Move Smarter, Get Smarter: Why MMA is Good for Your Brain
I was recently insulted by a woman I was talking with at a party when she assumed that I was unintelligent. We were talking for a bit when all of a sudden she said “I’m kind of surprised by you. At first, when you said you’re a trainer and you used to be a professional fighter, I wasn’t expecting you to be able to speak with any kind of intelligence or thoughtfulness.”
It’s was a nice backhanded compliment, but I took no offense. Most people assume that fighters are thoughtless, unintelligent, and out of control.
“Why is that?” I asked the woman.
“Aren’t cage fighters kind of crazy and violent? How smart do you have to be to get your lights punched out?”
I responded, “That’s a great point. Getting in a cage fight is probably not the most intelligent thing to do, but martial artists are usually well balanced, calm, and very aware. This is because practicing martial arts is actually one of the most intelligent workouts you can do. It activates your entire brain and body better than any other workout. In fact, martial arts training is great for helping you to be more balanced and aware. I believe that it helps to expand your consciousness better than any other workout.”
“You’re saying martial arts is as enlightening and enriching as my yoga workout? You are crazy!” she said, this just one minute after implying that I was intelligent and thoughtful.
“For serious,” I told her. “The full-body, dynamic movements that you perform in martial arts stimulate the brain with natural, innate motor patterns, helping the nervous system to develop with balance and strength.”
I explained to her that humans were made to move. We achieve optimal brain health through dynamic, full body movement, and we experience nerve degeneration and dysfunction with immobility.
“OK. I’ll buy that, she admitted reluctantly. It makes sense that moving activates the nervous system better than not moving. Now, how is martial arts supposed to expand your consciousness and increase your awareness? How does it make you more balanced and aware?”
I said, “The more you move around and activate your muscles, the more you become aware of yourself and your body. When you perform complex, full-body, and dynamic movements, you become even more aware your body and what it can do. The more complex and dynamic the movement, the more self knowledge, skill, and control that it requires. MMA is the most complex and dynamic sport in the world, so it requires a lot of self knowledge, skill, and control.”
“OK,” she says, still skeptical. “I’ll also buy the whole thing about complicated motor patterns requiring more balance and self-awareness, but how in the world does martial arts training help you speak with more intelligence and thoughtfulness?”
“Well,” I said, “a conversation between two people is much like a fight. Having a good conversation and winning a fight both require improvisation, quick reaction time, and awareness of the other person. A good fighter and conversationalist have to think ahead, so they can both react to the thoughts, expressions, and actions of the person across from them. You must be must be able to feel the opponent and pay attention to their position in a fight, just like you have to ”
MMA training forces you to pay attention to the person in front of you. The more time you spend training with a partner, the more time you spend training yourself to be more mindful of the person across from you. Basically, you ”
She says, “You make it sound like practicing martial arts will make you better at everything, just because it’s a challenge that requires large amounts of skill, awareness, and balance.”
“Exactly. The way that you train your mind to operate during your workout affects how
“Since MMA is a sport that requires you to learn several complicated movements, and it requires that you move dynamically, with balance and control. It’s a sport that requires many skills and abilities. A living being with more skills, abilities, and awareness possesses more consciousness than a living being with fewer skills, abilities, and awareness.”
Basically, the type of challenge you’re faced with in martial arts training helps you to face challenge better in everyday life. It’s the same with music, art, cooking, and anything else that requires skill, awareness, and control. It’s called mastery. The more difficult the skill or the challenge, the more self mastery and environmental awareness that it requires. They call it martial ARTS because only an artist of kinetic energy can perform the movements with mastery and balance.”
“What do you do for workouts?” I asked her.
“I do cardio, weights, and pilates. But I only do that to stay in shape. I’m not getting ready for a fight or a competition.”
“You’re not competing for anything in your life? Is your life so simple and easy that you don’t need to compete with anyone to get all of your needs and wants fulfilled? How much skill and awareness does it require to live your life?”
“No. My life’s not easy,” she said. “I have two kids, a high-pressure job in Silicon Valley, and I’m on the PTA at my kids’ school. I need to be “on” all day. If I mess up, there are serious consequences.”
“Lady! You can’t tell me that you’re not getting ready for a fight or a competition. Every hour of your day demands mindfulness, balance, and efficiency. You need to do martial arts training more than a professional fighter does!”
By this time, I was getting a little impatient, as she was fighting the facts. Obviously, she had a strong warrior spirit since she “fights” so hard all day, every day. Why wouldn’t she benefit from being more efficient and powerful, like an MMA fighter or martial artist?
“You see, when you workout, you’re shaping more than just your body. When you exercise, you shape your brain as well. What you think and feel matters when you exercise, and your workouts, exercises, and movements can really improve the way that you think and perform outside of the gym.”
“So, you’re telling me that I’m dumb, out of control, and unaware because I do the elliptical and
“All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t assume fighters to be unintelligent or thoughtless when you exercise several times a week with simple, mindless workouts. I’m not saying that you’re simple and mindless at all, BUT you could have more awareness, mindfulness, and control, if you did martial arts training instead. You might even be able to conversate better if you train long enough.”
“So you’re saying with enough training, that, one day, I’ll be able to talk trash better than you?”
“No, don’t be silly. I’m almost a 9th-degree blackbelt in trash talking. It would take decades of training to talk trashier than me.”