Sensei Says Blog

8 Ways Martial Arts Helps with Depression

How to help with Teen Depression
Karate and Depression

8 ways Martial Arts helps with Depression and Anxiety.

I recently met with a family whose child was dealing with some mental health issues and our conversation got me thinking about my own journey. Our children, more than ever, are dealing with anxiety, depression, and a slew of other related mental health issues in today’s world and it seems like we aren’t getting any closer to long-term fixes.

I have been teaching and studying martial arts for over 17 years and it has taught me that the key to creating power and strength in your life is about taking your energy and focusing it on solutions instead of problems. I teach people from across the societal spectrum but more than any other group, teenagers seem to be the most susceptible to “stinking thinking”. So I decided to put together my top 8 reasons how training in the martial arts will help you overcome your own personal battles.

Escape the day-to-day Hustle

Get to work! Get to school! This needs to be done! Don’t forget about that! Life is chaotic and honestly it doesn’t really slow down, but when you learn to take some time for yourself, it actually gives you time to breathe. There is nothing like knowing that this moment is for you and for your own personal development. Not only that, but if you are consistent it will give you the stability for even more growth. Martial arts in general should be an escape for your soul. From the moment you bow into the Dojo (“training hall” in Japanese) to the moment you bow out, it becomes your own personal sanctuary. In fact, culturally, the Dojo is considered sacred – this being one of the reasons you are supposed to take your shoes off. So, having a place that actively tries to separate itself from the rest of the chaos of life is important for your mental health.

Learn about Yourself (Strengths and Weaknesses)

“What am I good at?” “I feel very different from other people.” Humans have a very special knack of comparing ourselves to everyone else and this can be extremely damaging to our personal growth. There is a story about a school of animals that you can read <here> that discusses the issue of comparing yourself to others. The truth is that each individual will have strengths and weaknesses and our job is to simply grow and discover what is uniquely ours and then to greatly refine it. A good martial arts program realizes that not everyone is in the same place: some people are bigger than others while others are faster. Some tend to enjoy performance while others enjoy practicality; some people like throwing while others enjoy striking. In a good school there is opportunity for everyone (or at least they can admit that their program is not for everyone). The key is that there is something to grow toward. In Japanese this concept is known as “Kaizen” –the art of constant and never-ending improvement.

Channel Energy Productively

Yes, you absolutely get to hit stuff. Like a cat being declawed, our culture has tried to bubble wrap and lock up people’s normal physicality, especially when it comes to fighting. Humans need to be able to put their physical energy somewhere. It’s in our very nature to fight. Whether it was protecting our family from wild animals or wrestling with each other to see who was strong enough to lead the tribe, fighting is a way to embrace our inner warriors. Especially in the adolescent years, emotions are confusing and energy is extreme and needs to be channeled. The very same aptitude toward fighting is also the energy that allows us to persevere through difficult moments of life such as losing a loved one, overcoming a bad relationship, or even surviving difficult college exams. We can no longer bubble wrap our children or medicate them out of their emotions, but rather we must give them a place to embrace it and train it to be an asset toward their success.

Culture creates Community, Community creates Challenge, Challenge creates Confidence

You cannot do life alone! Yet so often people isolate themselves from each other…but why? My belief is because of safety. Our natural human psychology is built around protecting ourselves from external threats. It is natural for us to hide instead of venture out into the unknown where danger might be lurking. In the right Dojo, instructors realize that in order for students to grow they have to have a level of security while still being challenged. So we attempt to create a great culture that cultivates strong relationships. You need good people around you that know what it’s like to feel weak and to be striving for their own strength. You need a place that protects your personal dignity while simultaneously pushing you out of your own personal safety zone with proper difficulties to face and to overcome. After you have overcome challenges, you begin to have confidence in your ability. This is the true way to develop good self-esteem. Humans need to experience struggle in order to gain strength, but we need each other to help show us the ropes.

Physical Fitness Releases Good Feelings

Endorphins!!! The “feel good chemical”. There has been a ton of research on this subject about the necessity for a physical exercise routine in a healthy lifestyle. I’ll just link another article that will go more into depth on the subject <HERE>, but basically the bottom line is that martial arts training is not boring with a single type of exercise program but can include everything from strength conditioning to cardio to agility and even bilateral exercise. Depending on your school, martial arts can be beneficial if you are overweight, underweight, arthritic, or even if you just want some simple flexibility. The bottom line is when you work out, you release the chemicals of happiness.


Gives you SMART Goals as an Individual to Boost your Confidence

Ambiguity in goals and dreams is a surefire way to NOT accomplish the things you want to accomplish, while at the same time causing you to get frustrated and feel worthless when you fail. Martial Arts training, done right, emphasizes “SMART” goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Any good Karate instructor focuses on giving you SMART goals that you can accomplish but that are challenging to help you increase your ability over time. Our lives have a lot of abstract thinking, but martial arts allow us to do things in the physical realm. When a punch hits you, it’s pretty easy to understand why it happened and to come up with a simple plan to stop it from happening again in the future. When you begin to understand this concept in the physical, you can begin using the principle to help you deal with other issues in the abstract. For more information about SMART goals check out this link <HERE>


Take Action and Take Control

Do or do not; there is no stalling. One of the most frustrating feelings in the world is when you feel like you are going nowhere. So whether it’s a lack of action or the wrong action that makes you feel like your wheels are spinning, martial arts helps teach you to take action. “Living” is a verb which means to do it right, you have to take action. When we are dealing with mental issues often times we enter into a vicious cycle of self-doubt, self-loathing, and pessimism. We hate ourselves for being depressed, which causes us to be depressed. When fighting, we learn that it is better to take action. Whether we fight or run away, either one is better than getting caught staying still where we will be easily beaten.

Do we Build our Houses on Sand or Stone?

There’s a story about 2 men, one built his house on sand and the other built his on stone. When the storm came and winds and the waters rushed, the house built on sand was destroyed because its foundation was weak. Whereas the house built on stone remained because its foundation was unshakable. I believe this is some of the truest wisdom for life. When we build our thinking and lives on true principles, we are able to handle the most difficult of situations, but if we build it on opinions and not truth the storm WILL come and your life will crumble around you. Strong martial arts has a special ability to teach you truth. If your opponent defeats you, you have to take responsibility for the situation or continue to be defeated. A good program will continue to bring true principles to every aspect of your life so that not only will your fighting be solid, but your entire life will have the tools to be successful, even through the storm.


Eric Davis

Martial Artist

Teaching martial arts and life values to all. There are so many things to discover and consider where do we start. 

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