By Nick Jankel

Author, Keynote Speaker, Leadership Theorist, Transformational Coach, Wisdom Teacher, Co-Creator of Bio-Transformation Theory & Practice®

Physical, Mental & Spiritual Fitness with Martial Arts

Martial arts – Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Aikido, Capoeira and more – are a mighty way to up your physical, mental and spiritual fitness. The style of martial arts you go for depends on what you want to achieve. For self defence, Kung Fu and Karate promise to equip you with some moves that will give you confidence when walking around town late at night. But that’s not to say they’re without their spiritual side – all martial arts can be part of a spiritual practice. Tai Chi is a more meditative form with its slow movements and focus on manipulating qi (life force energy). To find out more about where to start with martial arts, read on.

The Low-Down on Benefits & Types of Martial Arts

Feeling frustrated or furious? Martial arts give us an opportunity to re-channel our anger, frustration and pent-up energy in a safe and disciplined way. We can work through conflict creatively and build up confidence to deal with situations like bullying bosses as well as feeling safer in dodgy areas. On top of the physical fitness benefits, practising a martial art can give you an experience of feeling fully alive and in the flow as you have to stay intimate with the present moment. Martial arts practice can also reduce stress as the deep breathing you learn helps you to stay calm and centered. Here’s more on the scientific proof of martial art’s benefits.

Where do you start? Here’s the low-down on a few common forms (for a complete list see here.) Chinese martial arts are generally known as Kung Fu and are some of the best known martial arts. Kung Fu is mainly a striking style of martial arts using kicks, blocks, and strikes to defend against attackers. Kung Fu uses both hard (meeting force with force) and soft (using an aggressor’s strength against them) techniques. Shaolin Kung Fu is the style from which all Chinese martial arts come. Wing Chun is one style of Kung Fu that specializes in close-range combat. Relaxation and the softness that comes from that, is a key part of Wing Chun. With Jujitsu, a Japanese martial art, you learn to use indirect force (instead of, say, a punch or kick) to get the upper hand. Some methods of jujutsu have been blended into Judo and Aikido. Aikido is a Japanese form of martial art focusing on movement that focuses on using your opponent’s energy instead of more direct moves. Tai Chi is a more ‘internal’ form of martial art, from China, which can give your psychological well-being a boost. It uses relaxed, fluid movements. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art combo of self-defense and combat techniques with sport and exercise elements. Capoeira (pronounced ‘kapu’era’) is a Brazilian martial art that brings together dance, acrobatics and music. Expect quick and complex moves and to learn an art that is both self-defence and a game with exotic techniques impressive to watch. Weapons styles include Kali (stick fighting), lado (sword fighting) and match weaponry.


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Where to Start: Martial Arts Schools and Books

You can start with reading about Martial Arts, but there’s nothing to beat the real experience of going to a class. Once you’ve done your research and decided what style to go for, Google your local classes and get in there. It can be a bit of a financial investment to get all the equipment and gear, but you can often try a first class or even a whole trial course for free before you see if that particular stye of martial art resonates with you. While your local gym might offer martial arts classes – and that’s great if you just want to dip your toe in – you’re better off going to a training school or ‘studio’ (known as a ‘dojo’ in some styles) if you’re serious about the form. Why? Because the other students will be more committed and into the lifestyle of martial arts. You’ll become part of a community that will support you as you develop on this path. When choosing a style – and many schools offer a few different styles – think about whether you want to develop your self-defence, increase your strength and stamina, or become more focused internally. If you’re not into fighting but want to explore the more ‘inner’ realms of martial arts, try Tai Chi. Be clear on the fees from the start – this can include yearly registration. Check if the teachers are nationally accredited to teach their style, and if the school keeps to the standards of that organization. Here’s more on getting started.

More than Just Physical Combat: Martial Arts as Spiritual Practice

So what are martial arts? Simply put, the study of physical conflict. But they’re a lot more than that. Martial arts can be part of your wellness and spiritual practice because, like all good spiritual practices, they teach you how to accept what is happening right here and right now – and to work with that. When you’re in the here and now, accepting who and what you are, your spirit (which is mightier than you might think) can come out and be in the world – helping you to deal with any crap that life throws at you, with strength, confidence and determination. Think of it as a training ground for your spirit and mind as well as your body. The challenges of a regular martial arts practice – facing your own physical limitations, and keeping a disciplined practice even when you don’t feel like it – all help to toughen you up so you can stay strong when the going gets tough on any level. With Aikido, for instance, although different styles have varying emphasis on the spiritual side, O Sensei taught that this martial arts practice has a deep connection with developing harmony and peace within. One translation of Aikido is “The Way of Harmony of the Spirit”. Martial arts are divided into ‘Internal’ and ‘External’ forms. ‘Internal’ means that this martial art – such as Tai Chi – focuses more on the manipulation of qi (vital life force energy) which is great for both defence training and health.

From Ancient China to Bruce Lee: History of Martial Arts

There’s no doubt that us humans have used our hands and feet to protect ourselves since the dawning of time – but no-one knows exactly how martial arts originated. Chinese martial arts came out of the need for self-defence and military training as well as hunting in ancient China, with Chinese soldiers learning hand-to-hand combat and weaponry. Kung Fu is actually a Chinese term that means any study, learning, or practice that needs patience, energy and time to complete, but has come to mean ‘Chinese martial arts’ in the West – and from the end of the 20th Century, in China too. Shaolin Kung Fu, the origin of all Chinese martial arts, is more than 1500 years old. Capeoira has a fascinating history: slaves practised Capoeira, disguising it as a dance to avoid punishment for learning to defend themselves. Capoeira spread to other countries from the 1970’s on and is now a huge tourist attraction in Brazil. Taekwondo was developed more recently, in the 1950’s. These days martial arts have become hugely popular in the West, which started back in the 19th Century with East-West trade increases and continued with the popularity of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Cultural cross-pollination has resulted in exciting martial arts developments like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

How will this help you to transform your problems and pain?

Martial arts give the power back to us as we learn how to use our bodies and minds in a disciplined way, building our strength and focus so we can blast through stress and be full participants in our lives.


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