"Getting Back into Martial Arts?"

Advice for those who are getting back into martial arts after a break

Do you have any advice for those of us who haven't practiced martial arts in many years and are just getting started again?

I've lived in so many different places in the last 10 years that I always seem to be just getting started again! My white belt has been used so many times it's like an old friend. Each time that I have to find a new dojo I re-evaluate my needs. Different schools will emphasize different aspects such as forms, sparring, self defense, ground work, etc. Over time, the things that I have looked for have changed and so I try to pick a school based on how I feel today and not on what I looked for in the past.

Once I get started again I notice several things. Martial arts requires a lot of muscles that we don't normally use. We need to build strength in our arms, legs, abdomen, back, neck, chest, hands, feet, fingers, toes, nose ... Have I missed anything? Building strength can be very painful. But it's a GOOD kind of pain! However, I find that it's easy to over-exert myself when I'm out of shape (it seems to take about 2 weeks to get out of shape and about 6 months to get back!). So I am careful to avoid overdoing it, particularly when I have been out for a while. Stretching before a workout is also very important to help avoid injury.

A good martial artist is more than just a bag of strong muscles. It is necessary to build endurance as well. Any type of aerobic exercise (fast walking, running, swimming, bicycling, aerobics) is good if it gets your heart pumping. Once again, in the beginning its easy to overdo it and get shin splints or injure the knees. So I use care and do plenty of stretching and I like to warm the muscles each time I exercise by starting slow. Also, the heart loses some of its capacity to pump blood as we get older so don't necessarily expect it to be able to do as much as it could when you were twenty. Unless you happen to be twenty :-)

Flexibility is another aspect of physical condition that will govern how high you can kick and many other things. Sadly, as we get older our muscles lose some flexibility. The way to keep your flexibility is by doing plenty of ... you guessed it ... STRETCHING. Muscle building causes the muscles to become shorter, which decreases flexibility. So it's important to stretch both before and after a good workout to compensate for the effect of the muscle building.

A new dojo always causes me to change. Instructors always do things differently. The stances are different, the blocks and strikes are different and the katas are different. Even the sparring can be different. I find myself forced to change my reflexes and to view martial arts in a new way. It is not easy to unlearn old habits. It has forced me to learn to have patience with the process.

All this talk about exercise is making me hungry! Yes, when we get lots of exercise our bodies require more fuel. If you start exercising and you find that you are losing weight it means that you are burning more calories than you are consuming. That may be good for a while but eventually you will have to eat more carbohydrates and fat to compensate for your increased needs. Is this a good thing or what??? :-)

We also need more protein because without it our bodies can't build muscle. For those of us who eat little or no meat, this can be a major problem. So protein powder is a good thing! I also remember Rama once commented that part of the pain that a lot of us were experiencing was caused by a deficiency of protein. I make sure my body gets plenty.

Finally, our bodies need plenty of vitamins and that very important ingredient, water. Water keeps your blood flowing and is used by your body to regulate temperature (sweat ... something we must become very familiar with!). In a good workout our bodies lose a lot of water. This causes the volume of blood to decrease, making it more difficult to get oxygen and fuel to the muscles and allowing the byproducts of combustion to build up in the muscles (muscle cramps are caused by a buildup of acid). It also causes the heart to work much harder ... I have taken 4 and 5 hour Karate tests before where I was only allowed one break for water. This is a good way to learn how to go beyond your limits (assuming that you are properly prepared for the test), however, I don't recommend it on a regular basis. Water is our friend.

:-) Good luck!

© 1999 Eagle Eyez



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