Martial Arts and MMA

Preventative Brain Assessments and Training for Martial Arts and MMA


Baseline testing provides information about the function of different aspects of your brain. Knowing what level of function a martial artist was prior to an injury gives a comparison point. Many people may have functional deficits without symptoms prior to an injury. In the event of a concussion in a practice or competition, any functional deficits noted on examination that were not previously known to have existed, will be incorrectly attributed to the recent injury. Basic ImPACT baselines are an absolute must and a deeper understanding of how well your brain is functioning can be determined with a comprehensive evaluation.


How your brain is functioning not only will determine what level you are able to compete at but will also impact your rate of healing in the event of a concussion. All things being equal, a higher functioning brain should give you a better outcome in the event of a traumatic brain injury.

The research suggests that in the event of a concussion, anybody with ADHD or dyslexia has a worse prognosis than somebody without this neurobehavioral state. Simply put, if an area of brain has functional challenges pre-injury and this area is concussed, the outcome or prognosis will likely be worse.

Given that the research supports this for ADHD and dyslexia, it is potentially true for any region with diminished function. Therefore, the logical thing to do is ensure that we maximize the functional integrity of as many aspects of brain as possible.

Given the high incidence of concussions in contact sports like martial arts and the serious long term consequences of concussions, it is time that a new approach is taken. The new approach considers “function” of brain performance and not just symptoms. Just because symptoms have resolved does not mean brain function has been restored.


VISUAL FUNCTION is essential for any martial artist. Quick eye movements, eye tracking and visual fixation are all visual functions that are governed by brain. These functions will make the difference between an individual’s ability to see an opponents move, note the shifting of weight, catch the quick signs that could be a tell of where they are thinking of going or what their next move is. Targeting on strikes are also dependent on visual function. When your eyes lock in on the target, it increases the focus of the strike. Unstable eyes equals unstable strike. These visual functions can tested and improved upon within weeks.

When we think of vision we naturally think about what we see with our eyes. But what about the internal vision. That is, our capacity to visualize an outcome. Visualization is a brain function that has been utilized by martial artists for years to condition the neurological pathways associated with various moves, forms and strikes. These areas can be strengthened so that you see the outcome. When it is time to execute, you will simply react because it has been a conditioned response and the brain “muscle” required to do so, has been strengthened. We say “muscle memory” but this is an error. The “memory” is in the brain.

The FOCUS that is essential for all martial artists can be increased with brain based exercises. When is your ability to focus more important than when going up against your toughest competition? As brain focus comes down, distractions increase. Impulse control decreases. The slightest movement can cause you to jump prematurely, exposing yourself to your opponent. The ability to BLOCK OUT DISTRACTIONS is key to any martial artist when competing in a high pressured situation or even when testing or performing in front of crowds.

Rhythm and timing are governed by your brain. RHYTHM AND TIMING is what it takes to demonstrate forms and weapon manipulation at a hight level. The difference between making a strike to your opponent or walking into a fist or foot, is your rhythm and timing. The coordination, speed and quickness of the feet and arms are dependent on the functional level of the brain.

Perfect BALANCE is obviously central to martial arts. Without balance, most aspects of martial arts will be performed at a lower level. How quickly a martial artist can move, how agile they are, is fully dependent on the quickness and agility of their brain and the neurological functions associated with balance (i.e. vestibular system). How strong or accurate can your spinning back kick or back fist be if you are off balance when you turn? Moreover, balance function also relates to stability of your spine and consequently helps protect it and your brain from injury.

Motor functions are developed through repetition. You develop these built in motor programs through practice. However, the area of brain that holds these motor programs is governed, controlled or initiated by other frontal cortex areas. MOTOR PLANNING, MOTOR SEQUENCING, MOTOR INITIATION is the difference between being first off the mark or being caught off guard and slow to react.

Above all else, DECISION MAKING can be the difference between a good martial artist and a great martial artist. The faster the decision making, the better the decisions will be. Content and speed of processing can be measured and conditioned.

In the end, when we are talking about concussions, prevention, performance or brain training it isn’t an either or situation but rather a continuum of care: