The Healing Power of Martial Arts

December 19, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

MARTIAL ARTS: Positioning the body and using the muscles correctly is crucial to using the body's energies well. (Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images)
MARTIAL ARTS: Positioning the body and using the muscles correctly is crucial to using the body's energies well. (Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images)
Since antiquity, the various combative systems that comprise the martial arts, literally translated as “war arts,” have been practiced and mastered. Films, novels, and popular culture are ripe with images of martial prowess and mass destruction, but there is another aspect, holistic training, that establishes, maintains, and restores health and fitness.

Alignment and Body Mechanics 

The fundamental nature of martial arts training is to teach methods of interacting with forces, to receive, issue, and harmonize with them. Priority is given to learning correct alignment and proper body mechanics in basic training. 

The body is a platform from which to push, pull, rotate, and shift. Learning the correct way to position the body while moving through space is necessary in order to take advantage of our connection with the earth to be stabile and facilitate expressing power.

The feet connect the legs to the ground. Martial arts training strengthens every part from the body’s core through its limbs—the key for stability and the ability to push and pull.

The value of training in the martial arts can come not in defeating an attack from ninjas in the parking lot, but from what the training does for us every day. The kitchen becomes our training ground; raking up leaves or shoveling snow can involve ancient exercises.

The basic principles of martial arts, like “rooting” from stance work (standing stable) or punching and grabbing, which are versions of pulling and pushing, mirror movement exercise techniques that endeavor to teach us biomechanical harmony. Quite a few techniques, like Pilates and Feldenkrais, have roots in the martial arts.

An example of why correct movement is important can be found in examining what happens when we push or pull an object. When we push or pull an object, it pushes back onto our skeleton with the same force. Proper posture and alignment during the action is necessary to distribute the force to areas that can withstand the load time after time.

Improper repetition of any action over time, compounded with force, may destroy elements of the musculoskeletal system. Think about how many doors you will open in a lifetime, and exactly as in lifting weights at the gym, the greater the resistance (load), the greater the potential for injury.

Incorporating these principles into our daily lives has tremendous benefits to our health and well-being, from negating the potential harm from improper movement patterns to changing bad habits to good. The mindfulness that is encouraged and developed in martial arts tends to stay with us after the training.

Such training teaches us the importance and ability to pay attention to the way we move and to what moves in our environment. Since most serious accidents occur in the home, this can be a lifesaver.

Physical Resistance to Adversity 

Strengthening bones, tendons, and muscles are an ancient tradition in the martial arts. The ability to withstand strikes to the human body and perform them is crucial to martial prowess. 

The methods for doing so have beneficial effects for therapeutic application as well. Strengthening bones and connective tissue may prevent or reverse the effects of conditions that weaken them. Strengthening exercises can also prevent or delay such conditions from manifesting.


Injuries are a fact of life in martial arts training. Early on, the need to restore and heal the body was a priority. Often the secret lies in the basic training exercises and forms. Their primary focus is to lay a foundation and develop skill sets necessary to become advanced. 

Bones as well as muscles and tendons must be strong. Martial arts instructors stress proper body alignment to ensure that at a high speed and force it remains true, serving to protect the body in execution of a technique even when it happens spontaneously.

Many martial arts have connections and roots to indigenous medicine. Unique and highly effective methods may be found since antiquity in the systems of Africa, India, China, and all the indigenous peoples and regions of the world that have rich martial arts traditions tied to the arts and science of survival.

Martial arts training has countless parallels to our daily lives. Such training is an ancient healing art that can prevent injury and prolong life by reinforcing our situational awareness while giving us tools to handle physical and mental adversities that might otherwise bring us down.

Emory M Moore Jr., CPT, has been a fitness professional for over 25 years: