Martial arts have mental and physical health benefits

Although there are many forms of martial arts, only two -- taekwondo and judo -- have been chosen for Olympic competition. They were natural choices since they represent completely different skills and have the most internationally standardized regulations.

Taekwondo originated in Korea and is a “striking” form of combat. The moves consist of rapid, crisp strikes of the feet and fists against an opponent. Taekwondo emphasizes the use of the lower extremities. The mental and physical aspects of this sport blend together when an athlete attempts to break several boards.

Participants are attracted to the ability to develop speed, strength, balance, and stamina. Many professional athletes use taekwondo as a training tool for their primary sport.

Judo is a Japanese martial art and focuses on “grappling” as opposed to striking maneuvers. The object is to overcome an opponent by locking a major joint or applying a chokehold.

Judo was first introduced in Brazil in 1914. Carlos Gracie utilized these skills and developed Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is commonly used in mixed martial arts or the now popular ultimate fighting.

While martial arts get international attention during the summer Olympics, it’s popular locally as well. Peter Rogers of Baltic, a martial arts instructor for 42 years, teaches many local mixed martial arts fighters in a form called KOBA, a combination of Korean, Okinawan, Burmese, and American martial arts. Incorporating these different skills adds to the versatility of each combatant and makes the workouts more intense.

Typical injuries in all martial arts involve muscle sprains, contusions, dislocations, and fractures. Chronic nerve damage can be seen in the hand used repeatedly to break boards or cinder blocks. Grappling sports render participants more prone to joint injuries. The most serious injuries are neurologic in origin and involve the spine and brain.

Many find the combination of meditative exercise with a physical workout the most attractive feature of martial arts. The health benefits as well as the ability to defend oneself if attacked certainly will add to a participant’s longevity.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and a neurologist in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. You can listen to his podcasts or comment on his blog at, or email him at

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