Saturday, 3 September 2011

Lessons Learned from Traditional Exercises

I subscribe to a Facebook group for martial arts teachers. One of the most interesting exchanges started when I posted the following query:

"Injuries - in our profession, they are almost unavoidable. What injuries (if any) do you currently have, and how are you coping with them?"

The responses took me totally by surprise. Almost all the teachers replied with a long list of injuries, niggles and general physical complaints. From toes to necks, the cumulative list read more like an anatomy book.

Of course, as martial arts teachers, we are more likely to hammer our bodies. Injuries are inevitable. But it made me think more about the way martial arts are participated in China and how we can learn from this in the UK - not just as martial artists, but as a society.

In China, the young start off learning flexibility and balance.

As they reach puberty, the training changes to improve the strength and resistance to external force.

It is these external practices that are the quickest way of becoming proficient in martial arts. However, the nature of the training is that the body is stretched and damaged, so that when it heals it is stronger than before. What you are doing is making your body become increasingly resistant to damage.

As the body gets older, the rate that it can repair itself decreases. It takes you longer to recover from injuries. Once this is acknowledged, the Chinese martial arts practitioner transitions to a more internal form of training. Typically, this type of training is lower impact. The emphasis returns to flexibility, but the way these exercises are done has far more circular movements and less linear stretches.

So is it possible to derive a philosophy to apply to everyone? 
  • When you are young and small, making yourself as flexible and balanced as possible is the foundation for future health and growth. 
  • In your teens to early 30's, you can shape your body as you wish due to it's ability to repair itself. 
  • When the body's ability to repair itself slows down, make sure you keep it flexible with regular exercise to avoid stiffness. 
  • As the body ages, keep it stretched with regular exercise, but make these exercise movements more circular to reduce stress on joints and tendons.
Health authorities all over the world advocate physical activity to improve longevity and fight disease. What is important is that the activity you choose is appropriate to your age and your ability to recover from injury.