September 15, 2005

Fitness with a Kick: Martial Arts

BY David Bohn ("Fitness")

Well, Chicago has one of the best summers on record! Maybe you stuck with your workout program, maybe you let the sunshine lure you outside more often than you planned on. If so, hopefully you played some volleyball, rode your bike or went rollerblading along the lake or did any one of the dozens of outdoor activities that were available to you in this fun summer city.

As fall approaches, you may be looking for a different regimen to your workout program. While everyone can lift weights and do cardio on a treadmill, perhaps it’s time to try something different. Martial arts is one such activity that people can engage in that not only strengthens the body, it improves flexibility, coordination as well as addressing such issues as self-confidence and concentration.

How does martial arts improve so many aspects of a person’s life? As a new student, students work primarily with basic drills, such as blocks, punches and kicks to work on one’s hand-eye coordination and timing. Usually people new to martial arts are not in the best of shape, so a lot of martial arts is physical conditioning; push-ups, sit-ups, floor drills (kicks) and working with a heavy bag and jumping rope (though not necessarily all at the same time!)

It is at this time of conditioning and stamina-building that students continually work to improve their technique in martial arts. Repetitive punches in what is called a “horse stance” or a wide middle stance does several things. The punches work on hand-eye coordination; punching at a specific target and this also works the shoulders, chest and triceps. Maintaining the wide stance works the quads, glutes and hamstrings. Students also learn proper breathing techniques to be able to channel more power through their technique as well as to execute the famous “khi-ap!” This shouting while punching or kicking is again to channel one’s breathing and power into the technique and in the event someone really needs to use what he or she has learned in class for self-defense, a show of force is usually enough to dissuade an attacker or give him pause long enough to run out of the situation and get help.

As the student progresses in belt-rank, he or she learns to execute ever more complex strikes and blocks; incorporating single-arm and -leg techniques. Students also begin learning how to spar (combat fight), work with weapons such as the Jahng Bong (mid-range staff) and the Ssahng Jeol Bong (nun chucks) and to learn various self-defense techniques. This is not to say all of these aspects in martial arts are going to be learned in eight weeks, whereupon one will be able to inflict the Touch of Death; true martial arts training takes years, but the benefits are long lasting.

In addition to all of the physical benefits of martial arts training, students receive numerous additional benefits for the mind. With continued practice, members learn improved concentration, discipline and focus. Martial arts also teaches the values of leadership, teamwork and integrity; virtues a little short-changed in our society. If people are looking for a connection with something in the universe larger than themselves, martial arts can help foster such a non-threatening connection; whether or not church is a significant part of one’s life.

In summary, martial arts can improve one’s physical stamina, strength, endurance, balance and coordination, as well as one’s focus, mental discipline and self-confidence. It can be a great supplement to one’s workout, or a complete workout in and of itself. With the changing seasons and the need to come back inside, why not mix up the workout and try something new? The challenge just might surprise you.

David Bohn has been practicing American Taekwondo for over three years and is a second degree black belt who teaches at the Chicago ATA Black Belt Academy at 3103 N. Ashland. The phone number for the Academy is (773) 755-4065.