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Can combat sports be therapeutic?
We’re in the infancy of a new decade. Still, it’s always nice to look back at the world of sport and what athletes have achieved over the past few years. The 2010s were a fantastic decade for combat sports which saw a boom in popularity. While the sport of boxing dates back to ancient Egyptian times, MMA has only been around for a few decades, and culturally specific combat sports like karate, Taekwondo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Muay Thai continue to find a wider audience across the world.
But even though combat sports today are a gateway to Olympic glory, they don’t always have the best reputation among those outside of the sports. They’re often categorised as dangerous, violent, aggressive, and ‘barbaric’. While combat sports do come with inherent risks, certain combat sports - like MMA and boxing - are targeted unfairly.
How risky are combat sports?
For example, between 1890 and 2011, about 1,604 boxers died as a direct result of injuries sustained in the ring. That’s an average of 13 deaths per year. As of April 2019, there have been seven recorded deaths resulting from sanctioned contests and nine from unregulated bouts in MMA. Compare this to horse riding, where an average of 100 people die per year in the USA alone. A Cambridge University study found there is one injury per hour of cross country eventing. In fact, you’re far more likely to die from skiing than combat sports, and you’re 100 times more likely to die while canoeing than you are skiing. Yet these sports aren’t always being asked to answer for their barbarity and danger.
Combat sports deal with more than their fair share of criticism. But the number of participants and followers of combat sports are on the rise because there are actually huge benefits to combat sports. Surprisingly, one such benefit might be easing anxiety for athletes.
The benefits of combat sports
There are a huge number of combat sports to enjoy. Like any sport, being great in combat sports requires heaps of gruelling training, day in, day out. But as there’s a large element of pain often involved, combat sports require you to develop specific skill sets that non-combat sports may not.
Combat sports focus on building physical and mental strength. And, when we manage risks, like by wearing a mouthguard and the right protection, the benefits far outweigh them. In fact, with many beginners in combat sports, there is no combat, just a detailed focus on technique, strength, and fitness.
What we can learn
Combat sports can teach both adults and children many things:
With every new move and skill you master, your confidence increases. And as you achieve your goals, you’ll be able to translate this confidence to other aspects of your life, understanding how to train and work hard to see results no matter what you’re doing.
Being able to defend yourself is also great for boosting confidence. While combat sports explicitly train athletes to avoid using their skills outside of the ring or training, even just knowing that if you needed to defend yourself you could goes a long way in helping people feel safer and more relaxed. This is sometimes the reason many women take up a combat sport. Martial arts is also useful to help build confidence in children who are bullied at school without them fighting at all. They become more confident and build a group of friends with similar interests, helping them avoid and overcome the challenges they face.
Whether you remember Ralph Macchio or Jaden Smith as the Karate Kid, we know how he came to his wit’s end developing the discipline karate required of him. But it all paid off in the end. His journey was painful and full of sacrifice, but he ended up victorious, and this skill goes far beyond sport. When we want to achieve anything in life, it starts with putting in the hard work.
Many parents struggle to get their children to focus on one task. Even adults struggle to stop their mind running away from them. But combat sports need your full attention at all time as mistakes can be costly. They require a lot of mental energy, being a great workout for your mind as well as your body. Developing an ability to focus will be more than useful in our everyday lives.
There is no doubt it takes a lot of courage to step into the ring alone, hoping to come out victorious. Some people are born with this inherent ability; others must develop it. Combat sports help you become more courageous as your skills improve, and you learn how to overcome your fears not just in the ring, but in life.
Can combat sports be therapeutic?
Combat sports are tough and many people find this out the hard way. But they also offer athletes a space where they can take care of their mind and body. The physical side of training helps boost feel-good hormones, give an adrenaline rush, and keep athletes fit. The mental side, which requires huge amounts of focus, can help you block out the stress of your everyday life, almost like meditation. While you may not automatically think of combat sports as relaxing, they can be for many athletes.
They can also help reduce daily anxiety in many people who feel their lack of confidence, self-esteem, and courage is lacking. As your skills in sport increase, so will these factors, helping people tackle not only their opponents, but their everyday lives.
If you’re thinking about starting a combat sport, it might not be as daunting as you think. The risks, while present and serious, are often over-exaggerated while the benefits are scarcely mentioned. It can be challenging, fun, and help you grow as a person, so why not get started today?
All sports come with a little risk, but as long as you use the right protection and take the right precautions, everyone can benefit from the health and mental benefits being an athlete brings. OPRO helps ensure athletes can reach their goals by being the leading provider of protective mouthguards. Get yours here.