Martial Arts and Love

Ayesha Azeem ‘23

MartialArtsOxytocin
Figure 1. Martial arts training fosters collaboration and improves social skills and discipline, and has been found to improve mental health.

Oxytocin (OT), familiarly known as the “love drug,” is a hormone that promotes feelings of social bonding, sexual reproduction and cooperation. Because of its apparent positive effects, researchers are currently investigating how to increase levels of oxytocin internally and without artificial interference. In a recent study conducted by the Bar-Ilan University Department of Psychology in Israel, Yuri Rassovsky and team considered the psychological effects of traditional martial arts training and whether the practice elicits a change in oxytocin levels. The study also examined whether a difference in experience levels would influence oxytocin levels, and whether close contact during ground grappling can result in a greater oxytocin response.

In this study, 68 beginner and advanced students of Jiu Jitsu were selected and their oxytocin levels were examined in saliva at baseline, immediately after intense training, and after a brief cool-down period. Two schools of Jiu Jitsu were examined: Dennis Survival Jiu Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Although Dennis Survival Jujitsu focuses on punch-kick sparring and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu stresses ground grappling, both forms integrate intense, tournament-style training, allowing for close contact and demanding physical exercise. Participants with apparent medical or psychological conditions were excluded.

As the investigation proceeded, Rassovsky and team observed a substantial increase in oxytocin levels immediately after intensive training that returned to baseline after a cool-down period. The researchers found no notable association between Jiu Jitsu experience level and oxytocin response. Furthermore, Rassovsky concluded that grappling, a skill that involves controlling a resistant opponent and forcing submission, resulted in a considerably higher oxytocin increase than sparring, free-form fighting. Researchers argue that this significant increase may be due to the fact that grappling involves close contact, therefore releasing oxytocin from the pituitary gland. 

Though several studies have previously reported oxytocin level increase after aerobic exercise, recent research found that the regulation of oxytocin increased humans’ tendency to gaze into each other’s eyes, therefore augmenting social communication. The availability of social information during Jiu Jitsu may thus lead to increased oxytocin as increased eye contact, body language and touching are involved. These results indicate that the social advantages of martial arts, such as reduced aggression and healthy sportsmanship, may be due to increased oxytocin release and highlight how martial arts may serve as a therapeutic experience for those living with social dysfunction, including autism and schizophrenia. 

 

References:

  1. Y. Rassovsky, et al., Martial arts increase oxytocin production. Scientific Reports, (2019). doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-49620-0
  2. Image retrieved from: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/230000/velka/kampfsport.jpg

 

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