There are reasons I’m addicted to martial arts. It’s an awesome workout. I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully busy. I don’t have a lot of time to spend exercising. The movements in karate require use of the entire body, making the workout an efficient all-over toner. Joints are kept flexible with regular stretching. Plus, hitting bags and pads releases stress better than any other exercise or sport I’ve ever tried.
The sport is as mentally engaging as it is physically challenging. Not only do students learn self-defense skills, but they also develop confidence that makes them less apt to attract the attention of bullies and other predators. The self discipline foster by martial arts benefits students in all areas of their lives.
It’s beautiful thing to see a timid, unfit person gain self-confidence as her body hardens and her skills sharpen. The student who wouldn’t say a word in her first class is belting out Kias (the spirit shout that adds core power to blows and kicks) with everyone else six months later.
Despite its physical nature, martial arts can be adapted for injuries and age. I’ve worked out with people aged 12 to 70. Perhaps because of the strength,flexibility, and mental acuity honed by their style, I’ve seen aged martial artists who looked nowhere near their actual ages. The Phillippino Arnis masters that visit our school are still lethal well into their 80s. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Master and creator Helio Gracie (photo) was on the mat, teaching and training, 10 days before his death at age 95.
I’ve no doubt martial arts is healthy and helps lead to a longer and fitter life for those who practice it. I leave you with a short video of Helio giving a lesson at age 91.
Here’s an aspect of fighting most people give consideration: how to get up off the ground. When a fighter has been knocked to the ground, either in a MMA bout or a street self-defense situation, there is a proper way to stand up. This is something that fighters learn and should also be covered in a good self defense class. When I teach a Fight Like A Girl women’s self-defense classes, this is often one of the first things I cover.
Either fighter or victim, a person on the ground needs to get to her feet without risking additional injury. The ground can be a vulnerable position, which is why bullies like to knock their victims down. This great video from Stephan Kresting shows the way Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu students (and the women in my class!) are taught to get to their feet.
Notice that the instructor protects his face at all times. He is never out of balance. He doesn’t rush. He waits until his attacker is beyond striking distance to stand. A trained fighter remains cool and thinks his way through any situation. The most important weapon in any fighter’s arsenal is his brain.
I’ve mentioned before that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be a good martial art for women to learn. It’s all about using leverage, enabling a smaller person to successfully defend against a larger individual. I recently had the opportunity to try the sport out for myself. I’ve only been to two classes, but so far I’m having a great time. Even in just two lesson I’ve seen how a smaller person can use this martial art to their advantage. The class is mostly men with the exception of Melinda and myself so it was inevitable that I would have to practice with one of the guys. It’s really cool and a confidence booster when you perform one of the techniques on a male partner and, woohoo, it works.
One of the first things you’ll have to do before you step foot on the mat is set aside all of your personal space issues. With Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you are going to get up close and personal with both friends and probably a few strangers. You will get sweat on, have to wrap your arms and legs around someone and vice versa, pin, and be pinned. If having your personal space invaded in this manner freaks you out, BJJ may not be for you. But, if it doesn’t bother you you can have a blast.
It’s interesting to go from one martial art where you work mostly from a standing position to one where you spend the bulk of the time rolling around on the floor. You engage a whole different set of muscle and employ a somewhat different mind set. For me, karate is almost like a dance. Learning a kata is like learning the choreography of a dance routine. The movements of the various techniques flow. One rolls into the next then into the next. BJJ is much different. You really can’t flow. The movements are much less artistic, especially since you’re twisting each other like pretzels. In our last class, we focused on passes. They are exactly what they sound like techniques that allow you to move past your opponent and they turn the tables on them. All of these techniques start with your partner in the closed guard position. In closed guard, you are flat on your back with your legs wrapped around your opponent and your ankles are locked together behind them. So there I sit with Melinda’s legs wrapped around me (and we thought we were close before. LOL!). I’m now expected to break the grip of her thighs using the pressure of my elbows, hook my arms under her legs, bend her in half, duck under her legs and pin her to the mat in side mount position. Easy right. HA! I kept forgetting intermediate steps and wind up in the wrong position. It was often comical and less then graceful, but I eventually I got the hang of it. Sort of. I did discover that it’s easier to work the techniques on a person larger then you then smaller then you. An opponent with a slighter build can be much tougher to maneuver because it’s much harder to brace against them.
The instructor ended class by grappling with some of the advanced students. It’s really fascinating to watch. It’s much slower paced then I would have expected. With karate it’s fast pace, fast reaction the whole way through. With BJJ it’s periods of quick movements interspersed with periods of slow adjustments as you set up for your next move. There is also an unexpected gentleness to it. I know it sounds like a contradiction, but it’s true. When the instructor and his assistants grapple they aren’t slamming into each other or using brute force. It just goes to prove the point that you don’t have to be the biggest or strongest, you just need to be smart and use your body to your best advantage.