Back in college I had the good fortune to work with a former Olympic-level gymnastics coach and judge from Hungary. He once told us that most of what we were learning in the classroom (exercise physiology / adult fitness) was wrong. An example was using static stretching as a warm-up. He said that it would get a gymnast injured or killed. This was consistent with what we were doing in the Chinese martial arts, so I listened intently.
Through the next few decades, though I kept in touch with what was going on in the fitness world, I ignored most of what they were calling science, since my experience with myself and my students was proving it misguided and essentially wrong.
My teacher, Master Bok-Nam Park, taught us many useful things, always based on what he called “Natural Principles”.
A few examples that are seeping into the mainstream would include:
- Focus on the joints (the movement) not the muscles. The mind sends the Qi. Have intent and the body knows what to do. The muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves work automatically.
- Use the whole body as it was meant to be used. Move from the center (the handle of the whip).
- Never train to failure. Listen to your body. With any physical exercise (i.e. resistance training) test out how many reps you can do before failure and cut the reps in half for workouts.
- 20 minutes with focus is better than 2 hours without.
Fast-forward to 2013: over the last decade or so there has been quite a shift in the fitness and even rehabilitation world. “Old school” is suddenly current again. Whole body functional movements such as dynamic stretching and mobility drills for warm-up as well as full-squats and deadlifts for strength training, after decades of being considered “harmful” or an injury waiting to happen, are finally being given the kind of respect they deserve.
Heck, what is more natural than a full squat (all the way down, not just “until the top of your thighs are parallel to the ground”)? It’s how ¾ of the planet goes to the bathroom!
If squats were bad for the knees (something I’ve heard countless times since at least the early 80s), wouldn’t there be a worldwide epidemic of people in third-world countries, including natives, unable to walk and needing knee replacements? No, that only happens where they stop squatting!
Are you weight training or bodybuilding?
The bodybuilding approach is for aesthetics and little more. Unless that is your only goal, you can get far more bang for your buck with proper training. Segmenting the body with single-joint exercises, though maybe useful in rehab, has no place in the real world. It does not improve on how the body was meant to function. In fact, it hinders it.
The same can be said for free-weights vs. machines. With a fairly extensive background in free-weights from back in my high school and college days, the weakest I ever felt was after a summer of working out strictly on Nautilus machines. It was like all the muscles that stabilize a load went to sleep.
That’s not how the body is supposed to function. Everything must work together. When I shifted back to the free-weights the lesson was clear and quick as I nearly killed myself! The amount of weight I could lift dropped dramatically.
As a martial artist, the single-joint approach or machine-based resistance training fully contradicts what we are trying to accomplish with the body: to move it as a unit, fully connected from the center applied to any work intended. Proper resistance training of any kind, bodyweight or otherwise, must compliment our skills training. Anything else is a waste of time.
The Mental Side
That brings us to the mind: It must be completely focused on the task at hand. That’s why you won’t find any music playing in any class here at the Blue Dragon School. We’re here to fully integrate the body and the mind – to tune-in to what the body is telling us at any given moment so we can learn to move… better.
We’re not here for dancing and we shouldn’t be moving in tune with an external rhythm. We must listen to our inner music and become sensitive to what is felt inside.
There’s a reason traditional martial arts training, such as the Kung Fu that we teach here, have been around for thousands of years: the profound effect on the lives of those who practice.
The full BodyMind complex is integrated into all that we do here. That’s why we call it BodyMind Training™.
Respond with compassion. Move with grace.