People who gravitate toward martial arts do so for several reasons. These include learning self-discipline, improving their physical and mental health, building self-confidence, and learning how to defend themselves.
With so many skills translatable to other aspects of everyday life and so many different martial arts to undertake, you may ask, “What is the best martial art if I want to learn X?” In this article, we will compare several popular martial arts based on how effectively they allow you to improve your reflexes.
What Are the Best Martial Arts for Reflexes?
All martial arts allow you to test and improve your reflexes in one way or another. You should base your choice of martial art on the parts of the body you want to train and whether your focus is on self-improvement, sport, or self-defense.
What Is a Reflex?
Let’s start with the basics. A reflex is an involuntary movement your body performs in response to a stimulus without your even thinking about it. A good word to describe this process is “automatic.”
Our reflexes are controlled by neural pathways called reflex arcs — the neurons of which, once stimulated, activate muscle cells to perform actions. This occurs without any input from the brain. One of the best examples of this phenomenon is when your body automatically recoils from a hot stove when you attempt to place your hand on it.
How Can I Improve My Reflexes?
There are many ways to improve your reflexes — or reaction time. As we’re dealing with involuntary movements, managed by neural pathways, improving those pathways will naturally lead to improved reflexes.
Neuroplasticity describes the brain’s ability to adapt and change based on your experiences. This is why practicing a skill results in your becoming better at it. Reaction time is one of those skills. The ways in which you can improve your reflexes range from cognitive exercises, video games, and sports — including martial arts.
There are three ways in which you can improve your reflexes using martial arts: 1) practicing specific techniques repeatedly (drills); 2) countering incoming attacks from an invisible opponent (shadowboxing); and 3) performing drills in slow motion and increasing the speed incrementally (slow sparring).
What Martial Art is the Best For Reflexes?
Virtually all martial arts will provide you with the necessary conditions for training your reflexes. However, if you’re not sure what reflexes you want to train, or you want to work on specific reflexes, here’s a summary of some of the best martial arts that you can choose.
- Muay Thai
The national sport of Thailand, Muay Thai — also known as Thai boxing — is a martial art that will give all of your limbs a great workout. Popularized by MMA fighting in the West, Muay Thai is often considered a brutal sport. However, as the training occurs in a controlled environment, your risk of injury is minimal.
Muay Thai is a multifaceted martial art, incorporating the use of knees, elbows, shins, and hands. You’ll learn how to defend against a variety of attacks — all coming from very different directions. As a result, Muay Thai requires a high level of fitness and the development of fast reflexes. These are necessary to track and counter every possible move your opponent may make.
Maybe the most well-known martial art in the world, boxing is also one of the oldest. Unlike Muay Thai, boxing restricts you from the use of your fists to strike. Therefore, your recipe for success depends on hand-eye coordination and skillful footwork.
Your opponent could throw a jab unexpectedly unless you predict their movement and either avoid it or defend against it. In a gym setting, you will be practicing with a sparring partner who can slowly simulate attacks to condition your reaction time so that you can be ready for a real fight. Boxing can be strategic, but when your opponent begins striking fast, it is your reflexes that truly need to shine.
Karate originated from Japan and is a form of unarmed combat focused on delivering as much power as possible at the point of contact. You will be using a great deal of your body — striking with your hands, the balls of the feet, heels, forearms, knees, and elbows. Forms of defense include four distinct blocks — inward, outward, upper, and lower — all depending on the direction the attack is coming from.
With the style of movement in karate being mostly linear, your reflexes need to focus on where the attack is coming from — keeping track of all of the possible origins can be a daunting task. One of the safest martial arts, karate consists of many styles, and you can train both solo and with a partner. It is also one of the best martial arts to learn for self-defense — you can translate many of the mechanics of kata to real-life situations.
This Korean martial art is often compared with karate, but unlike the Japanese sport, it focuses more on your lower body, while using hands to block and fist punches thrown in between. With that in mind, your reflexes will certainly help you with determining the elevation of the incoming attack and determining the appropriate counter-attack. The variety of kicks in taekwondo is enough to give you a proper workout, and the speed of them will be a challenge to your reaction time. As in boxing, footwork is an important skill in taekwondo — just another way of incorporating your legs in this particular martial art.
- Krav Maga
Krav Maga is a fighting system developed by Imi Lichtenfeld for the Israel Defence Forces based on his experiences in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. In recent decades, it’s become an incredibly popular martial art for self-defense. KM incorporates moves that are illegal in other martial arts, such as small joint manipulation, kicks to the groin, and head butting. As a result, Krav Maga is often described as a highly effective system that is easy to use under stress.
For that purpose, it focuses not only on unarmed attacks and freeing yourself from grabs or holds but also on defense against sharp or blunt objects. As you can imagine, dealing with some rather violent moves, you will be performing a significant number of drills. The ultimate goal is to prepare you to employ the same techniques if you ever find yourself in a real fight.
You can improve your reflexes in a variety of ways, and martial arts are one of the best. This is thanks to their focus on the repetitive practice of individual moves, and the sheer variety of attacks and defenses. All in all, your choice of martial art should depend on what area of your body you’d like to train the most.
For example, boxing is great for the upper body, taekwondo focuses more on the legs, and karate is a good all-rounder. The goal you’d like to achieve is also important. Muay Thai can lead you to a career in MMA, and Krav Maga can help you to more effectively defend yourself. One thing is universal — they will all help you to train your reflexes.
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