Muay Thai: Not Just A Combat Sport

By: Rose Essn

The martial arts are associated with strength of mind, body and discipline. We usually become familiar with them from television and movies where experts seem to fly through space landing punches and kicks that literally knock a person out. But these ancient traditional systems are more than just combat sports: they offer a dizzying list of health benefits.

Among the many disciplines of martial arts is muay Thai, a Thailand-based combat sport that combines stand-up striking with stand-up grappling. As physically and mentally challenging as the rest of the martial art forms, its popularity rose in the 20th century.

Muay Thai uses a range of movements with the limbs. This combination of techniques means students learn how to use their bodies fully. Being a full-contact sport, much emphasis is given to punches and kicks, jabs, hooks, uppercuts, kicking and foot-thrusts.

Strength and stamina aside, muay Thai benefits a person in many ways. A strong body is developed throughout training to build resistance to disease and illness. This, for many, is reason enough to start practicing the sport.

• Physical fitness doesn't only improve physical strength: agility is enhanced as is range of motion. The last is compromised as one ages but if a comparison is made between a person who studies muay Thai and another who doesn't, the differences become painfully obvious. It's important to note that proper training can minimize the risk of injury to the lower body in muay Thai students.

• Regular training increases the metabolism which means a leaner body that's less prone to gaining weight and obesity-related health conditions. Of course, a well-balanced diet plays an important role but the demands of the sport counter weight gain to a high degree.

• Increased coordination is another physical benefit. The brain is trained to stay alert which not only increases the odds of survival in real-life situations but it coordinates with the body to increase confidence and self-awareness.

Mental conditioning is considered more important than physical prowess not only in muay Thai and the rest of the martial arts but in other areas of life.

• A 'never give up' attitude is cultivated and applied to all spheres of life. Mental discipline, courage and self-confidence are enhanced, three qualities that most of us would admit we're lacking in. Coupled with physical training, they give a person powerful tools not just in the arena but in the way we lead our lives and what to do in potentially life-threatening situations.

• Muay Thai provides a great outlet for stress. It teaches a person how to channel frustrations, depression and anxiety, common problems faced by many today. Self-control is a key element and regular training combines the various teachings to help a person go through life armed with a calm mind and a take-charge attitude.

Rounding off the list of benefits is building social bonds. Like most sports, muay Thai is not isolated in that it requires the participation of teachers and trainees. It helps foster ties with classmates and cultivates sportsmanship. Competitiveness increases but is tempered with camaraderie and respect for one another.

Because it centers around discipline, obedience to teachers and referees is learnt. Like most martial arts, adherence to rules is vital and this spills over to other areas of life. Ultimately, the physical, mental and social benefits form core values of discipline, self-control, respect and a sense of justice.

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