Professional athletes have to be discerning in how they train their bodies and minds. So when we learn that a world-class athlete trains in something similar to us, it’s a nod toward the ability of martial arts to build strength, endurance, agility, flexibility, mental toughness, and more.

While we all understand the rewards of our chosen martial art, and even martial arts in general, it’s still nice to see some acknowledgment of what martial arts training provides. The following five professional athletes all currently train in a martial art or have turned to one in the past as a supplement to their sport.

Check the 5 Professional Athletes here:

  1. Clay Matthews—NFL Player

This famed Green Bay linebacker takes his martial arts training as seriously as his football training. He signed up with none other than former UFC champion Randy Couture for his off-season MMA training. According to FOX Sports analyst Jay Glazer, who was the co-head of Couture’s program for professional athletes,

“It greatly strengthened and speeded up [Clay’s] hand strikes, made him more violent and made him think like a cage fighter. It also increased his knowledge of leverage, but more than anything else, it pushed his breaking point way beyond the limits he thought he had.”

Clay Matthews III martial arts
By Gabriel Cervantes (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
  1. Phil Mickelson—PGA Golfer

As a professional golfer, Mickelson has won five major PGA championships. But golf isn’t the only art Mickelson studies. He’s also trained in Kung Fu and Taekwondo. In fact, he told a reporter that studying martial arts helped him develop better balance, flexibility, and core strength. And according to Mickelson’s wife, it also helped him slim down and lose a bit of his famous beer belly.

Phil Mickelson martial arts
  1. James “Bloodsport” Johnson—NBA Player,_born_1987)

Johnson doesn’t just play world-class basketball, he comes from an entire family of martial artists. His mother and all eight siblings have black belts in one art or another, and his father was a world champion kickboxer.

Johnson became infamous during his time with the Toronto Raptors for attempting to dislodge stuck basketballs in the net—by hitting the rim with his flying spinning back kick. A practitioner of Kenpo Karate, Johnson also holds an undefeated record in both MMA and kickboxing.

james johnson martial arts
By Brent Payne from Chicago, IL, USA [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
  1. D’Brickashaw Ferguson—NFL Player

As an offensive tackle for the New York Jets for ten seasons, Ferguson was chosen for the Pro Bowl three times. More impressively, he never missed a game in his entire career. And what is one of the things Ferguson credits with teaching him this discipline? Martial arts.

In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Ferguson had this to say about climbing his way to his black belt: “I think it really helps with the discipline. Understanding what it is to achieve different goals, to go from level to level.” And leveling-up is something Ferguson did in all his sports—in addition to his amazing NFL career, he earned a black belt in Shotokan karate and a brown belt in taekwondo.

D'Brickashaw Ferguson martial arts
By Ed Yourdon from New York City, USA (Football: Jets-v-Eagles, Sep 2009 - 70) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
  1. Donald Brashear—NHL Player

Named in 2010 by The Hockey News as the “Enforcer of the Decade,” Brashear might actually be best known for winding up on the wrong end of Marty McSorley’s stick in the infamous 2000 game between the Canucks and Bruins.

But Brashear won his fair share of fights during his NHL career, so it’s no surprise that when even the fight-prone Ligue Nord-Americain de Hockey suspended Brashear for fighting, that he turned to professional MMA. Previously, Brashear had competed in amateur boxing during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout.

Plenty of other pros are getting in on the martial arts action, too. The WBNA’s Minnesota Lynx played around with capoeira during long breaks in their competition schedule. And, not surprisingly, so many hockey teams have their players studying martial arts that it’s more and more common to see specialized hockey programs cropping up at MMA schools.

Donald Brashear martial arts
By Dan4th (Originally posted on Flickr as 090127 brashear-1) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Martial Arts Training Makes Athlete Better

Whatever your sport and whatever your martial art, there’s no denying that martial arts training can make you a better athlete. You may not want to compete in martial arts, but it’s a great way to give your brain a break from the grind of the gridiron while developing new and powerful physical attributes.

And if you’re already a martial artist? Well, now you have some great facts to share with any of your friends who might still be doubters.

Chip Griffin
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