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Posteral Considerations for the Martial Artist

Posteral Considerations for the Martial Artist

Andrew is 37 years old and lives in Devon with his wife and two children. He has been involved in the martial arts for over thirty years and is currently third dan and chief instructor of Mushinkai Karate as well as a student of Kendo.

In addition to martial arts, Andrew has worked as a fitness professional and personal trainer for the past eighteen years, and is currently employed by the University of Exeter as Health and Fitness manager.

He acts as fitness advisor and trainer to a number of martial arts groups, and is working to improve the knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology amongst martial artists.

I first met Andrew at a seminar I taught quite a few years ago in the south of England. Andrew had travelled quite a way to get to the seminar and as luck would have it I would be passing his part of the world on my way back up north. I gave Andrew a lift home and in the couple of hours he was travelling with me we talked at length about the pragmatic application of karate and how knowledge of anatomy and physiology was vital for efficient, effective and safe training. Andrew and I have been in touch since that time.

I truly am delighted that Andrew has offered to make this contribution to the guest writer's section. His work is very easy to digest and it is sure to be of great value to all visitors and members.

All the best,


Posteral Considerations for the Martial Artist

by Andrew Adams

When the decision is finally made to study the martial arts, anyone serious about their study will have spent considerable time researching the style that is of most interest to them. In addition, care must be taken to find a reputable Dojo and Sensei of suitable knowledge. What may not be high on your list is the question of whether you are fit to start training in the martial arts? Of course, many people train in order to become fitter and you may consider yourself of "reasonable" fitness due to playing other sports or activities, but there are many factors that contribute to ones overall fitness.

Every year I see many clients who have given up a particular sport due to an injury of some kind. In many cases, these injuries are the result of the activity itself, but all too frequently I see people whose injuries could have been avoided. Of course the majority of people training for the first time will have poor or reduced flexibility and this is fine as long as the Sensei takes time to ensure that techniques are taught at the pace of the student's ability. The body will soon start to become accustomed to the new challenge and will adapt accordingly.

The human body has to learn to perform literally thousands of different movements. Just think for a moment how many muscles have to coordinate with each other in order to perform a task like putting your gi on, tying your belt, then walking into the dojo! That's before you even attempt to learn that advanced Kata. Your body simply could not remember all of the required information, so it relies on something that we call "generalized motor patterns".Schmidt 1991.

The body then stores the basic information required to perform these patterns, e.g. muscles used, speed etc. Once the basic patterns have been memorised, variations of these patterns can be improvised when the need arises. For example we may spend our first few Karate lessons in lines performing punches whilst moving forward. We may then be asked to do the same techniques whilst moving backwards. This will cause us to perform first few with poor coordination or power, but the body soon learns how to adapt to the new movement from other patterns it will have previously learnt.

You may recall a time when you drove a strange car, but within a few miles it felt comfortable as your body adapted to the weight of the wheel and feel of the pedals. Try crossing your arms the opposite way. At first this will be awkward, but with repetition the action will feel easier, as it will adapt the program that it already uses.

Human movement is achieved through the "Kinetic chain", which consists of the Nervous, skeletal and muscular systems. All of these systems need to work in harmony if efficient movement is to be achieved.

Whilst you are learning these movements it is vital that the instructor ensures that you are performing the movement correctly otherwise you run the risk of learning a faulty movement pattern. Relearning a movement pattern is a difficult task, just ask anyone who has learnt a Kata incorrectly and had to start again.

This task is made even more difficult if you have a previous injury or tight muscles. In this case the body will not be able to perform the moment correctly, so the body will compensate. If you have ever injured a foot or leg, you may have developed a limp, this is your body compensating by shifting the workload to other muscles in order to still complete the task. However this will over burden these muscles and eventually lead to further injury.

It is these secondary injuries that I see all too often and these are frequently the ones that will lead to you stopping training.

When working with people in the gym environment I always start with a structural assessment in order to find any tight muscles and faulty movement patterns. Once identified, I then work on these areas before progressing onto more complex movements.

So why is this important to us as Martial artists?

Well, if tight muscles or injuries cause joint instability or faulty movement patterns, we will never be able to generate full power in our various techniques.

I fully appreciate that most Sensei are not trained in this area, however, it is vital that if a student seems to struggle with a particular movement, the Sensei should always endeavour to question and work with the person and not just hope that they will "get it in time." It is just possible that their body could be compensating for something and an injury is just waiting to happen.

Students can also help themselves by learning how the body works. In the past, persons undertaking the study of Martial arts would have learnt the basics of anatomy and physiology as this would have made them a more effective warrior and also proved useful when needing to repair injuries that would have occurred through combat.

When trying to understand Bunkai, it is very useful to know what movements are available at various joints, as this will dictate whether a movement will be effective or not.

If you have access to a Gym, talk to the instructors, who should be able to assist you in developing your knowledge, or if you are thinking of starting a new martial art, and have had previous injuries it could be worth visiting a Physiotherapist for an assessment. The few pounds spent could be well worth it in the future.

Remember, practise does not make perfect. Practise only makes permanent. Only perfect practise makes perfect.

Next time: We will take a more in depth look at the nervous system.

Andrew Adams © Copyright 2007

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