Flexibility in Martial Arts & Life.
Why is it so important?
When we talk flexibility in Martial Arts the first thing people think of is being able to do the box splits or kicking straight up into the air.
In truth. Most Martial Artists won’t ever get to this level of flexibility and nor do they need to.
Flexibility isn’t just measured by the ability to take your joints to these extreme levels. There is nothing wrong with these abilities and the time, effort, and discipline to enable the perfect box split or high kick has to be admired. But most never get to this level or even want to make it to this level.
Does that mean you don’t need to improve or maintain your flexibility? NO definitely not.
In over thirty years of training and teaching, I have been amazed at the lack of flexibility of our youngsters. When I was a lad, gymnastics and stretching was a normal part of our P.E lessons. And touching your toes was just something we all did without even thinking about it.
When teaching in schools I have found the following to be true.
Between reception and years one and two, most of the students are able to touch their toes. By the time these students are in years, five and six most cannot.
Is this the end of the world?
Does it really matter?
Well. I look at it this way.
When I was about 10-12 years old most of us could touch our toes easily. As we have grown up, a lot of us have lost this flexibility due to not maintaining stretches, the normal everyday lifestyle, sitting at a desk all day. Lots of reasons. As a result, a large number develop aches and pain. Bad backs, hunched shoulders, joint problems.
I can’t help but feel that a lot of these issues could be prevented with better flexibility. By touching your toes and stretching throughout your body you will be constantly using the full range of motion within your joints. Your muscles are being used for stretching and flexing. Meaning the whole body will be better aligned, strengthened, and balanced.
Therefore no joint restrictions, no undue tightening of the muscles, and no unnecessary tension on the joints. Therefore less back problems, fewer joint problems, better posture, and a more balanced body. Right?
Regular martial arts training will maintain the full range of motion through striking skills, techniques, and movement. A simple break-fall execution will require most of the body to be controlled at one time or another. Bending your knees, flexing your leg muscles, engaging the core, extending your arms, rolling, and getting back up.
All these basic movements will ensure your joints and muscles are working and being taken through their full range. The age-old saying “USE IT OR LOSE IT” aptly describes the necessity of your joint movement and muscle stretching. If you don’t regularly extend your joints and therefore stretch your muscles then the muscles will tighten, the joint ligaments will tighten and the joint will lose some of its flexibility.
I remember my father having a shoulder problem after an injury. He couldn’t properly reach the top shelf. Over the years he came to accept this disability and attributed it to “the old shoulder issue” and “getting older”. Then a miracle… He started training at a gym, and the young PT instructor began to encourage him to use the lightest of weights and press them above his shoulders. Over the period of a few months, he was able to lift heavier weights and reach up more and more. Eventually, after about 12 weeks he was able to reach the top shelf without discomfort! No pain, no awkward twisting. Simply reach up.
Obviously, this wasn’t a miracle. He had just slowly improved his muscle flexibility, strength, and ligament flexibility back to its natural state. He’s original injury prevented such movement, so he didn’t attempt the movement, after the injury had repaired, his shoulder hadn’t been retrained and rehabilitated to execute the movement. It’s that simple. He had suffered years of pain and discomfort but after a relatively short period of rehabilitation and training his shoulder was mostly pain-free.
Martial arts is an option that will offer a whole-body stretch at one point or another. Each kick, punch, break-fall, and techniques will encourage motion, this motion will work on your muscles flexion, strengthen, and ligament elasticity and will ultimately improve the body’s flexibility.
Improved body flexibility will help the body to be more balanced. A balanced body will in turn allow each muscle group to work how it is intended. Therefore allowing the body to work as efficiently as possible. Preventing injury, aches, and pain and even recovery from knocks and accidents.