Updated: Jun 12, 2020
Can the martial arts improve your attention span and alertness?
It seems fairly obvious that practicing martial arts requires a good level of physical strength, but those who take up training also need to develop an incredible amount of mental acuity too (Block, punch, kick anyone?). This leads us to the age old question - Which came first - the chicken or the egg? Or in other words, does taking part in martial arts cause the brain to develop better control or do people with these brain characteristics choose to do martial arts?
From an instructor perspective, I would say it’s both. I tend to find that students with a good attention span and alertness/focus in class make good progress early on, but that the difference quickly erodes - so either some students are losing their mental acuity or others are gaining it? I just hope it’s the latter!
Typically, in many martial arts including ours, there is an element of sparring or simulated fighting with a partner. One of the aims of this part of their training is to remain focused on their partner, avoid their partner making contact and to seek out or create opportunities to make contact with the partner. Although there are some visual cues that some students give out when sparring, it is rare for a sparring opponent to give a clear & deliberate warning of the exact timing of a punch/kick, so the defending partner needs to stay alert, or vigilant, at all times so that they are ready to dodge the strike and to counter. This has been shown in research to improve alertness in general and so you are better able to respond to other tasks or situations. This alertness has been shown to increase over time, so the longer or more often you train, the better you will be. It also appears that the effects of improved attention may be long lasting, rather than just a short boost after training. It can be said that the practice of martial arts is one of those rare crossovers that helps significantly improve the brain just as much as the body.
Having deliberately kept this one short, I just hope you made it to the end ; )