How Can Martial Arts Make Us Better People?

Martial arts are an ancient sport that can enrich the body and mind.
How Can Martial Arts Make Us Better People?
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 08 February, 2024

Martial arts are primarily a spiritual practice. It may seem contradictory that a set of skills and techniques designed, ultimately, for combat, are at the same time a path of personal development. However, if we look at them from the right point of view, that’s the way it is.

The mind governs everything: this is a fundamental principle in martial arts. The body is only capable of reaching certain abilities and powers if we train our mind with dedication beforehand. Likewise, values ​​associated with growth and peace (both inner and outer) guide this practice.

In martial arts, the main battle is waged against ourselves and our limitations. Training revolves around self-knowledge and in overcoming anything that limits our potential. Each new achievement is the result of an internal process that will pay off in the end.

To defeat a thousand enemies is good, but the samurai who defeats himself is the greatest of warriors“.
-The Dhammapada-

martial arts

The history and the legend of martial arts

We don’t exactly know what the origin of martial arts is. We just know that ever since there have been communities of people, there has also been war. Thus the exact moment that gave rise to what eventually became martial arts is not known.

However, in China there is a legend that talks about the origin of martial arts. It says that an Indian monk named Bodhidharma came to Southern China in the year 475. He spent nine years there meditating in a cave. When he left his retreat, he found a monastery called “Shaolin” and was shocked by the appalling physical condition of the monks who lived there.

The monks practiced meditation all the time, but they had forgotten their bodies. Then Bodhidharma created an exercise regimen for them. The idea was to improve their physical condition, but also to help them defend themselves against robbers, who swarmed around the place. Over time, the exercise regime evolved and became what we now know as martial arts.

Philosophy in martial arts.

Philosophy in martial arts

The true value of studying martial arts is not in learning combat skills and techniques. Instead, learning internal virtues is the fundamental part. In this world, we only achieve physical abilities after reaching the level of spiritual evolution necessary for us to develop skills in our body.

Each technique and each movement is associated with the inner world of the person who practices them. For example:

  • The legs and feet are the ebb and flow of energy, with creative and destructive power.
  • The hands and arms have to do with intuition, dynamics and balance.

In martial arts, combat is an extreme situation in which a person’s true capabilities emerge. It’s where learned values ​​and skills are put into practice, with one ultimate goal: to preserve life. Your own and that of others.


Practicing martial arts.

Spirituality and Zen

Although there are different types of martial arts, the most traditional ones incorporate Zen philosophy. They symbolically represent a search for the key that opens the lock that binds us. It is also a continual exercise in setting aside any kinds of thoughts and all forms of selfishness.

Zen in martial arts is based on four levels of awareness and action:

  • Dominance over external objects. It aims to neutralize the effect of objects on consciousness, to prevent them from having power over us.
  • Dominance over the physical body. This means training the body to obey the mind in any circumstance.
  • Dominance over emotions. The goal here is to achieve inner balance through practicing meditation.
  • Rejection of the ego. This is the most difficult lesson, and involves completely forgetting yourself, to get rid of attachments and limitations.

As you see, martial arts help those who practice them to grow and become more complete. In today’s world, practicing them doesn’t mean you have to be a hermit and hide from society. But they could be an interesting solution for people who are not seeing results from conventional psychological therapy.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.