OK, this is the last post on this subject, I promise 🙂
There is a certain attitude in martial arts, that we don’t like to give in to pain or to complain about it. We just soldier on. But if you are suffering any kind of joint of pain or discomfort, get it properly checked. I would recommend a good Osteopath, Chiropractor, Podiatrist or something similar rather than an ordinary doctor Continue reading “Martial Arts Training With Joint Injuries (Part 3)” »
Having suffered with joint injuries myself, especially to the knee, I know how frustrating it can be and the limiting impact it can have on your training.
I have found some very minor adjustments in training which have helped me to cope with the knee problems that I have suffered with. I don’t claim that this will work for everybody or that it will be a wonder-cure, I just want to share what has helped me and hope that it will help others too. Continue reading “Martial Arts Training With Joint Injuries (Part 1)” »
Diaphragmatic breathing is used in many traditional martial arts, but I don’t think that all martial artists completely realise the full extent of how important this really is. It actually helps us on a number of different levels.
It is very important to look after our bodies, especially those of us who put extra duress on our bodies with regular training. However, many people develop joint problems throughout their martial arts careers and simply assume that it is the price we pay for training and/or getting older. But although some training methods can be damaging, there are other things that we should look at too as I’ve learned from my own personal experience of consistent knee problems.
Although I’ve had some knee injuries caused by training, my knees actually got a lot worse during an extended period when I was out of training due to domestic issues (very long story).
Did you realise that our feet were not designed to walk on a completely flat surface. But what do we walk on all day (indoors, at work and on the roads); then go and train on in bare feet? Yes, flat surfaces!
The reason that our feet have an arch in them is that back in our cave man ancestry our feet were designed to walk on earth, sand, muddy fields and so on, where the foot would sink in slightly and the arch would be supported. However, without well designed footwear, we often have no support in our arches at all these days.
On average most people take 8,000 – 10,000 steps per day. This is a high demand on a foot that is not properly supported. As each foot contains 28 bones, it is not surprising that some thing is going to start moving around.
This lack of support in the arch can often lead to it collapsing. In itself that is quite innocuous. However, a collapse arch causes the foot to pronate (most of the foot twists inwards, whilst the heel turns the other way to compensate). When you walk, as well as your foot going from heel to toe, it also rolls from rear outer edge to front inner edge. This in turn causes the bones of the legs to re-align in order to compensate (knees tend to turn inwards). Over a period of time the muscles, tendons and ligaments will actually re-adjust themselves too and take up new positions. Then when you train, muscles that have become overly strong on one side will start pulling your knee joint to that side, whilst the weakened muscles on the other side are unable to balance it. Tendons and ligaments that have been pulled out of place will rub against the bones, especially when doing fast kicks or deep stances.
This is what happened to me. When I first started training again after a long break, I was not sure that I’d be able to continue due to constant pain in my knees. Fortunately the problem was not too severe in my case. If left unchecked, pronation can also go on to effect the hips and spin, as they adjust to compensate for the mis-aligned legs.
Women in particular are vulnerable. I don’t know why, possibly it’s due to woman’s shoe fashions, possible the effects are made worse by carrying extra weight during pregnancy, but I’m guessing here.
So if you think this may be a problem that is affecting you, what can you do about it?
You can start by going to see an osteopath or chiropractic. They can check whether or not you are pronating. If you are, then you may be recommended to use orthotics. These are inserts which are placed inside the shoes, which support the arch and restrict the heel from rotating. It is a slow process, but after a while your foot should become accustomed to this new corrected position. This will of course reverse the procedure described above and the rest of the body will start to realign and correct itself.
My knees are still far from perfect, but they have made a very notable improvements due to orthotics. My ability to kick and go lower in my stances are much better than when I first returned to training.
Being naturally flexible and fastidious about technique, I was noted as a good kicker in my younger days. But I could hardly kick at all on my return to training. Now I can kick reasonably well most of the time. For the first hour of training I usually feel quite good. Sometimes if I go over that I start to get sore knees, but I am able to train and I know that I’ll be able to for many years to come. It’s a slow process, but martial arts are for life. So if you are having joint or back problems which effect your training, then I seriously recommend that you get your structure checked.
Many people turn to supplements when they have a joint problems, but if the the joints are not aligned correctly then you are throwing your money away. Don’t get me wrong, some supplements can be very good and I use them too. But the most important thing is to correct the structure first to prevent further damage. Then you can look to repair the damage that has been done before.
Many people often have to face the stark choice of whether or not they give up the training that they have loved for many years, and it’s a horrible choice to have to make. I know, I’ve had to consider it; but I always look for a way to solve my problems. If you know anybody who you think can be helped by this article, then please pass it on to them. Don’t just assume that it comes with age, because sometimes it doesn’t have to.
We so often hear that martial arts are good for our health and well-being, but is this always the truth? I would say in the main . . . . yes.
However I do feel that there are exceptions. All to often you hear of the more mature warriors amongst us having hip or knee operations. Many (who are not professional teachers) have to give up training all together. So if martial arts are a lifetime study (as is often said) how come the people who are left training over the age of 50 is such a small percentage.
Funakoshi, who introduced Karate from Okinawa to Japan, said in his latter years that the Karate being trained at that time in Japan was very different to the Karate of his youth.
The Karate that Funakoshi would have learnt in his youth in Okinawa would have had a very strong emphasis on combat effectiveness. It also had a strong emphasis on health. Many masters were originally introduced to Karate training in their childhood because they were sickly children and Karate was seen as one of the best ways to improve their health.
So what happened to Karate after Funakoshi introduced it to Japan in the 1920’s?
At that time, having relatively recently been forcibly dragged out of centuries of isolation, Japan was modernising very fast. As such the Japanese saw the modern weapons imported from the West as the way to go and saw the old martial arts as obsolete except for physical and character development. Furthermore, Japan’s militaristic character at that time, especially during the build up for the war, meant more emphasis on toughening up and strengthening up quickly, rather than looking to the longer term health. Physically gruelling training was good for the spirit!
Emphasis on real combat was not really necessary in traditional martial arts as Japan was far more focused on how to use the newly found power of guns, warplanes and battleships. The subtleties of Okinawan karate would be dumbed down to make it more acceptable to Japanese popular ideas of the time. A more physical emphasis was required. Dumbing down also made it easier to teach to large classes.
Funakoshi focused on teaching in Universities which meant introducing Karate to the higher strata of Japanese society (hence more respectability for Karate). It also meant that as Karate was now being taught to relatively large numbers and as students left University and moved on, they did not form the deep relationship that the Funakoshi and his peers would have formed with their masters, so the transfer of knowledge would not have been quite so deep.
Unfortunately many of Funakoshi’s top students lost their lives during the war. By the end of the war, Funakoshi was in his late 70’s and although still training himself, was getting a bit old for regular teaching, so to a certain extent the surviving students had to work it out for themselves.
Furthermore the occupying American’s banned martial arts training. During the war, the Japanese had displayed a ferocious fighting spirit which for obvious reasons the Allies wanted to curb. The Japanese had to make a case that Karate was not a real martial art, but more a way for self development. As such, they got permission to train. However, traditional weapons like the Bo, Tonfa, Sai etc were dropped from the syllabus as the Japanese realised that they would really be pushing their luck to ask permission to train weapons (of any kind) as well. Karate was dumbed down even further.
With Funakoshi’s influence diminishing and most of his most knowledgeable students gone, Shotokan began to evolve (or devolve depending on how you look at it) into a forceful system with a heavy emphasis on the physical side. This led in part to the stances becoming longer and deeper placing more stress on the lower body joints. If you look at any photo’s of Funakoshi demonstrating technique, he is always in a fairly high stance. Shotokan was mainly derived from Okinawan Shorin Ryu (created by Yasutsune Itosu). If you go to Youtube and search for “Shorin Ryu kata”, you’ll see that most of their movements are done in a higher stance than modern Shotokan.
Just compare the Shorin Ryu and Shotokan versions of the same kata below:-
A large group wanted to hold competitions which Funakoshi vehemently opposed. However, after Funakoshi passed away in 1957, the movement to introduce competition went full throttle ahead and the first All Japan Championships were held that year. Again the emphasis on being fit, strong and athletic grew with the short term goal of winning competitions rather than longer term goal of life long health.
Okinawan Karate was would have expected most fights to be at relatively close range (which is how most real fights are) so it would have geared its techniques that way. But the new competition fighting where neither fighter was allowed to grab their opponent necessitated a longer range of fighting. This in turn necessitated being able to take long steps, to cover relatively large distances. This again creates more stress on our bodies and joints as we get older and was absent from the original Okinawan Karate.
High kicks (which had barely existed in Okinawan Karate) become much more common place, putting even more stresses on the body (especially hips and knees). Again if you watch Shorin Ryu kata on Youtube, you’ll see less emphasis on kicks. Furthermore, you won’t find Side Snap Kicks anywhere. In Shotokan kata where we use a Side Snap Kick, Shorin Ryu uses a Front Kick). Not only that, but the Shorin Ryu Front Kick is usually no more than groin height.
Side Snap Kick is one of the most difficult kicks of all for people who have hip and knee problems. It is also not nearly as practical as a Front Kick in most real combat situations. So why did Side Snap Kick replace the Front Kick in so many Shotokan katas and why did it end up usually being done at head height rather than groin height?
Well at that time, the Japanese had very little understanding of bunkai (fighting applications of the kata). Not only that, most of them were not really interested either. Kata competition was becoming very popular too and that was the driving force. Kata had to look good. The head height Side Snap Kick looked much better than the mid level Front Kick. Many techniques performed in Neko Ashi Dachi (Cat Stance) in the Shorin Ryu kata were changed to a much longer deeper Kokutsu Dachi (Back Stance) in Shotokan kata.
Much of this has improved over the years and many branches of Shotokan has change quite radically even in the time that I’ve been training. When I first started, we had to keep the back leg straight when performing any technique in Forward Stance. This put pressure on the lower back and hips. Now the back leg is slightly bent, relieving the pressure. This and many other modifications have greatly improved the way that we train today. In many ways many schools of Shotokan have become much “softer” in their training (and I softer as in how technique is performed, not as in “taking it easy”). However, many still train the old way and many styles (Japanese & Korean) which are derived from Shotokan still bear some of those old hallmarks.
Training can be great for health, but if you are not careful, it can be damaging to your body, especially hips, knees and lower back.
I have of late become more interested in how to keep training as you get older, as many of us lose flexibility, get stiff joints/injuries and lose the natural athleticism of youth. As such, I’ve become more interested in what I call “natural movement“. By this I mean, (as far as is possible) moving in a way that is natural for the body, rather than forcing a movement. For example, many people overly tense up at the end of the end of a technique with too much forced exhalation. Learning to relax more and breath more naturally is healthier at all ages, but more so as get get older.
Being a subscriber to Russell Stutely’s email Newsletter, it seems he is also having thoughts about adapting training as you get older (and he’s younger than me).
Anyway, I’ve long been an admirer of Russell Stutely (who has done an interview for this website before, so I thought I would share his thoughts. If you want to join up to his newsletter or find out more about Russell then CLICK HERE to visit his website.
Anyway, here in Russell’s own words:-
What are we all training for?You know I have been giving this a lot of thought over the last few days.After many long years of training, some great times, some awful times, some amazing times… I look back at the training partners / friends / colleagues etc. So many have stopped training for various reasons; Family, fed up, drifted away, injuries etc.
We have trained pretty hard… In my biased view anyway! We were always the first to step and try something out, spar or fight at whatever level people want… and for what?What did we really gain from it? I have a list of niggling little injuries (some a bit more than that) which are going to plague me for life.
I have friends in the same boat give or take.Yesterday I was at the gym, at my hilltop lair… and there was a younger couple doing Yoga together. They looked in great shape, were physically gifted (judging by the positions) and as I found out were completely injury free after 20 years!
I hobbled away cursing them under my breath 🙂 They were also really nice to chat to… which made me hate them even more! 🙂
As a Coach it is my job to teach in the best possible way. To give the best possible advice on an individual level. To guide, help, assist and to pass on as much knowledge and information in the most efficient manner possible.I am asked on many occasions about hard training, sparring, fighting etc. My answer recently has been do it if you want to. A few years ago my answer was ALWAYS that you MUST do it.
My answer today and for the forseeable future, is why do it? Unless you have aspirations to be a proper fighter, then why bother? You will probably get injured. The injury / injuries could well have an impact on your daily life – for the rest of your life.
Do you really want to take those chances to satisfy your own ego?I need to know what I am doing works? Is a standard cry… or it needs to be pressure tested.
Well… yes and no. We all know that a good punch in the mouth works right? So do we really need to pressure test that? We all know that a soccer kick to the head works right? Do we really need to pressure test that?
What we really need to pressure test is HOW TO GET INTO POSITION to punch them in the mouth etc etc.
This can be trained at speed and power with SAFETY in mind. This is called training HARD AND SMART.
Something which I did mention in my 200+ A4 Page Book – Karate – The Hidden Secrets many years ago. Available all over the web and at my store:-)
I don’t know about you but I really wish I was as injury free as the Yoga couple I met!
NO.. I am not bothered about being in as good as shape as them either! Or about being as nice….They need to rotten up like the rest of us! 🙂
What is IMPORTANT is knowing what I / You want from your training. That is the KEY. Everyone is different and everyone is on their OWN JOURNEY. I will try to NEVER judge anyone else’s journey ever again.
If you / they or I am ENJOYING my training, then carry on doing it. I still think it is CRITICAL to UNDERSTAND as much as possible about your Art. It is ESSENTIAL that you make it as efficient and effective as possible.
This is achieved through UNDERSTANDING…. and NOT through beasting yourself and others in the blind hope that ONE MORE PUSH UP will make me understand better! Use some of the annoying Yoga couples wisdom… take your Art to the next level by UNDERSTANDING IT BETTER.
Ironically, this is what I have been doing for years with the various studies made… BUT at the same time doing that ONE MORE REP as anyone who has actually trained with me will testify!
Now it is time to drop the ONE MORE REP mentality! I have officially stopped hard / open sparring. At 46 that is acceptable I think!
I am actually taking my own advice and training a bit smarter! I hope that this little note has given you food for thought? I will write more soon.
I came across this story by chance in a local paper. It was just so awesome that it had to be shared. Next time you feel too tired to train, or think you’d rather watch the telly instead, think of this young lad from the Bath TKD club. This is where the grown ups can really learn from the kids.
The following is copied from the Bath Chronicle On-Line paper:
A boy who had to learn to walk and talk again after a brain tumour is now heading for a black belt in tae kwon do.
Daniel Kimmins, 11, from Odd Down was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2006.
After a battle to walk and talk again, he returned to school and tae kwon do in 2009, and has won his red belt and is now working towards his black one.
Bath Tae Kwon Do Club Instructor Rob Morris said: “I truly never thought I’d see the day Daniel would return, let alone reach such a high level.
“He continues to be an inspiration to all members at the club.
“In the 20 years I have been teaching I have never seen anyone with as much fighting spirit – it is truly humbling.”
Daniel was six years old when he started suffering from constant headaches and vomiting, causing his worried mum Heidi to take him to the Royal United Hospital.
She was told he had a virus and they were sent home, but when his health started to deteriorate, the health problems returned.
Daniel was then diagnosed with a brain tumour, and was transferred to Frenchay Hospital near Bristol for two operations.
Five weeks later, he was moved to Bristol Children’s Hospital for chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Daniel faced another challenge to learn to walk and talk again, after one operation to remove the tumour left him mute and unable to move the left side of his body.
The cancer had also spread to his spine, confining him to a wheelchair for two years.
Now, five years on, Daniel still has six monthly MRI scans at the RUH, and check-ups at Bristol Children’s Hospital. Although he is not yet in remission, he is improving all the time, but still has problems with balance and walking up stairs.
Heidi said she was very proud of his courage and determination.
She said: “Everything Daniel does amazes me.
“He is so determined to have a normal life and carry on with all the things he loves, like tae kwon do.
“I am just so proud of him. He is a very brave and determined boy.”
As a mark of his courage Daniel was awarded an award from his club for his “indomitable spirit”.
He has also been given a Cancer Research UK Little Star Award in recognition of his achievements.
Damo Mitchell was born into a family of martial artists. His father, Paul Mitchell and his mother, Chris, introduced him to Shotokan Karate & Yoga at the humble age of 4.
His studies led him through many styles and various weapons, until he settled to focus on internal Chinese martial arts. Damo has travelled to the Far East to seek out the very best of teachers and has studied not only the internal marital arts, but Qi Gong, Daoist Yoga, Nei Gong (internal change) and a whole range of related disciplines.
Since 2005 Damo has been a professional martial arts teacher who spends his time travelling, teaching and writing. He founded the Lotus Nei Gong Association and has already had several books published. Having trained under him myself, I can honestly say that he is a phenomenal teacher with a remarkable ability for his age.
He has a new book coming out which is due for release on July 15th. For anybody interested in internal arts, this is to be highly recommended.
July 15th is the official release date for Damo‟s new book on Daoist internal practices. It is being released by Singing Dragon in the UK and the US. Students within our school have all noticed that there is very little information on Nei Gong available in English. This book will serve to fill the gap in information as it matches exactly the methodology taught by Damo Mitchell and his senior students in Lotus Nei Gong classes. The book contains an overview of the entire process of Nei Gong as it is understood by Damo as well as looking in detail at several important foundational practices. These include, aligning the body, developing a healthy breathing pattern through the practice of Sung and beginning to awaken the energy system. The book also contains a detailed explanation of the Ji Ben Qi Gong exercises which are fundamental to Nei Gong as well as numerous photographs of Damo performing the movements. A large degree of the book is dedicated to Daoist philosophy in order to show how arcane Daoist theory was the seed from which the internal arts of Daoism sprung forth. Towards the end of the book are various sections which discuss the abilities which can be drawn from Nei Gong practice and the start of the alchemy process which enables a practitioner to systematically break down their acquired nature and so “return to the source”. This book is available to pre-order from either Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com as well as directly from the Singing Dragon website. Some sites offer pre-order discounts as well. Release Date: July 15th 2011 “This book drills down into the golden core of the ancient Chinese art and science of internal self-cultivation known as “chi gong,” or “energy work,” and after reading it, you’ll understand why chi gong is the best way on earth to protect your health, prolong your life, and clarify your awareness of both aspects of the “Three Treasures” of life–mortal body, breath, and mind; and immortal essence, energy, and spirit. Known simply as “nei gong,” or “internal work,” this inner alchemy may be learned and practiced by anyone. Written by a dedicated practitioner who verifies scholarly research with personal experience and illustrates ancient theory with contemporary practice, this book provides the Western mind with a clear-cut introduction to chi gong that informs as well as inspires the reader to practice.” Daniel Reid Author of Guarding the Three Treasures