Today I had a few minutes to myself and I did all 9 of my Taekwondo patterns that I learned many years ago – is been about 15 years since I’ve done any martial arts practice. I’ve been slowly relearning them as a way to diversify my training regiment. Patterns are a great way to supplement a running regiment and can serve to still the mind. They are also great for flexibility and coordination – both of which are not natural to me. In fact, I’m about as graceless as you get when it comes to this sort of stuff which is exactly why I want to work on them. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to do these and I equate the effort to running something like a really easy fartlek workout -with all the stops and starts that typify this type of exercise. Each pattern takes about 30 seconds to one minute or so to complete. I stop to recover between them however and since I’m not that good I need to pause to remember them! I guess I could just keep doing them continuously but then what passes for proper technique is lost and they lack any sort of power. Whenever I sense myself miss a move I finish the form and go back and do the whole form again.
Some of the harder patterns are really hard for me although they are getting easier with practice. I heard once you need to do these patterns 300 to 500 times each to really begin to appreciate them. While this might be the truth the experience of slowly improving is worth the effort.
By doing these forms I can get a light workout in at home or pretty much anywhere there is a little space. They are great for bad weather days or to limber up on rest days from running. I believe that martial arts help runners by helping to develop body awareness, flexibility and balance. For example, I’ve been working on my running technique and I think doing these patterns are helping to develop a better awareness of foot strike and associated body position. Furthermore, certain muscles are developed by martial arts that can help a runner – especially the hip-flexor complex at the outside of the hip. Martial arts also develop fine motor coordination that we as runners tend not to train. I am looking forward to writing more about how martial arts training can enhance the experience of running.
I seriously think the classical martial arts method of practicing sets, patterns or katas is worth a second glance. Having tried both meditation and yoga, I find doing patterns results in the same sort of mental relaxation. I feel at peace after – just like meditation and with yoga. My mind is still and I can return to whatever I was doing with a calm and clear manner. They essentially reboot my mind and shut down the unnecessary programs running in the background. The physicality of the forms is good exercise for people who are getting a bit older (like me) who need lower impact exercise techniques. Combined with stretching, forms are very similar to yoga with regard to both physical and meditative aspects that both systems have. I always feel mentally refreshed after patterns, yoga or meditation.
In terms of practice, a person with some martial arts experience can use online videos and books to approximate what you would be learning in a class although its not a true substitute for an instructor. Someone with no martial arts experience might want to watch some videos of a class to see what its all about. To improve on patterns without an instructor I think you need to video yourself, focus on the stances and do them very often. Most of the martial arts classes I have been to begin with some form of warm up/calasthenic routine, stretching, paddle and bag kicking, forms, self-defense, sparring (one step, two step and free) and then more stretching/cool down. Most classes are about an hour or two each session. It takes about four years or five to be eligible to test for the first degree black belt in Karate or Taekwondo. Some systems more, some systems less. Belt level is a state of mind though and dovetails with the great philosophy systems that underlie most martial arts systems. Unless you are gifted (and these people exist but are rare and usually very young) you have to practice on your own for at least a few minutes almost everyday. It is this continuous disciplined practice that is the key to success in the martial arts (and in life itself but I’ll hold this thought for another day).
After doing these patterns its time to stretch out. Today, I added a new book to the height of my side stretch – just at head height. This was a success for me as stretching this way (out to the side) has always given me a lot of problems. I’ve done a lot of work on developing strength in my inner thighs/lower back as I believe stronger muscles are more flexible. Normally for stretching I do 2 sets of ten leg raises to the front, side and back. Then its time for static stretching or rounds of hard PNF stretching (4 sets of 7 seconds each). Some days I’ll contract for 30 seconds at the end of 4 rounds of seven seconds which I think helps with flexibility.
Check out this resource for stretching….