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Martial Arts as a Road to Health

By Shihan Mary Bolz

What do you think of when someone mentions martial arts? Kicking and punching? Flipping stunts, old Bruce Lee movies, Jackie Chan, or board breaking demonstrations? What are the martial arts really about? Better yet, what are traditional martial arts about?

There are many types of martial arts. Most of the martial arts we have today have come from Asia. There are the Chinese arts such as gong fu and tai ji (tai chi chuan). There are the traditional Okinawan and Japanese martial arts: karate, judo, kendo, Iaidõ (classical Japanese swordsmanship with a live blade), kyudo (Japanese archery), etc. There is the well-known Korean martial art, Taekwondo, which is quite popular in the United States and there is American karate, which is a blend of a little bit of a number of traditional arts.

Whatever the tradition, martial arts may be a very valuable regimen to include in your sports or gym routines or may stand on its own as your only regimen for truly good health. A good martial arts training program will need no other physical fitness programs for good health. But if you like sports and want to improve your balance, stamina and technique in your favorite one, martial arts training can dramatically improve your game, not only your health.

So why are the martial arts so good and so complete for health improvement? Well, assuming you enter a good program, you will get a good cardiovascular workout, a balanced strength-building routine, and a breathing and stretching routine, which covers the bases for health building. In order to improve the blood circulation and give the heart a good workout, the cardiovascular, aerobic portion is very important. In order to build bone and muscle tissue to prevent atrophy of the muscles and bone loss (such as osteoporosis), the strength building and impact exercises are a must. For flexibility, agility and relaxation training, a stretching session is paramount.

What else is important for good health? You guessed it, a great attitude towards life which comes from the ability to deal with stress, to learn to “roll with the punches” (maybe literally, in this case.), to meet the daily challenges of life and to plain enjoy life. Why or how are martial arts any better at developing all of these desired qualities than other activities? Oriental martial arts are now practiced throughout the world. Individuals participate in these arts for recreation, for health benefits, for sport competition, and for self-defense and confidence to be able to “take care of themselves.” In any of these aspects, there are other activities that provide similar experiences. Yet the martial arts remain unique. This uniqueness is expressed in an ideology reflecting centuries of cultural and historical evolution, particularly those rooted in the Japanese concepts of Zen, budo (Japanese word for martial arts, literally meaning stop-fighting-way or path), the way of the the samurai. Martial arts are more ideologically defined than most physical activities because of their cultural and historical roots in the Orient. The belief that martial arts are not “just sports” is a major component of their ideology.

Suzuki, a Zen monk, and Master Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido, a Japanese martial art), state:

The goal of training in the martial arts is to overcome six kinds of disease: 1) the desire for victory 2) the desire for technical cunning 3) the desire to show off 4) the desire to psychologically overwhelm the opponent 5) the desire to remain passive in order to wait for an opening 6) the desire to become free of these diseases.
Master Gichin Funakoshi, revered as the “Father of Modern Karate” has stated, “The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”

Traditions in the modern martial arts schools based on the Japanese tradition will include always bowing before entering or leaving the school, always bowing to each other before partner practice, and learning the history and philosophy of life, which translates into social skills. Because a carefully-planned workout routine will include balanced warms ups, exercises and stretching in addition to all the various martial art maneuvers and skills, the student gets an excellent physical fitness program simultaneously. What makes the big difference between martial art training and other forms of physical fitness is not just the self-defense techniques, it is the frame of mind, the attitude, and the development of the spirit that is so crucial to health and happiness. You may seriously consider checking out your local martial arts centers for a balanced approach to your health and life. Everyone can do martial arts if the program is set up for such. It is not for just the superstar. Will you lose weight, too? In all likelihood, yes!!

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