Martial Arts in the NFL

By Tran Ngomai

NFL players can essentially be summed up as battering rams. Their career centers around the ability to stay fit and undergo rigorous workouts in order to play on the field. As demanding as football is, it should be of no surprise that player have looked for various ways to enhance their performance. From the illegal method such as doping to the more aesthetic ballet, NFL players have pursued a wide range of activities to increase strength, agility, etc. Martial arts is no exception. Since 1978, teams such as the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and Cleveland Browns have hired martial art masters to train the players for improvement in various areas. The main positions to utilize this training are pass rushers and offensive linemen.

A pass rush mainly consists of defensive linemen whose role is to outmaneuver the offensive linemen and “sack” or tackle the quarterback before he can throw. Because offensive linemen can tackle and easily extend their arms to prevent entry to the quarterback, pass rushers must have flexibility, balance, and be able to swat the arms away. DeMarcus Ware who plays for the Broncos are one of those whom have adopted MMA techniques in order to “figure out how to set guys up and use certain moves to dictate what they’re going to do.” These techniques include throwing incoming tackles off balance and revealing leverage points. Kansas City Chief’s Tamba Hali has also worked with martial arts. In 2010 and 2011, he trained under Joe Kim, a 7th degree black belt and his performance spiked in terms of the amount of registered sacks. A total of 26.5 sacks were made in those years with Kim in comparison to 11.5 sacks made two years prior to the training. Another benefit from learning specific martial arts such as judo and jiu-jitsu is the knowledge on the proper way to fall, which may reduce wrist, elbow, and shoulder injuries during tackles. Martial arts can not only improve defensive positions but can also be applied to offensive positions .

Offensive linemen are tasked with protecting the quarterback by blocking the defensive linemen. Kim, who also coaches this position states, “What I work on with the O-line is creating opportunities for them to create the distance and the separation…improve their overall hand speed and work on their punch placement.” He stresses eye-hand coordination – a crucial factor in order to successfully impede the defensive lineman’s advancement. Kempo, a martial art originating from China that focuses on fluid and rapid successions of attacks is effective in enhancing these areas and can be utilized on fields. In addition, players also improve in stance, footwork, and blow delivery.

Football has connected fans from all over the nation since the first televised game in 1939 and has drawn varied opinions from the audience. However, football does not limit itself to the perceived standards of simple brutality and aggression. Ballet is incorporated as one of the forms of cross training despite its contrasting elements such as elegance and gracefulness. Likewise, even though football is solely american culture, it has underlying diversity in which western sport integrates eastern art.


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