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Monday, July 15, 2013

5 Ways to Judo Chop Depression

The number one reason people join some form of martial art, other than wanting to be the next UFC heavyweight champion, is because they believe they will acquire some sort of health benefit from their chosen practice. Most people only think of the psychical benefits they may gain. They want to be stronger, slimmer, faster but is it possible that you may also become happier?

Moderate physical exercise is strongly correlated with a reduction in depressive symptoms. Things as simple as going for a brisk walk have shown to help depressed patients move away from a depressed state and into a happier and healthier one. Therefore I feel pretty confident to say that dropping in at your local Dojo two or three times a week would have a similar effect.

However it might not just be the exercise that is doing the work. Below I am will outline five things that a good martial arts practices should offer, that will likely contribute to making you happier. New students should watch for some of these key elements when shopping around for a Dojo. Instructors you may want to review your current curriculum and consider how you deal with each of these elements. I will make a few suggestions along the way on how these principles can be used to turn your Dojo into a lean mean depression fighting machine.

Stretching has a soothing effect. It helps calm the body and prevents injuries. I recommend you spend at least 10 minutes at the beginning and end of class warming up and cooling down. When warming up stick to light stretching paired with strength training and stabilization exercises and cool down with slow yoga like stretching. Remember to not over stretch. A torn muscle will never make you happy. When practicing deep stretching use your breath to expand and contract the stretch rather than bouncing your body around to force the stretch. I highly recommend all instructors get out and take a few Yoga classes. This is a great place to glean new and exciting stretching ideas.

Some days I think most Dojos only have a belt system in place so that they can ask their students for a little extra money here and there, yes everyone needs money, but there are better reasons to wrap a new belt around your waist than filling someone's pockets with your hard earned money. A new belt is a symbol of achievement. Every small achievement we make in the Dojo helps us build confidence. Hopefully the confidence earned with every belt promotion is not outweighed by the dollars spent.

Note to Instructors: Try to make sure that your students do not develop an ego around their new belt. Encourage humility, remind your students that their belts should be personal markers not a bragging right. Be sure not to churn students through grading, only allow them to grade when they are ready and always remember the importance of patience. If you simply sell your students their belts, they will eventually realize that they were lied to, this will do more harm than good.

Humans are naturally tangential. This is why we must practice all sorts of tasks to better our concentration. However sometimes running on a tangent is not always a bad thing, or so I tell myself. If a students has joined a Karate club to get in shape. The student may start by only considering their need for physical exercise but through this desire it is only natural for them to begin to look into nutrition and other healthful practices.

Humans are social beings. Though we may romanticize about being wandering loners who meditate beside the river and train on high mountain tops. The truth is most people show up at the Dojo because they were sick of curling cutlery in their lonely, cold, basements.

Instructors you can help strengthen the group bond by hosting seasonal parties, getting students to design classes together, fundraiser or hop in a van and take a weekend trip to a not so local tournament. The more your students feel accepted and appreciated in your Dojo the more responsibility they will feel to the club and the more likely they will be to keep showing up for class.

Call it mindfulness, meditation, mokuso 「黙想」 whatever you like, it is not the word that matters it is the practice. In a world of ever growing distractions it is important to schedule some time to take a moment and look inwards. I wanted to put this at the top of my list as I think it is one of the most neglected practices in the martial arts today, but I didn't want you to think I was a total hippy. Even in Japan many Dojos simple announce mokuso and mokuso yame for the sake of formality. Some times I have hardly closed my eyes before I am being asked to open them again.

Take a little time out of each class to revisit mediation, don't think only traditional clubs can participate in this practice. there is nothing wrong with taking a minute or ten to clear your mind in a MMA dojo. I recommend you meditate for at least a count of ten before every class. Count one as you inhale and two as you exhale. This will help students prime themselves to be focused on the task at hand.

At the end of class I recommend a slightly longer meditation. For MMA clubs who do not have formal bowing procedures you may want to skip the first meditation but I recommend you never miss the last. You can slowly work this into your routine by spending a month meditating for two minutes, and then increasing the time by  a minute or two each month. When meditating you may want to ask your students to breath into uncomfortable or injured areas, have them visualize winning the upcoming tournament, or have them visualize themselves perfecting whatever techniques you focused on that day. Other days you may ask them to simply focus on their breath and allow their bodies to calm down. (I have a whole bunch more I want to say about this but I will leave it for another post) Whatever you prefer keep it simple and keep it regular.

Regular exercise is a sure fire way to improve your health and happiness but if you are still feeling like you need a boost there are plenty of small things that can be added to your usual exercise routine. For students who are looking to increase their health and happiness I recommend you look for a Dojo that offers you a supportive environment that utilizes all of the aforementioned points.

For instructors you may want to take a moment and consider how effectively you address each of these points. If you are lacking in one area ask yourself why? Sit back and explore potential deficits in your practice. Do some reading to see how other people incorporate things like meditation into their Dojo routines or better yet get out and take a class or two. See first hand what people are and are not doing.

What do you think?

Share stories of how any of these practices have helped you embrace a happier and healthier lifestyle. Is there anything you think should be added to this list or is there a point of controversy. Whatever your thoughts and opinions may be let us know as it can get a little boring spending all day talking to yourself.

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