There are so many types of martial arts out there, with each instructor teaching differently with their own take on a variety of techniques. I often emphasise in my classes that nearly all styles have the same underlying principles, which are more important than the techniques. In my opinion, the essence of martial arts is self-awareness.
By Matt Hudd
Let’s consider Tai Chi. This martial art is all about learning to be aware of your breathing, your body and posture. Observing the slow, flowing movements of the students in a class, one could wonder how useful Tai Chi would be in a situation where self defence is needed. If it was not for the skills acquired through Tai Chi I would agree, but there is a lot more to Tai Chi than the martial art side of things. In fact, if you only want to learn self-defence, another class may be more suitable. However, if you were interested in all the benefits that come from Tai Chi, then it would definitely enhance your training in martial arts and self defence.
How does Tai Chi link mindfulness and self-defence? Consider this part of Tai Chi practice: the check list of running through your body constantly. You start with monitoring your natural breathing rhythm, then become aware of your feet and work your way up to the ankles, knees, hips, then chest and shoulders, and finally your chin, the crown of your head, and your tongue in the roof of your mouth. It may initially seem a little overwhelming to a beginner, but over time this check list becomes more natural and students go through it faster.
The learning process is similar to learning to drive. The first time the driving instructor lets you sit at the wheel, you have three pedals and only two feet! You must also watch out for the oncoming traffic and at the same time take a hand off the steering wheel to change gear. Because you really want to learn to drive, you persevere, and eventually you can do a lot of things at once – listen to the radio and change gears, whilst navigating to your destination with ease.
Now let’s translate this learning curve into a self defence scenario. If you have reached a more advanced level in Tai Chi, going through your check list will be second nature to you and these crucial points will increase your balance, strength and power. If you so much as tilt your head forward, this slight postural alteration will make you more vulnerable. Not being aware of your stance makes you less stable, so you could be knocked off balance much quicker. That is why being self-aware is so important – being mindful of your posture helps self defence.
Increasing your own self-awareness brings another great benefit. The more you know yourself and your own body mechanics, the better you become at reading other people’s weaknesses. For instance, you will notice when people have the weight on their heels making their stance weaker and less stable. In a self defence situation you can use this to your advantage.
Want to try a Tai Chi class?
In addition to self defence, the benefits of regular Tai Chi practice reach far beyond mindfulness. Whatever your reasons for trying a Tai Chi class, it will bring you a number of physical and mental health benefits, as well as increased fitness, coordination and balance. You will also strengthen your discipline, improve your confidence and gain new friends with your new hobby – Tai Chi classes have a great social element too. As for that overwhelming check list, don’t worry because learning new things and new moves is done at your own pace, all with one aim: you will feel so much better about yourself afterwards.
Matt Hudd teaches classes for children and adults in Hereford and Ledbury: Little Dragons (age 3 – 6), Kung Fu Kids (age 7 to 12), and adult classes in Chinese Kickboxing, Traditional Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Get in touch to claim your FREE trial lesson.
MATT HUDD MARTIAL ARTS
Tel: 07915 450 663
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Founder and editor of FitNet.
Previously gymnastics coach, massage therapist and personal trainer with 20 years of experience. Former gymnast and dancer.