Health In Martial Arts (Part 2)

In the last issue, we learned how your body responds to your martial arts training and the kinds of herbal and non-herbal remedies you can use to keep your body healthy now and in the future.

In this issue, I shall give you some very effective yet simple stretching exercises which you may find will work wonders over a period of time with regards to:

    1. how to achieve more flexibility without causing injury.
    2. How to cure back problems acquired through movements made.

Again (as in the last issue) my writings have received the stamp of approval by 2 specialists in the field of sports rehabilitation; namely Dr. Gert Van Der Wait (Chiropractor) and John Sullivan (a top sports therapist and UK Athletics level 4 performance coach).

Strengthen & Improve your back

Since your back (especially your lower back) will have to deal with a lot of moving around by performing high kicks, twisting kicks, spinning kicks, etc. an antidote needs to be brought in to counter-balance the strain on the lower back (and shoulder region for punching) in particular.

In my martial art (C.K.D.) a Yoga-based stretch is performed before we start with our shield drills, sparring, etc. This is to help prepare your body for its workout since there is no profit in training from cold (i.e. not having had a warm-up stretch) as pointed out in Health in Martial Arts (Part 1).

Some of the benefits in the following exercises will be felt immediately, others after a little while overall a beneficial health effect will be guaranteed if you keep at it.

Here is an easy yet effective stretch recommended by Dr. Gert Van Der Walt (I use it in my class stretching program also) which helps strengthen the back and muscles around it.

If you feel after-effects from this or any other stretch described here in this article (or perhaps the next day) it will indicate that you would benefit greatly by applying these exercises regularly. However, if you feel the pain I would advise you to get it checked out by a Chiropractor, Sports-Therapist or GP.

Try the following:

    1. Pull up one of your knees and bring the whole leg close to your torso (you may also push the leg in a little to the center to increase the stretch).
    2. Hold for a few seconds then let go. Repeat the same with the other leg.
    3. Now take both legs and pull them up in the same fashion as you did with the single leg. Repeat these 3 exercises several times.

WARNING: As with all exercises given here it is important that they are performed very slowly and without any force whatsoever. Forcing your body will create a counter effect by producing minute muscle tears and should therefore be avoided. Take care of your body and your body will take care of you!

Another exercise that I find excellent is the following:

  1. Lay down on your back and relax.
  2. Pull up the right leg and touch the outside of that knee with your left hand.
  3. Pull the right knee & leg over all the way to your left side as close to the floras as you comfortably manage it. Then do the same with the other leg (reversing sides of course).

Here are 2 more exercises that I find extremely useful. It is another variant of an effective back-stretch:

  1. Sit down with your knees upright.
  2. Turn to the right (looking to the rear) and either hold your right leg or right ankle (according to your flexibility) with your left hand.
  3. Do the same on the other side.

This precious exercise is also good for the spine. To further strengthen your back do the following:

  1. Lay face-down on the floor with your hands to the side.
  2. Now pull up your legs straight and keep them in the air for a few seconds.
  3. Relax and repeat a few times (if you feel uncomfortable in the slightest: stop).

This last exercise is intended for those who have sorted out their back issues by doing the first 3 exercises over a period of time. In other words: If you have had a bad back to start with then just do the first 3 and only do exercise number 4 when your back feels fine (and to keep it fine!). Incidentally, cycling, swimming, or a 15-20 minutes walk will give your back a beneficial stimulation leading to healing.

Prepare for Fast Punching

As explained in Health in Martial Arts (Part 1): If you move your arms forcefully by tensing your muscles you acquire a build-up of TOXINS which causes stiffness over time and hinders your punching speed. Furthermore, it feels quite uncomfortable and you know something is wrong with your body. Toxins can be got rid of in various ways including by doing such exercises as given below.

Incidentally, lock-out or semi-lock-out punches (meaning expending your arms fully to punch as opposed to keeping them unlocked as in boxing) will put quite a strain on tendons (for this reason we do not perform them in our CKD classes).

Here are a few very effective stretches, which will help you a great deal. They will make you feel better by loosening up your shoulder region and therefore improve your fast hand techniques (as used by Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi whose nickname in Korea was Flash due to his incredible punching speed).

Try the following:

  1. Sit down comfortably, cross-legged, and with your spine erect.
  2. Outstretch your right arm with your thumb pointing downwards.
  3. Hook your left arm underneath your right arm and pull the arm gently over to your left (you should feel a pleasant stretching sensation in your right shoulder).
  4. Look the opposite way for an additional neck-stretch.
  5. Now do the same on the other side with opposite arms.

Here is another shoulder & arm stretch:

  1. Sit down cross-legged.
  2. Extend your right arm and place it behind your head.
  3. Rest your left arm on top of your right elbow.
  4. Do the same on the other side.

Another good exercise (not shown) is to stand upright and fully swing your arms forwards then backward in very big circles (again: excellent for your shoulders region). After all these exercises your arms and shoulders will be loosened up and ready for punching!

Preparing for Kicking

The knees and leg tendons/muscles are the primary tools for your kicks. Lock-out or semi-lock-out kicks (see the explanation for lock-outs in the last chapter) will put a lot of strain on your knees and extra care needs to be taken, therefore.

I can show you how to improve your flexibility regarding your leg tendons but concerning your knee region I can only advise you not to kick hard in the air, of course, does not give you resistance as a sparring shield does; so the power you produce by kicking hard into the air will bounce back to your body. Even though we do not do the lock-outs in CKD I always tell my students NEVER to kick and punch hard into the air and here’s another secret: relaxed punching and kicking produce more speed.

Here are a few exercises for your leg flexibility. Do the following:

  1. Sit down with your left leg tucked in and your right leg outstretched.
  2. Bend forward towards the right foot by bending from the hip (not lower back).
  3. Do the same with the other leg. Then sit with both legs outstretched and repeat the exercise.

As with everything you do: Should you feel any kind of pain when performing the above exercises then stop until you feel ready to continue. And if you have a sensitive back to start with I would recommend no bending down the action at all. Rome wasn’t built in one day and easy does it.

Of course one cannot cover the whole spectrum in one short article. However, I have explained some of the very important health and flexibility stretches and do hope I have answered some of your questions by addressing various intriguing aspects at the same time helping you to feel better in order to prepare for your martial arts training.

Written by Ralph Allison, London & Surrey Blackbelt Schools

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