Smoking and Martial Arts – Time to Kick the Habit

Whether you practice martial arts as an amateur or professionally, you need to be in peak physical condition. But smoking impacts on your endurance as well as reducing your chance of living a long, healthy life. If you do smoke and you’re hoping to be successful in martial arts, quitting should be your number one priority.  

Martial artists are supposed to be one of the epitomes of good health. Excelling at martial arts requires physical fitness, strength, stamina, dedication and a huge helping of self discipline. This is why most people don’t think that martial artists would smoke: it just doesn’t seem to fit with the overall picture. The truth is that while smoking isn’t common among martial artists, like in every other walk of life, smoking can and does cause problems for people who practice martial arts. Thankfully, there are many ways to kick the habit.

Why Martial Arts and Smoking Don’t Mix

Smoking is harmful to almost every organ in your body, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s also damaging to your ability to exercise.

When you’re doing something physically demanding, your muscles need a constant supply of oxygen so they can keep doing work. This is delivered through your blood, held by the red blood cells. In healthy non-smokers, this process continues without issues up to the individual’s physical limits, but in smokers, something else happens.

The red blood cells end up carrying carbon monoxide instead of oxygen, which means that the blood doesn’t deliver as much oxygen to the muscles and you end up out of breath much more quickly. The fact that smoking constricts your blood vessels reduces the supply of oxygen to your muscles even more. The end result is that smokers tire more easily, and are also less able to build muscle compared to a non-smoker.

For a martial artist who needs to operate at peak physical fitness, this is unacceptable. However, despite the obvious downsides, some people who practice martial arts do continue to smoke. In doing so, they’re reducing their stamina, and also giving themselves more work to do in order to build the same amount of muscle.

Is Smoking a Problem in Martial Arts?

It’s clear that smoking and martial arts don’t mix, but the question is: do martial arts professionals do it anyway?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any clear answers. One of the only indications comes from mixed martial arts, and specifically the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). There, Joe Rogan (a commentator for the UFC) and President Dana White have both commented that marijuana smoking is a problem in the UFC. Both said that the majority of fighters smoke marijuana outside of their fighting schedules.

This is a potentially serious problem. Although marijuana smoking seems to carry slightly fewer risks in comparison to cigarette smoking, it still exposes you to carbon monoxide and has the same negative effects on your ability to exercise. For a UFC fighter, this could mean the difference between winning by knockout and ending up on the wrong side of a ground and pound.

However, despite the lack of clear evidence for other martial arts, anecdotal evidence would suggest that smoking isn’t very common among serious competitors. In similar groups – for example, college athletes – evidence suggests that smoking is less common than with non-athletes, but with between 10 and 15 percent of athletes smoking, it’s still a big problem. There are probably similar numbers of non-professional martial artists smoking, but we can’t be sure.

Should People Who Practice Martial Arts be Non-Smoking Role Models?

The issue of smoking among martial artists is serious for the individuals themselves, but for high-profile stars, smoking could have wider-ranging negative effects. Teens look up to martial arts experts (especially celebrities like UFC fighters) as examples of people in peak physical condition, so smoking firmly sends the wrong message.

If you’re a professional martial arts fighter or if you teach young people martial arts, staying smoke-free is an essential part of encouraging people to stay at peak physical fitness. Quitting isn’t easy, but if you do it, you’ll show your students and anybody who looks up to you that looking after your health is important, and you’ll stress the fact that success in martial arts means staying as physically fit as possible.

Quitting Smoking for Martial Arts Professionals

Thankfully, people involved in martial arts can quit smoking in exactly the same ways as anybody else. Using patches, gums, inhalers, e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or medications such as Chantix can help increase your chances of successfully quitting, and you should use any approach that appeals to you. The important thing to remember is that it’s never too late to make a positive change in your life. If you want to quit smoking, the time to take a step in the right direction is now. Choose your approach, reach out for support, cope with your cravings and get ready to start reaping the rewards.