Most people like the idea of being a martial artist.
It sounds cool, and honestly it is cool. What we don’t like is getting started and actually doing the work necessary to become a martial artist. Beginning is the hardest part.
Most of us remember gym classes from high school where everyone seemed to know what was going on except us. Martial art classes can be even worse. The clothes, the language, the yelling: everything is weird. My hope is that this post will allow you to begin to familiarize yourself with at least some of the exercises that you will do in martial art class. If you come to Kuk Sool Won with a basic level of strength and fitness on which to build, you’ll be more comfortable and more likely to succeed.
That said, you don’t need to be able to do any of this before you begin martial art training. I have both kids and adults begin all the time who can’t do even one push-up. Beginning is the key. You can’t get to Black Belt if you’re never a White Belt.
10. Meditation: Strong Mind
Meditation calms you down and gets you ready to learn. We don’t practice it every day, or even every month during class. It’s one of the things that we simply don’t have time for in the two or three hours that we’re together every week. Meditation is crazy important for traditional martial artists, but we have to discipline ourselves to do it outside of class.
I recommend Wayne Dyer’s little book about meditation called Getting in the Gap. It comes with a CD (or a download code) in the back with guided meditations and makes it ridiculously easy to learn.
9. Butterfly: Groin, Core, Balance
The Butterfly is a simple position for kids, but harder for adults. Sit on the floor and place the soles of your feet together. Pull your feet into your body as close as you can. You can use your hands. Allow your legs to relax and your knees to fall toward the floor. Hold the position until any discomfort eases and then lean forward (from your hips, not from rounding your spine).
A good exercise is to sit as straight as possible and put both hands on your knees and press down. If you are mostly sedentary and over 30, this will be challenging. Do not recline or rest with your hands behind you. If you want to rest in this position, lean forward and rest your hands on the floor.
8. Yoga Plow: Core, Back, Balance
Lie flat on your back and lift your legs toward the ceiling. Depending on your level of conditioning, this might be challenging in itself. If it’s not a problem, continue lifting your feet towards your head. Your hips will rise off the floor and your spine will round as you try to bring your toes to the floor behind your head.
It doesn’t matter if your feet reach the floor or not. The exercise will teach your abs to work, your back to relax, and begin to teach your body about balance. Be gentle with yourself and keep trying.
7. Horse Stance: Groin, Feet, Ankles, Legs
Horse Stance is a training position. It’s hard, it hurts, but it makes your legs crazy strong. Start with your legs about one and a half times your shoulder width apart. Bend your knees as much as you can while trying to keep your knees over your feet and your toes straight ahead. Clasp your hands in front of you for now (that will change during class, but you don’t have to worry about it yet.) Your goal is to have your femur (the long bone between your hip and your knee) parallel to the floor. You’ll have to work up to that.
Start with holding the position for ten seconds and then resting. Once that’s not a problem, bump it up to twenty and then thirty seconds. If you watch television, you can practice during the commercials. Discipline yourself to hold the stance for one complete commercial. When that’s not a problem, go for two, and so on.
6. Wall Stretch: Groin, Calves, Core
Find a section of a wall that is relatively free from obstacles for about the width or your outstretched arms from your waist down to the floor. Lie down on the floor with your butt pushed up against the wall and your feet pointing straight up toward the ceiling. Slowly, spread your feet as far as you can.
When you reach your limit, stay there for a while. If you bring a book, you can relax for quite a while in this position. If you have low back issues, you might want to use a couch cushion or something similar to elevate your shoulders and upper back.
Every so often, treat yourself to an increased stretch by using your hands (or ask for a friend’s help) and lower your feet a few inches down the wall. The closer to the floor you get, the more intensely you will feel the stretch. You can use blocks, pillows, or supports of some kind to keep your feet from falling too quickly if you want.
5. Wall Stands: Hands, Wrists, Shoulders, Core, Balance
Find a space on your wall where you can stand against the wall without touching pictures or windows. I like to use the back of a closed (and locked!) door. Your goal is to do a hand-stand (not head-stand) and rest your back against the wall. You’re going to start slowly though.
Begin by kneeling while facing away from the wall. Place the soles of your feet flat against the wall and your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Slowly, walk your feet up the wall as high as you can go. Work on holding this position for ten seconds at a time and work up as on the other exercises.
Your back will be happiest if you keep it flexed forward (what gymnasts call a “hollow-body” position).
4. Romanian Dead-Lifts: Glutes, Hamstrings, Feet, Balance
You don’t need to use any weight for these, but you can if you want. I sometimes have my students just use a small pillow or something to give them focus.
Stand straight with your feet together. You are going to lean forward as far as you can while you lift one foot off the ground behind you. Ask someone to watch you and make sure that you are keeping your hips level. Your tendency will be to allow the hip on the side of the leg that is airborne to rise. Don’t allow this to happen.
At the midpoint, your spine and your femur should be parallel to the floor. Try to keep the motion down and the motion back up smooth and easy. Clench your butt cheeks hard on the leg that’s working when you come back up.
3. Pull-Ups: Arms, Back, Hands
Most department stores and all sporting goods stores sell pull-up bars now. If you buy them new (and not off eBay) they will come with decent instructions for doing pull-ups.
In the mean-time, practice with what you have (not a closet rack, they won’t hold.) I like to place a (sturdy) broom handle between two stable surfaces and use that. You can use filing cabinets, tables, saw horses, anything that will support your weight. Use your feet and legs to help you in the beginning, but wean yourself away from that as soon as possible.
2. Burpees: Core, Arms, Endurance
Start by standing straight with your feet together. Squat down and touch the floor with your hands at about shoulder width and jump your feet all the way back until your legs are straight. It’s okay if your feet separate a little. Do a push-up (see below) and then immediately jump your feet back up to their starting position and stand up.
Begin with sets of five (do five in a row). If you can do three sets of five repetitions, then do six. Bump yourself up slowly until you can do five sets of ten.
1. Push-Ups: Hands, Wrists, Chest, Back, Core, Endurance
One of the best exercises for martial artists, and the most often done incorrectly. Begin by standing straight with your feet together. Crouch down until you can put your hands on the floor outside of your knees. Step back one foot at a time. Keep your stomach tight (hollow body) and your neck neutral. The middle finger on each hand should point directly ahead or just to the outside (11:00 on the left hand and 1:00 on the right.)
The insides of your elbows should point directly ahead so that when your elbows bend, they will bend toward your feet, not out to the sides like wings. Ideally, as you go down, your elbows will brush your ribs.
If you can’t do even a single good push-up, you’re not alone. Even most martial artists will have trouble doing them this way. That’s okay. Be strict with yourself. While you are learning, it is better to elevate your hands than to drop down on your knees (so-called “girl push-ups”.) Begin training with your hands on the seat of a chair, the back of the couch, the bathtub, kitchen counter, whatever. As long as it’s sturdy and you won’t slip. Stairs are actually perfect since they give you a built-in way to increase the resistance as you get better. Simply go down a step when you can do ten in a row with no problem.
Regular push-ups on the floor not a problem for you? Go to the stairs and place your feet on the bottom step. Work your way up the steps backwards until you can to ten with your feet as high as they’ll go.
These are just a few of the exercises that we do at Kuk Sool Won™ of Muncie.
Actually, one of the first things that new students learn is another set of exercises that every Kuk Sool Won student worldwide practices. It opens your body up, massages every joint, and gets you ready for martial art training.
Until that time, you can use these exercises to get yourself ready. Remember that you don’t have to have any level of fitness to begin training. There are no age limits, no handicaps that prevent you from training. If you want to train, but are concerned for whatever reason, give us a call. We’ll be glad to see what we can do to help.
Wayne Dyer: Getting In the Gap
Yoga Plough Tutorial
One-Legged Romanian Dead-Lift
Agree? Disagree? Want more information? Let me know.