Martial arts can be great for neurodivergent people. But there are aspects of training that might pose unique challenges for anyone who has a differently wired brain.
Some of those challenges can involve the actual martial arts gear that you train with. For anyone who has issues with texture and other sensory sensitivities, finding the right uniforms, sparring gear, and accessories can be the difference between thriving and being too uncomfortable, distracted, and discouraged to try.
In last week’s blog, we covered some of the many ways in which neurodivergent people can benefit from taking martial arts. This week, we’re going tackle gear tips that will help you get enjoy those benefits while minimizing some of the potential downsides of martial arts training for neurodivergent people.
Obviously all neurodivergent people are individuals, and there’s no one-size-fits all approach to finding the right gear for such a large and diverse population. But we hope that these ideas will be enough to get you started and help you figure out what your needs might be as a neurodivergent martial artist— and what might be the best way to take care of them.
Here are four ways that neurodivergent people can address their sensory needs and stay as comfortable as possible during martial arts training:
If you have any issues with texture, pressure, or what kind of fabrics can touch your skin, there are three main things you’ll want to consider when selecting a martial arts uniform.
The first is the type of fabric. Most martial arts uniforms are made from either 100% cotton, or a cotton and polyester blend. If you have any issues with certain fabrics, you’ll want to make sure that the model you pick is made from the right stuff for you.
The second thing to consider is the texture of the fabric. Martial arts uniforms often feature fabric that’s been put together in a specific way, like a diamond weave or pearl weave. This is great for the overall durability of a uniform, but might become a concern if you have any issues with fabric texture. If you’re in that camp, spending a little time learning about these weaves and touching them to see how you feel about them can help you figure out which one will feel best on your skin when you’re training. (And if your uniform feels a little scratchy at first, don’t despair! Most uniforms will start to feel softer and more comfortable after they’ve been through a few washes.)
Finally, you’ll want to look at the weight of your martial arts uniform. Heavier weight uniforms tend to be more durable, which makes them cost effective—and also makes them a great choice if you get attached to your possessions and hate change. That extra weight can also be grounding for some neurodivergent people. Think of it like a mini weighted blanket. But others might find that heaviness on them during intense physical exercise oppressive and anxiety-inducing, especially when they start to get sweaty. In that case, you might want to consider a medium or light weight uniform instead. Figuring out which camp you’re in will help you figure out which uniform will be the best choice for you.
2. Compression Wear
Compression wear like rash guards has a number of potential benefits for all martial artists. It provides a barrier between your skin and everything else that your body will come into contact with during the course of an average training or sparring session, making it a useful piece of martial arts gear for anyone who’s concerned about scrapes, rashes, and skin infections. Some athletes also believe that compression wear can improve your overall performance by encouraging circulation.
For neurodivergent martial artists, this type of gear might another added benefit. The small but stable amount of compression this gear offers can be grounding and keep you calm during intense and stressful moments in your training and competition. Almost like a makeshift thundershirt.
3. Ear Guards
Here’s a perfect example of how different people can have very different needs. For anyone who is overwhelmed by the sound of a bunch of people getting physical in a room together, ear guards can dampen some of that ambient noise and allow you to focus on your training. If you’re training in a martial art with a heavy grappling component, ear guards have the added bonus of putting some padding between your sensitive ears and the wear and tear of sparring. Which can also spare you the sensory nightmare of sensitive cauliflower ears in your daily life.
For anyone who needs to be able to hear what’s going on around them, though, the way that ear guards dull sound can actually be distracting and anxiety-inducing. If you immediately had a reaction to either description, you probably already know where you stand on ear guards. If not, it might take some trial and error to figure out whether this piece of sparring gear will be right for you.
4. Hand Wraps
In addition to providing support for the small bones and soft tissue in your hands and wrists during striking workouts and sparring sessions, hand wraps can provide an extra layer of comfort for neurodivergent martial artists. The slight amount of compression they provide can be grounding.The little bit of extra bulk that they offer can prevent your gloves from sliding around on your hands, which can be a disproportionate source of distraction and frustration for people who are hyper aware any touch-based sensations. And they absorb some of your sweat during training, which can diminish the ick factor for anyone who doesn’t like the sensation of being sticky or sweaty.
But there are a couple of potential downsides to consider—as well as some alternatives. If you’re struggling to wrap your hands in way that is tight enough to stay in place and not distract you, but remains open enough to allow for proper circulation, you’ll probably want to avoid 100% cotton wraps and look for a fabric blend with some level elasticity. These types of wraps are much easier to use if you’re looking for a very specific level of tension. And if you don’t like the feeling of traditional hand wraps at all, a set of slide-on hand wraps or neoprene gel hand wraps can provide you the support you’re looking for without the texture that’s throwing you off your game. They’re also a great option for anyone who struggles with the classic hand wrapping process.