Health In Martial Arts (Part 1)

In order to improve your performance in any martial art, you must first understand how your body functions. I’ve been doing martial arts for over 20 years (Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, and now the advanced style of Choi Kwang Do or CKD, in which I hold 3rd dan), and over that time I’ve learned a lot about sports training that I’m happy to share with you, the reader.

Many martial artists (especially those with a black belt) devote a significant amount of time to daily practise. However, there appears to be some misunderstanding among some practitioners who do not have all of the data regarding the health difficulties related with their rigorous training, which will affect them now and in the future, and who do not know where to go to get all of the details. This article will be most useful to you if you respect your body now and in the future, as health issues are unquestionably crucial for every serious martial artist.

Apart from my own study, this paper has been authorised and endorsed by two professionals in the field of sports rehabilitation who I greatly respect: Dr. Gert Van Der Walt (chiropractor) and John Sullivan (a top Physiotherapist; UK Athletics level 4 performance coach).

Let’s take a look at how your everyday exercise impacts your body over time and what you can do to maintain or improve it:

Should you train if you are not feeling 100%?

In Scandinavia, the medical profession was baffled when two of their top runners died since they trained whilst having a ‘common cold’. The answer to the riddle was simple: As we all know the common cold and flu affect our muscles (that’s why we walk slower and feel muscle pain because of it). We must not forget that the heart is a muscle too and that extra strain training produces can have fatal effects. That is exactly what happened to our Scandinavian athletes. All you martial arts teachers out there: Do not push your students beyond the limit when they have a common cold!

Pain is your body’s message that we should take it easy. One of my Choi Kwang Do students asked me if he should still punch since he had some wrist pain. I told him to lightly punch without making any contact in order to rest and recover. Punching a training shield under normal circumstances is health-enhancing your brain getting a message to build up your bone strength. However, the wrist has to be positioned perfectly straight during punching and the intensity built up slowly over time. Never put any extra strain on your body whilst it is trying to recover.

Warm-ups & cool downs, Good and bad stretching

CKD’s Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi tells his instructors to prepare their bodies with a yoga stretch before training commences. There is no profit to train from cold i.e. without a warm-up stretch (unless you are doing a very light workout) your body will perform better if your muscles and tendons have been pre-warmed during a muscle warm-up too. Do the following: Breathe in and stretch a particular body part; then exhale whilst stretching out at the same time holding the stretch for a while (holding it for under 20 seconds will just maintain flexibility over and beyond will increase it over time). During correct stretching your muscles and bones are being washed over with extra blood carrying necessary nutrients and oxygen making your body more healthy, stronger, and ready for advanced martial arts training.

Rocking backward and forwards during stretching can cause muscle tears and counter-effect flexibility in the long term refrain from doing this. Forced stretching and partner stretching can have a similar effect causing tendon damage and slow down your flexibility rather than enhancing it.

What happens during your martial arts training?

CARDIOVASCULAR EXERCISE: a light but continuous exercise to improve circulation and fitness will help your body to prepare itself for the harder part of training; starting a class after stretching by doing Patterns (known as Katas’ in Karate and as Hyung in our Korean martial art Choi Kwang Do) at slow to medium speed. The endorphins produced by the body during slightly harder exercise will give you the feel-good factors with TOXINS being sweated out as waste product during exercise and thereby purifying the body greatly and promoting health.

Correct punching and kicking on shields will give the brain the message to build up your bone tissue (as explained earlier). However, lock-out and semi lockout punching and kicking (as in some traditional styles) will put a strain on your ligaments and tendons and can produce microscopic tears in your muscles. Therefore it is ill-advised to put tension in any punching or kicking. In the art of Choi Kwang Do or CKD as it is commonly known I show my students that the lightness of our movements (as demonstrated by our Grandmaster) is not just health-enhancing it also produces more punching and kicking speed by not restricting the muscles through tension which acts as a brake on the speed-effect.

LACTIC ACID is a by-product during harder exercise. One feels fatigued in the muscles and eventually pain and stiffness occur. Lactic acid is built up during hard exercise due to an insufficient amount of oxygen being supplied to the muscle. It can be got rid of in various ways: through drinking plenty of water and a cool-down exercise afterward (moving in a Tai Chi fashion) very slowly; performing very slow arm and leg exercises (these can be punches and kicks) to flush out lactic acid from your body; sports massage is a helper too it should not be ignored by any serious martial artist.

Sports massage

Why do professional athletes get regular sports massages? Loosening up muscles through massage (especially over the neck, shoulder, and lower back area) will prevent hard muscles through external stretching and getting good circulation through such body parts. Hard muscles do not perform as well as loose muscles that is a fact.

You may think that you do not need any sports massage until you actually had one and realized how it helped your training and well-being. In addition, you should get your spine checked from time to time even if you do not do any sports at all there may be a weakness in your spinal area you are not fully aware of. It is important to refrain from always kicking from your favorite leg (i.e. with right-handed people the right leg) because it can put an imbalance on your hip joint and (after a while) can go lop-sided. This however can be corrected by a Chiropractor. Sports massage helps to break down those scar tissues as well as re-aligning muscle fibers. It also helps with circulation and aids in flushing out waste products like Lactic Acid.

Rest and train

Plenty of rest, sleep, and drinking water (flushing out the system) is the simplest and most inexpensive ways to recuperate. Red Tiger Balm(slightly stingy on the skin) rubbed around the knees and any other muscle or tendon area which cause you problems will help greatly (not if the affected area is swollen due to injury a cold pack should be applied in that case). Arnica (30 strength) is a homeopathic medicine that is meant to heal internal bruising. Homeopathic medicines are totally safe as they are natural tissue salts (non-chemicals). Vitamin E-400 has a similar effect but is not quite as powerful as Arnica. No matter if you are a martial artist or not; if you are over the age of 40 you should use Cod Liver Oil daily maintaining ligaments enhancing a good immune system too.

Ibuprofen cream used externally is very good too but in my experience not quite as powerful as `Tiger Balm`. Ipuproven tablets do help with muscle and tendon problems but should be taken with the utmost care (and only when absolutely necessary) since (like aspirin) it may affect your stomach lining.

If you do a lot of running to increase your stamina refrain from using “shock-absorbing” footwear. Studies have confirmed that this kind of shock-absorbing limits the natural feedback and lower leg and foot injuries are more prone to injury than otherwise.

Use the ‘R-I-C-E’ principle for any injuries; rest-ice-compression-elevation and (I repeat) NEVER put any heat on the injured part as this will increase the swelling.

Final conclusion

Martial arts teachers have a duty to know about health issues. Training students brings not only moral but also health responsibilities.

All a student can ask of you is to keep as well informed about such issues as possible. No one can ever be fully informed even medical practitioners have to update their learning at all times.

However, any martial arts teacher should have a minimum of knowledge with regards to health issues and be qualified in first aid as a standard of course.

Our Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi will address some of these issues in further detail with his new book to be published in 2004 with regards to health tips, advice on training and a much deeper insight into health issues than what a short article such as this can provide.

I should be glad if I have answered a few of your questions with regards to your own and your martial arts students’ health and encouraged you to delve deeper into the subject.

‘Pil Sung’ is our CKD school motto and is translated as ‘Certain Victory’.

This article was kindly provided by Ralph Allison, London & Surrey Blackbelt Schools

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