Martial Arts are a popular fitness and developmental discipline all over the world. An estimated six million children participate in martial arts in the United States alone. The martial arts are especially popular for children to provide physical activity, build social and teamwork skills, and teach respect for mentors. Apart from the obvious ways that these activities provide benefits for the mind and body of a child, research into martial arts and the brains of children show that martial arts directly improve the executive functioning of their brains.
Executive functions are functions of the brain which are developed in order to maintain focus, think before acting, and anticipate outcomes of personal behavior. In 2016, researchers tested executive function in adolescent boys aged 10-12 who took classes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. They took classes 1 to 3 times weekly for 45-minute sessions for six months and were tested before and after the program on computer-based tests designed to measure executive functions.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program positively impacted the development of executive function, particularly in inhibitory control, the cognitive process which allows the brain to inhibit impulses and make more appropriate decisions. Compared to other physical activities, Jiu-Jitsu and other martial arts programs had a bigger effect on overall executive function. Adolescents in the study demonstrated better self-control, decision-making, focus, and even increased their reading speed.
Bueno, Jean Carlo Benetti, and Luísa Saavedra. “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Inhibitory Control: Effects of Practice on Secondary Public School Students in Abu Dhabi, UAE.” Revista De Artes Marciales Asiáticas, vol. 11, no. 2s, 2016, p. 96., doi:10.18002/rama.v11i2s.4190.