century

It can build strong physical and mental health as well as a good social network. And it’s just the start!

Kung fu group training

I have trained many years in traditional kung fu (white crane), filipino, thai, brazilian (BJJ, capoeira) and japanese martial arts. I heard: “Traditional martial arts don’t work”. “MMA is better than traditional martial arts”. Many find quick arguments on why traditional martial arts training doesn’t make any sense.

The most sensible argument is that we have transitioned from constant warfare to societies of relative peace. The most lethal situation is perhaps a knife or gun mugging – but those are exceptional. The vast majority of us simply do not fear caught in a battle when getting out.

The argument is true. Since traditional martial arts train warriors, traditional martial training is in a way aimless. But so does long-distance running, MMA, football or soccer. No-one runs or plays football to train skills that are required for daily lives.

So why train at all in traditional martial arts?

One of its strongest benefit is building a strong body, with good endurance skills.  Many sports heavily specialize on one major muscle group. On the other hand, you will train everything in martial arts! Traditional martial arts require a strong core (abs, back, legs, chest and shoulders, gluteus) to give you a solid base. A strong core will help you later on in life, from daily chores or when moving out heavy furniture. And will make you more attractive! The training also enhances your reflexes, which can help in potential falls or accidents, a major cause of death (#4 in the USA). Later, you will also have good endurance, with improved focus on breathing. Overall, traditional martial arts training means improved cardiovascular health, respiratory system health, improved immune system, hormone balance and lower risk of diabetes.


Simply, traditional martial arts is one of the best exercises for your health.

Because you have to learn and improve techniques, traditional martial art training requires and gives you better focus. It’s one long hour where you forget all the worries of modern life, unplug from Facebook, and have to dedicate body and mind to the technique. The master will be there to remind you to focus. Mental calmness is a luxury in the 21st century and is worth alone the time and money put in martial arts training. Many will find improved mental health as well as better ability to focus at work.

Traditional martial arts training also integrates you in a strong social network. There is a supreme master to be respected, teachers and assistants you need to bow to, as well as brothers and sisters you bound to. Contrary to popular perceptions, traditional martial training is not an individual sport but requires friendship, cooperative competition, as well as positive social attitude. The group also brings additional motivation. You will want to kick better than your older “brother”. Or you will be motivated to demonstrate your superior grappling skills to peers. These social interactions can also extend beyond training hours.

Many traditional martial arts also incorporate qigong, a form of meditation coupled with deep breathing and slow hands movements. While not at the same level as a dedicated meditation practice or weekly attendance at religious services, qigong brings better balance and improved resistance to physical and mental stress. Advanced qigong practitioners also have a unique relationship between health and their body – with for example the ability to lower their heart, improve blood circulation or heal wounds faster.

If you are looking to train in traditional martial arts, this is what I would recommend:

  • There are different traditional martial arts. Traditional kung fu mixes centuries-old techniques with qigong and chinese philosphy. Capoeira benguela is a brazilian martial art without violence and witty dance. Traditional japanese martial arts offer a “purified” version of chinese martial arts. Take your time to try out classes and see what’s best for you. Positive social attitude, respect, ability to follow at your own rhythm are important. Look also how established the school is. It’s counter-productive to start and then having the school move out or close after six months.
  • One weekly class is not enough and two is barely enough to maintain the levels. Three weekly classes is ideal to reach the benefits highlighted above. If your school cannot provide this, it can be an issue later one, unless you have strong discipline and include training at home.
  • Injuries means inflammation and interrupted training. An injury is also a baggage that you will have to pull for months and years. Don’t do something that is beyond your physical abilities. It is better to train consistently. If you want to push yourself for a competition, I recommend tracking your heart rate and heart rate variability and adjust training intensity and rest days accordingly.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback, let me know in comments! I am looking forward to know your experiences.


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