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Increase your mental capacity and sports performance with mindfulness practice

It is challenging to stay mindful of today’s constant interruption and information overload. It is hard to block the thoughts, especially the negative ones, while constantly being bombarded with news and going through everyday problems. Regardless of occupation, age, sex, or race, everyone would benefit from the ability or skill to stay in the present moment while observing the thoughts and emotions come and go. So, if you ask yourself what mindfulness is, here is a definition (one of many out there):
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention to purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment. (Kabat-Zinn, 2003, p.145)
There are myriad benefits associated with mindfulness practice. For example, research suggests it promotes well-being by promoting good emotions, improves focus and ability to stay on task or improves your social interactions (which translates to your relationships), positively affects emotional regulation, provides an opportunity for bouncing back after a setback, etc.
The benefits of mindful practice are not limited to everyday life and only to ordinary or mundane people (I don’t mean to offend anyone). Still, they can also relate to an athlete’s performance, which is the main focus of this post.

Mindfulness practice and sports performance

For successful sports performance, it is not enough to think only about the physical aspect of the preparation. For a while, it has been known that mental status plays a huge role in how athletes behave, affecting their performance. Therefore, besides planning how to make an athlete faster, stronger, and more significant, a big chunk of athletes’ training routines is mental preparation.
As part of the mental preparation, coaches use various techniques and approaches to help their athletes to get a pick mental state so they can perform at their best. Some strategies and techniques involve breathing techniques, autogenic training, progressive muscular relaxation, mindfulness, and visualization. Lately, the impact of mindfulness practice on our lives and sports performance has been of particular interest.
Being mindful is about tolerance and acceptance (nonjudgmental) towards feelings, thoughts, and emotions. This could help athletes stay present and focused on the current task (Goodman, Kashdan, Mallarad, & Schumann, 2014).

The Inner Voice

How often have you been consumed with thoughts and emotions after getting the bracket and have seen that you are in a group with someone you do not want to be with? Of course, the first thought is, “ Damn it,” “Bad luck,” or “No luck at all.” Followed by anxiety.
Now comes when you start doubting your qualities and overthinking about your opponent instead of focusing on yourself and what is in your control. If you’ve ever heard about Stoics and their philosophy, you would know that beating up and eating yourself alive about something that is not in your control is the number one mistake you what to avoid. Negative experience that somehow challenges athletes’ skills, confidence, and ability to perform result in athletes drowning in negative or counterproductive self-talk.

Negative Self-Talk

The process of self-talk is governed by the narrative part of the brain that appears automatically and might not be evident at first glance. At this point, an athlete can only get back into the game by shifting from narrative into the direct experience mode – being mindful (Sam Boys, 2019).
For this reason, the athlete must get familiar with strategies that can help them manage and, in some way, direct the “inner voice” in the desired direction to experience increased performance, satisfaction, and enjoyment. This is possible only by learning how to keep attention in the present moment.
And by now, you probably know the answer … one of the most potent brain-enhancing drugs is a mindfulness practice.

The Power of Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to have a positive impact on the overall well-being as well as sports performance (Baltzell, 2016, Pinean, Glass & Kaufman, 2014).
This is accomplished through becoming more aware of the emotions we are experiencing every day, on the court or the tatami, and the triggers responsible for the sensations. (getting in groups with athletes you want to avoid, or finding out that there have been changes in the schedule and the organizer is using brand new tatami that might be slippery) – tell me you haven’t thought about this at least once?
Implementing mindfulness techniques can help athletes become more aware of the present moment without getting trapped in an overthinking loop (narrative mode) related to the competition outcome/organization/past mistakes and other variables they do not have control over, such as referees, weather, opponents, etc.
By engaging in a non-judgmental awareness (being mindful), an athlete will become aware of his experiences with different stimuli, as well as the types of distractions (physical, mental, emotional, and social) he might be subjected to during or before his performance.
By being aware of the present moment, an athlete will be able to increase the capacity for concentration which will positively influence how the athlete deals with distractions. Therefore, he will identify a setup of any negative self-talk and act timely.
FIRST OF ALL, no trip to Nepal or a sacred temple is needed. No weird clothes or mantras that you need to repeat three times a day. It would help if you started a simple practice where you draw your attention inwards to yourself (focusing on body sensations or breath) or outwards (perceiving what is happening around you by looking or listening).
Introduce mindfulness practice at the beginning of your training
Take a moment to notice what is going on in and around you (you can do this practice at home, outside in nature, or your dojo)
  1. Look around you. What do you see? Choose one thing and pay attention to the colors, shape, or how far away it is.
  2. Close your eyes. Focus on one sound you can hear. Is it loud or subtle? Is it calming or irritating? Does it have rhythm?
  3. Keep your eyes closed. Start feeling different body sensations. Do you feel the tension in any body part? Do you feel the ground under your feet? Hands. Legs. Or maybe feel the breath. Where do you feel it? In your belly or chest? Is it slow or fast?
You do not have to introduce all these steps at the same time. My favorite practice is mindful breathing, where I pay attention to my breath and try to stay with it while observing thoughts come and go. Sometimes I count to 10, recording every inhalation and exhalation. If I get lost in thought before coming to 10, I start again from 1. Try it!
This could be a great routine to implement at the beginning and end of your practice during MOKUSO time. This would allow you to remove all your problems, ideas, or things to play to do in the future or after your workout and focus solely on your practice.

Introduce mindfulness during your karate practice (staying in the moment)

After a few years of practice, it is easy to start performing different karate techniques mechanically without thinking much about the movement. It comes naturally. Which is a good thing. But what’s not good is that we also stop thinking about the feeling and sensations accompanying the movement. This is the moment when you stop being mindful.
We think about performing better, faster, and stronger than the opponent, consumed by the idea of winning. This subconsciously burdens us mentally, leading to anxiety, doubt, too much excitement, and overwhelming. All this strips us away from the opportunity to enjoy the moment. And when you are not in the moment, you are somewhere else. You get absorbed by your feelings, taught, and emotions that are not associated with the present. So become mindful of your practice!
During your karate practice, try introducing mindfulness practice as much as possible. For example, start by being aware of your breathing and inner voice before executing specific techniques, sparring with your partner, or performing a kata.
How to start being aware of your inner talk
  1. Take a moment to acknowledge your internal dialogue;
  2. What are you thinking and telling yourself when preparing for your belt exam of competition? (first, start practicing this on training)
  3. What are you thinking: “I am not as fast as he is” or “the judges will be on his side”?
  4. Is this helpful information? Do you have control over these things, and is this relevant to your performance?
  5. Become aware of the inner dialogue and gradually eliminate it if it is counterproductive. Remember, mindfulness practice is non-judgmental.
  6. The next thing you should do is to BRING YOUR AWARENESS TO THE PRESENT MOMENT. The best way to do that is by taking your attention to breathing. Remember, the great is your anchor, not letting you get lost in thoughts and negative inner dialogue.
Try becoming aware of your self-talk during practice.
Stay and be absorbed in the moment while performing a kata (this can be applied to kumite as well or any technical performance)
Practicing any kata is a perfect way to stay present. Especially ones you’ve moved to a stage where you don’t think of the upcoming element or the direction in which you need to move. People are more mindful when they start learning a kata. This is because you think only about the element coming instead of the previous one or the element two or three steps ahead.
Once you get comfortable with a particular kata, mainly if you compete, your mind might start wandering around, asking questions, or throwing doubt on specific techniques. Since the kata require less brainpower (you’ve already done the kata a hundred times), we open space for thought and inner talks, which can be non-productive.
What to do?
To avoid getting trapped in this loop, during your performance, bring your attention to the current sensations and feelings you have for a particular element:
  1. Feel the ground under your feet;
  2. Your hips, legs, core, arms, and neck;
  3. Feel your breath; (are you breathing normally or holding your breath)
  4. Is it comfortable or challenging in that particular stance?
  5. Do you feel stable?
  6. Do you feel the flow of energy throughout your body?
Please focus on the present moment and sensations, and accept them. Doing so has been shown to affect some physiological skills, such as the ability to relax. Consequently, this will reduce anxiety levels, sadness, and confusion, which are part of the athlete’s life (Keng, Smoski, & Robins, 2011; Peterson &Pbert, 1992).

Start using mindfulness during training time to be able to experience its benefits during competition.

While kata/kumite, focus on the element you are performing. Do not stress about the previous mistakes (at practice, if you make a mistake, do not stop to repeat the part. Instead, continue and learn to deal with that and focus on the present) or upcoming elements (maybe the jump in kata Unsu) until you get there. Stay present. Get in the zone.
Mindfulness = getting in the zone and effortless activity
Have you ever been in a situation where everything you do is effortless, perfectly synchronized, and in its place? A place where you have control over every movement. In sports, this is described as a state of flow or being in the zone.
“In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does and loses a sense of space and time.” – Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi


Many definitions describe the state of flow. However, it is essential to remember that it happens when athletes are focused on what they are doing, being aware of the feeling of the movement. Consequently, their enjoyment of a particular activity increases.
As mindfulness becomes a popular segment of sports psychology, it has been used extensively to help athletes achieve a state of flow or get in the zone. Although additional research and evidence are needed to understand how this can be adjusted for different sports, the benefits of mindfulness are clear. They should be included in the training process.
Remember, the most important thing is continuity. Every moment in your day and karate practice poses an opportunity for practicing mindfulness. You need to start and keep going.
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High Intensity Interval Training as part of your karate practice

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has a considerable contribution in developing karate-specific abilities. It has been shown that karate performance relies on both anaerobic and aerobic energy systems (which one contributes more is still questionable), and the body’s ability to use oxygen and its capacity to sustain high-quality work in the presence of lactates and hydrogen ions.
People continuously look and try various training modalities to give them the “biggest band for their buck.” This means finding a workout that will provide profound physiological changes and adaptation with less work. For this reason, many athletes include high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in their training programs as a primary or complementary tool.
If planned well and implemented correctly, HIIT training modalities can successfully be incorporated as part of the regular training sessions. For example, a study where high-level karate practitioners, members of the French karate national team, were exposed to HIIT as a complementary tool to their karate training showed significant improvement in aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.
The training method used in the study is very similar to well known Tabata Protocol, which comprises 20 seconds of work, followed by 10-sec rest, done in 8 cycles, for a total of 4 minutes.
At first glance, the 4-min workout seems too short, and you might think this is a waste of time considering that you spend 10 min to warm up and 10 min to cool down. However, there is a good reason why it lasts only 4 minutes. In the study performed by Izumi Tabata, the work done by the athletes was at 170% of your VO2max. To put it in perspective, you feel a burning sensation in your chest, your face is red, and smoke is coming out of the ears.
We have to be honest that it is improbable that anyone would sustain work at such a high intensity outside of the laboratory during regular training. Therefore we can say that the intensity should be as high as you can handle. But, again, “real” suffering is required.
Some people say they’ve done 4-5 Tabata sets in one workout. What they want to say they have used the Tabata Protocol for their biceps curl and triceps extension, which are exercises that cannot initiate any significant changes in your anaerobic and aerobic capacity. However, it sounds “badass” or “hardcore” when you share on social media.
Try to do eight sets of a 20-second max (“real” max, not “kind of max”) sprint, and you’ll see what I am talking about. If done with maximum intensity, the last 20 seconds is when your real character gets revealed, during which you’ll be moving like a snail, feeling your legs heavy and barely moving your feet off the ground. This is the reason why you do only one Tabata set.
The study mentioned above used modified Tabata Protocol where the karatekas performed 7-9 sets of 20 seconds treadmill run at 140% of their VO2max followed by 15-second rest. The HIIT training was done two times a week, for seven weeks, in addition to regular karate practice. At the end of the study, the group that used HIIT showed significant positive physiological changes in aerobic and anaerobic capacity compared with the one that used only karate training nine times a week.
Study results show improvement in anaerobic capacity based on oxygen uptake (MAOD), Increased VO2max, and increased time to exhaustion (karatekas were able to work longer at supramaximal test).
When implementing high-intensity interval training modalities in your training routine, the Tabata Protocol is not necessarily the only one available. Below you can find more information about the three leading protocols related to interval training.
The Complete Guide to Interval Training
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Get in “The Zone”- It’s not about your muscles…it’s about your brain

As time passes and you get to spend more time in your sport, practicing and mastering your technique, which some experts say happens after 10.000 repetitions, you start figuring out that mental strength plays a significant role in your success.

Your ability to stay focused, and calm, and make fast and timely decisions will separate you from the crowd. This might distinguish good from excellent performance.

On top of the mental or mindfulness training as part of their training routine, athletes rely on pre-workout/tournament supplements. This is something that can help improve their mental performance and get in “the zone. These days every single pre-workout combo has caffeine (synthetic) combined with the latest, “the most potent” creatine release on the market, BCAA, and other ingredients whose name is hard to pronounce. And that’s not a good sign.

Although these will provide heightened feelings and might put you in a “good” state before your workout, it might not be safe to take it in the long term and might contain banned substances. For this reason, you should consider a more reliable and cheaper solution. I explain this below.

Coffee (caffeine)

Many athletes put their trust in their double espresso, Red-bull, and pre-workout combo. This brings mental and physical arousal desired before every performance. In an interview with Mijat Vojdinich, he says that he takes caffeine tablets before a competition, which helps him be more aggressive in the tatami during his performance.

Studies show that caffeine can increase the power output of the muscle, increase fatigue tolerance and oxygen uptake. I’m also telling this from my personal experience as well. Popping 300 mg (three tablets) before your 1500m test makes a difference. Trust me.

Caffeine is the least expensive and widely abundant nootropic found in its natural form in green tea and coffee. In this form, it comes together with other natural nutrients that give potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to the coffee.

Consuming synthetic caffeine does not provide the same benefit on cognition and psychomotor behavior. BTW it is highly addictive if you have not figured it out by now. Because of this, you might want to pay attention to how often and when you consume it.

What should you know about caffeine?

One thing you should get familiar with is the “half-life” of the caffeine, which ranges from 3-7 hours. This means that after consuming a cup of coffee (100mg caffeine), it takes around 5 hours for the body to metabolize 50 % of the caffeine. This means, after 5 hours, you are left with 50mg in your body. And after 5 more hours, you still have 25mg left. This is the reason you might have a hard time falling asleep at night although you had your coffee at 4 pm.

How fast your body metabolizes caffeine depends on whether you are fast or slow metabolizes.  How you react to a cup of coffee, and whether you can easily fall asleep at night depends on your genetic makeup, more precisely, the mutation in the CYP1A2 gene.

Long story short, if you get jitters after drinking coffee, popping a caffeine pill, or galp your pre-workout drink, coffee might give you a disadvantage and leave your nervous system overstimulated and unable to focus. No one wants shaky legs and out of control body on the tatami.

Now, I’m not saying that you should ditch your morning or pre-workout coffee. But I do suggest thinking twice and checking the label before spending money on supplements.

Also, consider some less expensive and safe alternatives that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Those alternatives are compounds known as nootropics found in nature as part of different plants. The one that I have been experimenting with lately is L-theanine.


To amplify and see even more benefits from coffee (caffeine) consumption, you can combine it with other nootropics, such as L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid known for its calming effect, find in green leaves. This is the reason why some people get the jittery effect from coffee but not from green tea.

L theanine is an amino acid that has a depression-relieving effect, improves memory and focus, and boosts overall cognitive performance. Since being restless and overexcited is the last thing you what to happen on the tatami, L-theanine might happen to be the perfect companion to your coffee that will keep you out of trouble.

As mentioned before, L-theanine can reduce depression. However, unlike other anti-depressants, it does not numb or down-regulate the nervous system. Quite opposite. L-theanine promotes alert relaxation by increasing the level of calming brain chemicals.

Caffeine (coffee) + L-Theanine = improved karate performance

Both caffeine and L-theanine provide some cognitive benefits and are classified as nootropics. However, when put together, you get the perfect Yin-Yang combination. Karate performance requires physical and mental performance. Due to the nature of the sport, often, what is going on in your head is more important than how physically fit you are. Your ability to stay calm but focused (in the zone) while stepping on the tatami and performing your kata, or ability to reduce external distractions, and increase reaction time in Kumite, play a significant role in your success. And this effect you can get when stacking caffeine (coffee) and L-theanine together.

The recommended dose and the ratio of caffeine: L-theanine is 1:2. This means that for 100 mg of caffeine (one cup of brewed coffee) you should consume 200mg of L-theanine. Those sensitive to coffee should start with a smaller dose, 50mg caffeine (long espresso) and 100mg L-theanine.

Consume the nootropic stack 30-60 minutes before your practice.

Other benefits of stacking L-theanine with caffeine may include:

  • Enhanced concentration
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved mood
  • Reduced anxiety and restlessness

Negative effects

L-theanine has been shown to be safe without any serious health risks. However, in some people, it can cause red skin and rashes.

Although safe, before deciding to give it a chance and stake it with your morning or pre-workout coffee consult with your doctor.

When talking about nootropics, make sure you know the ingrediency and their amount. Also, this is not a “limitless” pill that will give you superpowers making you able to see your opponent’s punches and kicks in slow motion. This is a two-in-one combo that is made from caffeine and amino acid. No special ingredients. However, when put together, provide an enhanced mental state.

Remember that there should not be any side effects or any highs and jittering effects when consuming nootropics. If you experience such a thing, check the dose or the label.

NOTE: The information shared in this post is for informative purposes and is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For diagnosis or treatment of any medical problem, consult your own physician.

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What if Karate is the single best thing that can happen to your child?

Physical movement provides myriad benefits related to physical and emotional, and mental status, maintaining a conducive environment for overall development. These days with technological improvement, these benefits can be documented and scientifically proven through various studies done on mice and humans. For this reason, sports and physical activity, in general, get tremendous attention in terms of providing an environment for developing healthy individuals.

The power of physical activity

All sports can be used for addressing various physical and mental aspects of the children’s development and provide an environment that fosters their physical and psychological development. However, what if I tell you that karate, or any martial art, might be the best thing that can happen to your child. This post will provide a clear picture of the different mechanisms behind all the benefits associated with karate.

The benefits acquired through karate (martial arts) practice can be seen from a psychological, emotional and physical perspective. Therefore, the possible benefits are:

  • Increased attention
  • Heightened mental state and better focus
  • Improved memory and ability to recall information
  • Stress management
  • Improved emotional well-being
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Increased body awareness and coordination
  • Creating good movement patterns through increased mobility, flexibility, and strength
  • Proportional development of the body (left and right side are equally developed)

We could probably add more benefits; however, these are probably the most significant ones.

These benefits do not come in isolation, but rather as a combination of two or more, complementing and supporting each other. And this is not some “WUWU” stuff that almost every coach brags about. It is real, and here is how and where the magic happens.

Cognitive, emotional and psychological benefits. Where are they coming from?

I will start in a non-traditional way and emphasize the cognitive aspect related to karate. The reason for this is that I see the muscles and everything that can be seen as a by-product of something much more significant happening inside the body.

Suppose you’ve never seen or practiced karate. In that case, it is a martial art that involves simple and complex defensive and counter-attacking movement patterns in the form of blocks, punches, kicks, different stances, etc. Successful execution of the elements requires coordination and synchronization of the breath and the movement.

All these karate techniques involve cross lateral movement, which means different parts of the body cross the middle line, increasing the blood flow and communication between the left and right hemispheres. For this reason, some teachers around the world introduce cross-lateral movements at the begging of a lesson.

Furthermore, karate techniques challenge the vestibular system, the one responsible for balance and spatial awareness. It has been shown that a lack of spatial awareness is followed by difficulty in reading, organizing written work, and understanding abstract concepts. So, this way, your child will get smarter by practicing karate.

Another way your child potentially can get smarter is by building new brain cells. Every moderate to vigorous activity, which lasts approximately 30 minutes, increases the level of so-called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein, or growth factor, responsible for solidifying the already existing brain connections and building a new one. However, these cognitive benefits obtained from physical activities are not limited only to aerobic exercises.

Anaerobic exercises have been proven to have the same effect as aerobic regarding improving cognitive function. One study provides evidence that HIIT contributes towards long-term memory improvement as well. One group performed acute high-intensity bouts in the study, whereas the other two lower intensity aerobic training. Although all groups experienced a higher level of BDNF, the HIIT one had the highest.

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Now, this does not mean that we should ditch out aerobic training since other studies have shown excellent benefits.

Let’s get back to karate. Considering the information above and taking the nature of karate, it is legit to assume that it positively impacts cognitive abilities. So, by becoming a karate kid and while doing wax on-wax off, you also get smarter.


One of the main reasons why many people decide to enroll their children in karate lessons is to get self-esteem and create a better picture of themselves. And of course, once you learn a couple of moves, punches, and few kicks, your self-confidence increases and will eventually transfer to other aspects of your life.

However, my point of view is that your self-confidence does not come from the ability to get into a fight with five people and magically, in a Jet Li style, kick their asses. It comes from something less aggressive and something that has nothing to do with showing your karate moves on others. That something is your Growth Mindset, which comes from the mastery-oriented environment or culture that you find in your dojo. This environment does not focus merely on a score and wins but instead on self-perfection. Become the best version of yourself.

As Carol Dweck, a prominent psychologist, says in her book that people with the Growth Mindset are more successful in their lives than those with a fixed mindset. People with a growth mindset cope better with challenges and know that their abilities can be developed and improved. In contrast, those with fixed mindsets rely on their given talent and do not like any challenges since it might question their abilities that cannot be changed.

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Creating a mastery-oriented environment, which is the case with karate, helps children develop a growth mindset and self-confidence, and most crucial, resilience. Many teachers and other people will say that resilience is one of the most important traits you can have these days. And what do you get from a child that has high self-confidence and quickly bounces back from mistakes?  You get someone who feels in control of everything that is happening inside and outside of the dojo. Psychologically and emotionally stable child.

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So far, everything was regarding your head, soul, and controlling the butterfly in your belly, which is my favorite part. Now let’s see how karate affects your physic.

The nature of karate requires and fosters mobility, flexibility, strength, and proper foot formation. Why am I emphasizing these three qualities over agility, explosiveness, or speed? Because, to be honest, it does not matter how much you can bench press, how high or long you can jump, or how fast you can run if you cannot get in a squat position or lean over to pick up the box because your hips are dysfunctional, you have lack of mobility or your back hurts. These are common problems people experience due to lousy movement patterns acquired throughout their life. And practicing karate can help you avoid these problems by creating good movement patterns done through the practice of various karate related movements with a full range of motion.

In karate, equal attention is dedicated to both sides of the body. Compared with some sports like tennis, badminton, javelin throw, where one side is dominant, your left and right side get engaged equally in karate. This full-body approach decreases the chances of creating a muscle imbalance and increasing the risk of injuries.

The bottom of our foot is essential for balance, stabilization, and alignment of the rest of the body parts to the head. Any foot imbalance or deformities such as flat feet reflect on the overall posture. From your lower leg, calves to your hips, transferring on your lower and upper back, ending up on your shoulders and head position. And this can have negative implications on your overall health.

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The nature of karate training requires barefoot practice. No fancy shoes, with different supports for your ankle and excess padding under your heel. This contributes to strengthening the small foot muscles that get underused and weakened by spending so much time in cushioned top edge shoes.

Developing muscle symmetry and proportion is another benefit that has a long-term implication. Some sports emphasized one part of the body while neglecting the rest, and these days due to the early specialization in the sport, this is even more emphasized. Early specialization has resulted in producing runners who can’t make singe pullup, athletes who cannot touch their toe, or other athletes with one side of the body bigger and stronger than the other. The final result is a muscular imbalance, which leads to major developmental problems affecting the spine and other parts of the body.

In karate and martial arts, the body gets engaged and put under various situations where different energy and body systems get challenged equally. Furthermore, all the moves are performed with a full or high range of motion contributing towards mobility and flexibility development.

Wrapping up

“A healthy mind, in a healthy body.” This saying addresses the interconnection between the physical and mental domains. Therefore, merely connecting karate practice only with the physical changes and appearance without taking a closer look at the changes that happen on an emotional, mental and social level will give an incomplete picture about its benefits. It is clear that the impact of karate is broad and affects many aspects of our life.

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