As a martial arts practitioner and a sufferer of depression I would say that my Karate training and the tools I have gained from that training are largely, if not solely, responsible for my recovery from a year long episode of severe, debilitating clinical depression 5 years ago that had me bedridden and unable to function. It is also responsible for my ability to currently live with mild depression. I am happier now than ever before. This might seem impossible to depression sufferers but it is possible to suffer clinical depression and be happy.
My training has also developed in me the skills and ability to make permanent lifestyle changes that will most likely aid in stopping a catastrophic recurrence of severe and debilitating depression or relapse.
Below is a breakdown of how the martial arts training helped me recover:
A typical karate class where I train consists of 50 minutes – 1 hour of exercise that incorporates cardio, strength and flexibility exercises along with karate basics and the teaching of self-defense skills. Most students are encouraged to train 3 times per week.
Studies have shown:
• Inactive adults are 1.5 times more likely to experience depression than active individuals
• Exercisers are less anxious, less depressed, less neurotic and more socially outgoing
• Those who exercise 2-3 x/week experience significantly less depression, anger, stress and cynical distrust than those who exercise less frequently or not at all
A Practitioner’s Tool Kit
I am convinced that exercise is definitely required to combat depression, it’s proven scientifically, but more importantly, I FEEL better mentally when I exercise regularly. However, for me the formula doesn’t stop there. It is the toolkit of skills that I have learned in my training that is the other part that makes up my success.
My toolkit holds many tools, but the 3 that stand out the most are:
1.Perseverence / Grit
The training has taught me to persevere amid adversity and challenge – the mind is given enough stressors early on in training to battle obstacles. Long-term training (more than a year) has proven helpful in dealing with life’s difficulties and unforeseen circumstances.
Various degrees of fitness, strength and focus exercises are incorporated early on. These things enabled me to exude a great amount of self-confidence and self-restraint to better achieve goals and let go of the negative behaviors and attitudes that would drag me down emotionally. I became better at bouncing back after a failure because I learned to know that there was always the ability to improve. This fueled a “never give up” attitude in me.
It is no secret that self-defense will make any practitioner disciplined. The philosophical and ethical teachings develop restraint, respect and the integration of mind and body; it is Self–Discipline that really was the one tool in my tool kit of recovery that is responsible for maintaining the changes that I have made.
I hear and have heard this simple phrase many, many times throughout my training: “do what you need to do, when you need to do it, whether you like it or not, because you know you should.” Turning this phrase into action was how I learned to practice and demonstrate self-discipline. I learned how to practice this in the dojo, because there was no choice not to. Our teachers always kept us accountable until one day we were better at keeping ourselves accountable.
Self-Mastery is the sum total of what I have learned. Traditional Martial Arts training helped me combat and recover from depression. I believe it can help anyone.
There are many scientific resources and personal testimony out there in the wide world of electronic information that can aid you in your decision as to whether or not Traditional Martial Arts is for you, but honestly, the real decision making exercise should be to find the right school. If they teach all that I have outlined then I don’t see how the training couldn’t benefit you. The key is in feeling welcomed and comfortable.
If you are suffering from depression or you seek to make permanent lifestyle changes I encourage you to not give up seeking out solutions. Take a deep breath and walk into a school, ask questions and if you feel a connection, try it out for a few months, I promise you wont be disappointed.
Author: Julie Creighton
Martial Arts Instructor, Nutrition and Wellness Specialist