By Matt Hudd
So many aspects of martial arts practice can be related to our day to day lives. How we stand and move, how we breathe, what we think about, all have a powerful effect on our health and wellbeing, but to change habits such as shallow breathing or bad posture requires self awareness. Whether your intention is to bring your martial arts training to a new level, or simply learn some Tai Chi moves for physical or mental health, find out how you can benefit from a few simple techniques.
I have always believed that awareness is the essence of martial arts and self defence. Being aware of oneself – self awareness – makes all the difference in martial arts training, but also in our every day lives. Think about it; how you are breathing, standing or moving your body, what thoughts are going through your mind, the awareness of your surroundings and people around you, the awareness of your training partner and their movement and posture… Your awareness of these variables can change the outcome of the situation you find yourself in at any one time.
1. Body awareness
In my article in the Winter 2015 edition of FitNet I explained the eight principles, which form the basis of the martial arts system taught in my classes. The first three are feet, posture and breath. This has great relevance in Tai Chi so we tend to talk about this in much more detail in our Tai Chi classes, but the positioning of your feet, your posture and breathing relate to all martial arts. In any combat sport, footwork is the most important aspect of training – you need to know exactly where your feet are as this will affect your whole posture, and your balance.
Whether you are practising martial arts, or simply trying to keep upright, your posture will affect your balance. For example, it helps to make sure your knees are slightly bent rather than locked back, and you’ll feel more grounded, as if your legs were rooted into the ground, giving you stability. If your chest is relaxed, shoulders are down and your chin parallel to the floor, your head and your body will be in their most natural alignment. This ensures that you use your whole body as a unit, with maximum efficiency, making you a lot stronger. In any self defence situation, a better posture is going to keep you on your feet rather than on the pavement. The wider implications for anyone’s health and wellbeing are, for example, improved breathing that results from a better posture.
It should be the most natural process, yet so many people do not breathe correctly. Shallow breath using the chest rather than the diaphragm is often a learnt behaviour, resulting from the stresses that our lives bring. It can take a lot of effort to change this but it is possible to learn to breathe more deeply. Better breathing practice is taught in Yoga and Pilates, as well as in martial arts, including Tai Chi, and it brings great health benefits. ‘Breathe deeply’ is the first thing we say to somebody who is nervous or anxious, because it supplies the body with more oxygen, ultimately calming their nerves.
As mindfulness is becoming more popular, we’re learning about its numerous benefits for mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. I have been on meditation retreats where we even practised mindful walking – you’d be surprised how powerful this exercise is! So many of our behaviours, good and bad, take place without our consciousness, and often the only way to change the bad ones is to become aware of them first! This is why I love Tai Chi and the Kung Fu forms we practise in my classes. You could think about it as a set of movements performed against an imaginary opponent. To some people, the Kung Fu forms are like a dance. Watching someone perform Tai Chi is mesmerising. To me, it is moving meditation!
Whether you decide to improve your physical or mental health with regular Tai Chi practice, or wish to master mindfulness, or broaden your understanding of other forms of martial arts, enjoy a FREE trial lesson.
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.
Matt Hudd Martial Arts
Tel: 07915 450 663
Facebook: Matt Hudd Martial Arts
Founder and editor of FitNet.
Previously gymnastics coach, massage therapist and personal trainer with 20 years of experience. Former gymnast and dancer.