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Martial arts like karate have been increasing in popularity ever since the first Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films were introduced to the public. Since then, karate has become one of the most popular martial arts worldwide. There is barely a city without at least one karate school, just like everybody has a person they know who trains it. But aside from the flashy moves and techniques it teaches, is it actually any good? Is it beneficial for one’s health for example? Or is it even a useful martial art for self-defense? What other benefits might it have, if any?
Karate is beneficial in many different ways, may that be its positive effect on cardiovascular health, fat loss, muscular development, and a lot more. It is one of the most useful activities one can do since aside from all the health benefits, it is also practical in self-defense scenarios.
There are many aspects of your life which can be improved by training karate, and in this article, we wanted to collect the information about how that actually happens and in which areas of your life exactly can it help. Even if you are not one for medical and fitness articles, you will definitely find interesting information in this text, since we will talk about how karate can improve your cognition or things like how it can also contribute to your self-esteem. Read on if you are interested!
Is Karate Good Exercise?
Karate is not only trained for the technique and the self-defense utility, but also for the fact that it is actually an amazing form of exercise as well. We will talk more about the way you can lose fat and build muscle with karate, but for now, we will stick to analyzing how karate is just in general a really productive and useful way to get your body moving.
One of the largest elements of why karate is a good exercise is the cardiovascular fitness it helps develop. This topic is tightly connected to the fat-loss section, but more on that later, now we will focus on how it improves heart health and decreases the likelihood of cardiovascular events and diseases.
When you hear the term “cardio”, you probably think about exercises like running or group cardio training. The term stands for cardiovascular, which is the system in your body that transports blood, the two major parts of it being the heart and the blood vessels (arteries and veins). There are a couple of factors that indicate cardiovascular health, like heart strength and the elasticity of blood vessels among others.
These decrease with age and the way to decrease the speed of cardiovascular decline is by exercising. Karate is a great form of exercise in this case since it gets your blood pumping and raises your pulse into the target zone (it is different for every age group and can be calculated by subtracting your age from the number 220 and then 50%-80% of that number will represent the target zone for you), which has immensely powerful effects on cardiovascular health.
Stretching, another important part of any karate training also improves blood circulation, lowers blood pressure, and thus keeps the cardiovascular system healthy. This also helps with general blood flow, which will also result in a calmer state of mind and better cognition.
Aside from cardiovascular health and flexibility, karate also helps with overall stamina. Fighting, stretching, running, and doing high-intensity muscle workouts regularly is guaranteed to increase your overall stamina and endurance. The first time you go to a karate training, you will probably feel like dying after the first 5 to 10 minutes, but after a while, a one hour training might not even be enough for you to call it an effective and challenging one.
This is associated with cardiovascular health and lung size as well as some other things and is one of the most noticeable and quickly improving aspects of your physical performance that you will notice if you start training.
Is Karate a Good Way to Lose Weight?
In short, yes. Any, even light to moderate-intensity exercise is good for weight-loss, but there is a lot more to it. The mechanisms by which weight-loss takes effect are quite intricate, and just stating flat out that something is good or not does an injustice to the complexity of the topic. For this very reason, we will quickly recap the most recent ideas on how weight-loss work and then see whether karate would help with it.
So the classical and most prevailing idea about weight-loss is the calories in, calories out model. It has been around for a long time and quite surprisingly, was invented by a physicist and not a biologist or nutritionist (this is the reason our modern understanding of the topic is changing: the foundation was probably the wrong way to address the issue).
It basically states that if you burn more calories (units of heat/energy) than you take in with your food and drinks, you will lose weight, because you will force your body to use up the energy reservoirs: fat.
Even if this is the model you want to be using, which isn’t a bad option, you can lose weight with karate. It is quite an intense form of exercise and will definitely help you burn those extra calories off which otherwise you could by going for a jog or a similarly boring activity.
The other, a more recent idea which is gaining a lot of traction nowadays, is that though you can manipulate body fat and weight by playing around with calorie intake, it isn’t the way the body functions and isn’t the optimal way to become fit, healthy, lean or muscular. Rather it is a complicated dance of the hormones regulating hunger, insulin sensitivity, and other physiological factors.
You can get down to controlling your calories and working out x times a week, but if you have a hormone-regulated tendency to crave sugar often, it will only take one or two times to give in to blow up the house of cards and create brain chemistry which will make you even less likely to take care of yourself. What is common with both takes on the subject is their glorification of exercise, however for different reasons.
The first take talks about it as flat-out calorie burning. Here, on the other hand, it is about exercise being a form of activity that has more benefits for your brain than your body weight and will help you create brain chemistry which will predispose you to take care of yourself more.
Karate comes in the picture with not only being an amazing cardiovascular exercise but also with being a full-blown mental and physical exercise in one. By training karate, you get your heart rate up and burn calories, and you also get all those brain chemistry benefits that come with having a well-rounded workout routine or style. Karate has stretching, cardio, strength, agility, and all sorts of other types of training incorporated into it, which can all play a crucial role in losing weight, should you set yourself on that goal.
Does Karate Build Muscle?
Building muscle is a somewhat more straightforward process than weight loss. It is simpler to describe and for many, easier to accomplish. However, many people have doubts about the muscle-building that goes on in karate. Bruce Lee was ripped, but not buffed. Same as a younger Jackie Chan, for example. So what effect does karate have on increasing muscle size and mass?
Karate, like almost any martial art and combat sport, is much more centered around learning the proper techniques for certain scenarios rather than building muscle and being able to lift your opponent up. There is a concept in the Eastern Martial arts, more precisely in Taekwondo, which is called the Theory of Power. This is a set of rules or ideas which are used in a majority of Eastern martial arts even if they don’t consciously use it.
One of the main observations noted in the Theory of Power is that the force of a strike increases quadratically with speed, while only linearly with the mass of the striking object. This is the reason Bruce Lee could deliver a punch much stronger than what today’s Mr. Olympia could: he is much, much faster. For this reason, karate doesn’t really focus on building muscle mass or things like deadlift performance.
However true it is that a very fast, very thin person with good technique can beat a buffed gym dude, it would be untrue to say karate doesn’t build muscle. It actually does, but not in the traditional sense (the longer you do it the larger your muscles will be). A peak muscular performance is reached within karate, beyond with the karateka cannot and will not go if they want to remain at the top of their game in the karate world.
If you cannot do a push-up, starting to train karate will immensely increase your muscle size, your bone density, and stamina, but after a given amount of growth which is specific to everyone, getting more muscle will just hurt your performance. Really built people are very rare in any martial art because the amount of muscle a bodybuilder has to carry is just an unnecessary load for a martial artist.
In summary, yes, karate is a really good way of building muscle. In fact, it is an exceptionally good way to do so, since it builds functional muscle, which is being built to be able to perform a specific set of actions, or in other words, your musculature will be geared towards performing karate moves and being agile and fit. However, if your primary goal with training is to build muscle, and much of it, karate is probably not the best option for you seeing as you cannot build above a given maximum if you want to deliver your best karate game.
Is Karate Good for Self-Defense?
One of the most relevant and frequently-asked questions about any martial art, especially the popular ones like karate, is whether they are any good when it comes to a street fighting scenario or any type of self-defense situation.
Though there are countless takes on the issue, about as many as there are karate instructors, we will try to summarize a general consensus when it comes to this issue, to try to combat some sorts of misinformation available online to draw people to certain types of content, usually for monetary gain. We will try to keep it as objective and on-point as we can, since being dishonest about self-defense is a form of personal offense in our opinion.
Karate is a martial art that is based on large, fast, and linear movements, which already suggests that the focus isn’t practicality, but rather form. It is not a combat style optimized for modern every day fighting, and it is also called an art for a reason. It takes a more philosophical stance (traditionally) on what fighting is, and thus the main focus of it is not to become a cage-fighting animal but to be a graceful and powerful individual. With this philosophical stance come a couple of drawbacks, unfortunately.
He made a bold statement, quickly, when he first got to the states. A guy who’s been wrestling and boxing for a year can beat a martial artist who’s been training for 15 years. That pissed a lot of people off,says Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prodigy, Eddie Bravo, founder of 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu
The reason this “pissed many people off”, is that in the movies, karate and other eastern martial arts are portrayed as almost god-like abilities one can possess to beat anyone. However, it isn’t. Boxing and wrestling will provide a much more practical way to defend yourself since those are based around the idea that practicality and effectiveness is the number 1 virtue of any martial art.
However, if you aren’t interested in boxing or wrestling, karate is still an exceptional tool for self-defense. Keep in mind that the average person on the street does not know how to fight, so training karate will make you a formidable opponent to any predator on the streets since you will be able to finish a whole fight with one well-placed punch or kick, or maybe use your agility to your advantage to overcome your attacker. It is by no means useless, it is just that if self-defense is your priority, Krav Maga, wrestling, or boxing might be better options.
What Are the (Other) Advantages of Karate?
This isn’t all though, and we wanted to end the article with a list of other things the amazing martial art of karate will improve your life in.
- Self-esteem and confidence: anyone training karate for a year or more will have that extra spring in their step that being prepared for any physical confrontation can give you.
- Mental health: learning is good, physical exercise is good, but combining the two into an endeavor of learning complex techniques and developing the physical ability to perform them is gives an immense boost to your cognition and mental health as well, due to the brain chemistry we mentioned before.
- Coordination: one of the absolute best things you might learn through training karate (apart from the martial art itself) is coordination. May that be hand-eye coordination or spatial coordination, karate improves them all. Having a target to precisely hit or moving around in a way in which you can keep track of your opponent and the space around you at the same time will eventually increase your spatial awareness and coordination skills which are useful for a variety of reasons.
- Lung health: aside from training your heart, the increased rate at which you breathe when exercising and training karate is also a really good way to train your lungs, not only to hold more air but to be more efficient at extracting the oxygen from the air you breathe. This also leads to more mental clarity and mental fitness, which is yet another added plus.
- Diabetes prevention: Exercise, aerobic exercise, in particular, has been shown to reduce diabetes risk by changing the way sugar is processed within the body. This isn’t a karate-exclusive benefit but much rather an exercise benefit in general, but it is good to know that with training your muscles and self-defense techniques, you are in many ways extending your potential lifespan and also the quality of life you will have in that lifespan.
- Status: Though not too important for many, just being the “karate-kid” in a community or group will only do good for your image that people around you will have of you. This isn’t trivial, however, since people thinking highly of you actually releases dopamine and makes your brain believe/know that you are in a good place within the dominance hierarchy of your community. This is a major one on the general lifespan-predicting factor list. For men, it increases testosterone production and overall mental health, while with women it helps relieve any mental stress by different hormonal processes.