I use the handle “The Old Prof,” well, because I am actually an Old Prof. I got my PhD in the mid-1970s and was a university professor, academic teacher, and researcher for more than 40 years. I am now retired, but that academic side never left me. And, when I combine research with a love of sports, sometimes these two mix quite well.

For example, I happened to read an interesting research article in the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest on combat sports. So, why not share these findings with other fans – especially, what these findings might suggest to parents.

In a research article from March 29, 2018, titled “The Psychology of Fighting: 9 Fascinating Findings Involving Boxing and other Combat Sports,” Christian Jarrett reviews some of the research on boxing. Here are some of his findings.

Finding #1: Boxing and Martial Arts Train Your Brain

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No one should want to get hit in the head. Research shows the long-term neurological toll of being a boxer or a football player, even if you are an amateur. Interestingly, however, although head-impacts in combat sport cause neurological harm, the training of reflexes and reactions that are part of combat sports have been shown to be beneficial to cognition (thinking).

For example, brain-wave studies of boxers responding to go and stop commands showed enhanced preparatory brain activity and faster response times than other people. Also interestingly, although fencing (fighting with swords) is not seen as a combat sport, fencers showed the fastest and most accurate responses of all athletes.

Other research shows that martial artists who practiced judo or karate were faster at detecting dots in their visual periphery. In fact, older participants who practiced martial arts competitively when they were young showed less slowing in their reaction time as they aged.

Of all the combat sports, Judo, Taekwondo, and Kung-fu athletes had the greatest cognitive enhancement. Researchers attribute this finding to the dedication demanded by kung-fu training and the martial art’s promotion of discipline, self-control, and meditation.

Finding #2: Martial Arts Reduce Aggression and Aid Emotional Intelligence

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Advocates of boxing and martial arts often argue that, while these sports involve aggression, these sports also teach self-control and restraint, which encourage better behaviour outside of the ring or dojo. These findings are backed by other research, especially among children and teenagers.

For instance, a meta-analysis (where a researcher studies a large number of research studies looking for trends) of 12 studies found that being in martial arts reduced aggression in both children and teenagers. It also lowered their physical aggression, their engagement in verbal and physical bullying, and it stopped them from engaging in crimes such as theft and vandalism.

Some research suggested that boxing boosts “emotional intelligence.” [Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, express one’s emotions and handle interpersonal relationships well.  It produces empathy and is a key to personal and professional success.]

Finally, researchers found that those involved in combat sports (and this includes boxers) scored high on appraising others’ emotions. In fact, and this is a surprise, boxers scored highest of all sports on using and controlling their emotions and scored lowest on trait neuroticism. [People who score high on neuroticism tend to be moody and to feel anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depressed mood, and loneliness.]

In Summary

In summary, research findings suggest that people who engage in the martial arts – and even to some extent in boxing – show traits that make them more likable and successful as humans, both in sports and in life in general. Funny, but these are the kind of traits parents might consider important in their children’s futures.

Perhaps, we should sign all our kids up for martial arts. Just sayin’.

Anyone who wants to read this full research article on combat sports, see this link: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/03/29/the-psychology-of-fighting-digested-9-fascinating-findings-involving-boxing-and-other-combat-sports/