Back in the 1990s, every Thursday night, I would venture to my local leisure centre and partake in the martial art of jujutsu – a blend of karate and judo – and every week, completely had the crap kicked out of me by anyone present; younger and older, male and female. We’re talking kicks to the nuts, arms being bent in ways they aren’t supposed to go, torsos being stretched and pummelled, and bodies being slapped against the crash pads all over the hall.
I loved every bloody minute of it.
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Sadly, I only managed to get to the yellow belt – the second one, just up from white (the white, of course, you get for merely showing up on the first day). Despite my many injuries – a bloodied nose, broken teeth, and a bruised behind – those days, in my late teens and early twenties, the height of my partying days, were the greatest and most focussed of my young life. And according to a new study, that’s exactly right – because martial arts can improve your attention span and alertness.
After another recent study had found links between martial arts and improved cognitive function in both children and adults, Frontiers in Psychology conducted new research using something called the Attention Network Test (ANT) to test two different groups of participants: 21 people with at least two years of martial arts experience, and 27 others no experience at all.
The study tested participants’ speed and responses by showing them a row of five arrows, and having them press a keyboard button as quickly as possible, based on which direction the arrows were pointing. In some cases they were given warning cues, in other cases they weren’t.
Unsurprisingly, the tests showed that the participants with a history of martial arts came out on top, producing higher alert scores in the test and remaining vigilant at all times.
The ones without martial arts training? Well, not so much. And those who had been doing martial arts the longest – some participants had nine years-plus experience – managed to perform even better in the test than those with less.
Of course, one could argue that any kind of exercise or team sport could present similar results –martial arts includes some aspects to mindfulness and yoga – but science has proven that getting the crap kicked out of you from a young age could seriously focus your mind for the years ahead.
I just wish I had stuck to my weekly beatings. Perhaps I’ll take up yoga.