The Confessions of a Feisty Therapist: Why I love MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)
Written by: Melissa DaSilva LICSW
When I was 15, I smiled at my mother and asked if I could join a boxing gym. I had never wanted to participate in sports before this and I found high school gym class to be a nightmare that I still have to this day. She smiled back and said “Hell, no. I paid $3,000 for those braces in your mouth and I won’t have someone punching them out.” She had a point, although I didn’t wear my retainer and my teeth have shifted back to their pre-braces state in my older age. My mother understood my need to be physically aggressive. I would often come home covered in bruises from play wrestling my guy friends. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized they tolerated this behavior for different reasons, but that’s a topic for a different blog. That year for Christmas, my mother got me a punching bag and hung it from the ceiling in the basement. I spent many hours after school punching that bag. My anger, frustration and hurt shook the house as I went ape shit on that wonderful bag. I punched until my knuckles bled and I could no longer lift my arms. I felt strong and light after a session in my basement. This was a form of therapy for me since I struggled with depression and other mental health issues for most of my adolescence.
As an adult, I have joined a kickboxing gym. I enjoy watching the Ultimate Fighting Championships and live MMA fights. Yes, I am a social worker that enjoys seeing other people throwing punches and elbows at an opponent in a cage or a ring. I especially enjoy watching women fighters. I don’t view it as animalistic or primal as many might; I see it as an art. I see the physical, emotional and mental dedication that goes into being at your peak performance. Women have not always been allowed to fight professionally, and it’s still seen as taboo by many. When I see women fighters, I see women who have sacrificed and worked hard for their chance in the ring. Their dedication is visible by the shape of their bodies and the results of the match.
I often recommend Martial Arts and boxing to my clients, especially teens that have been diagnosed with ADHD and women struggling with anxiety. There is so much that can be gained from training on a regular basis at a safe and well managed facility. Some of the benefits that I have found are:
Release of Stress: There is nothing like putting all the feelings that you find it difficult to express into a powerful jab, cross or knee to an imaginary groin.
Increased self-respect: When you walk in to a gym like this, nobody is going to respect you unless you show that you respect yourself first. You need to hold yourself to a higher standard, because everyone is holding themselves to a high standard. Because you have a high standard of self-respect, you won’t see serious fighters going out into the community picking fights.
Self-defense: You learn the basics of being able to protect yourself out in the real world. As a social worker going into some dangerous homes, I know that I have a better chance of fighting off an assailant because I know how to kick, punch and elbow someone which makes me feel a little better.
Decreased depression: The act of engaging in intense physical activity with compression to joints increases the release of endorphins. This is the happy chemical in the brain. With more natural happy chemicals in your body, the more likely it is that your depression symptoms will decrease. Joining a gym also connects you to a community. Friendship and camaraderie increases your life expectancy.
Increased physical health: Engaging in intense physical activity strengthens your cardiovascular system, helps with sleep, and helps regulate your metabolism.
There are many different activities out there that can give you the same benefits as Mixed Martial Arts or kickboxing. It’s important to find what speaks to your heart and soul. What speaks to mine is being able to beat the shit out of a punching bag several times a week and pretend that I will someday be the next female UFC world champion.