Today I am lucky enough to have a guest author. My wonderful husband, Ray Mannion who is a 2nd degree black belt in Taekwon-do. His love, enthusiasm and skill in TaeKwon-do shines through in almost everything he does. I am very proud of him and his MANY accomplishments in so many different areas of his life -- but gotta say there's something about him breaking boards! : )
Can Taekwon-do really Improve Your Health?
Taekwon-do as well as most martial arts proclaims to benefit the practitioner in many different ways. Can it really improve your health? I believe it can because I’ve been practicing for over 10 years and have witnessed an improved ability to perceive, prevent, and overcome illnesses.
When I ask my master instructor “what is taekwon-do?” he will always begin his answer the same: “It is a way”. It might be “a way of kicking and punching”. It might be “a way of learning” or “a way of practicing”. Nevertheless, it is always “a way”.
Taekwon-do teaches us how to take one part of our body situated at a point in space and take it to another point in space with maximum speed, maximum accuracy, and maximum power. When we are in a self-defense situation, this is what we need in order to have the most effective strike or block. Practicing techniques over and over helps us learn to recognize the millions of synapses firing and the millions of impulses and muscle fibers contracting in order to bring about a correct movement.
What does this have to do with health?
In order to be healthy, we need to be able to PERCEIVE our current state as quickly and accurately as possible. Taekwon-do develops this ability. In every class, we repeatedly train our bodies to execute a technique and we experiment with our balance, muscle contraction, eye focus, and breathing. This process (or WAY) gives us the ability to perceive how our body feels. In my experience, this has helped me to PERCEIVE when my body is coming down with a cold and it has helped me become more aware of the source of pain or illness.
Most recently, I was experiencing pain in my groin. My first inclination was the need to see a urologist or have my prostate checked by my doctor. This could have easily led to expensive tests and prescription pain medicine. However, I sat and focused on my pain and its source and asked myself “Where is this pain emanating from?” As I moved ever so slightly, I felt the pinching of my lower back a fraction of a second before experiencing the pain in my groin. That night, I made adjustments in my sleeping to alleviate the pressure on my lower back and did some strengthening exercises to benefit my lower back. I noticed I experienced the same pain in my back while I was slumped on the couch. Sure enough, days later, my groin pain was gone. I was able to heal pain through the same techniques I use in Taekwon-do class to fine tune my kicks and punches. By giving my attention to the source and the WAY of my pain, I was able to locate the causes of the pain. From there, I could make adjustments to strengthen and counteract the weakness and heal the pain.
When I feel a cold coming on, my body begins to speak to me. It says “bring on the antioxidants”. I’ve learned to listen to my body and know when it is feeling weak. It asks me for orange juice and vegetables. Practicing Taekwon-do is demanding on the body and every day I take a quick inventory while I’m changing into my uniform. “Is today going to be a good class? Am I going to perform well today? Or, am I feeling sluggish and achy?” Because Taekwon-do practice requires daily attention to the small signals sent by our body to our brain, we learn to fine tune our attention and focus on every part of our body. It can be the ball of the foot, the knee, or the simple act of tucking in our thumb to make an effective punch which helps us attune to the sensations in our extremities. When illness tries to set in, we are well trained to notice weakness or unresponsive muscles.
Putting all this psychological, meditative, mind-body connection stuff aside, there is no denying the simple evidence that exercise is good for you. By exercising and stretching, we force our heart to pump blood and increase the rate at which oxygen is carried to our extremities. Sweat allows toxins in our body to exit the body. After exercising, we crave WATER which serves to cleanse the body.
Our bodies are more limber and flexible. A Taekwon-do practitioner can recover more quickly from an accidental slip on the sidewalk that might cause an average person to end up with a sprained ankle because the taekwon-do practitioner has trained his ankle to extend further and contract back with greater resilience.
Some of my students have shared the same experience with me in that they find they have better reaction times than they had previously. “I find myself catching things before they hit the floor.” “Sometimes, I catch things that are falling and I’m not even looking at them, I just “know” where they are and my hand is in the right place at the right time and I don’t even know how it got there.” These are things that taekwon-do practitioners experience after years of training.
The last reason I believe Taekwon-do can make people healthier is our ability to recover from injuries. Besides our muscles, we learn to control our “chi” energy inside the body. Where is it? How is it moving? How can I direct the movement to permit the most powerful strike possible? I have witnessed a 90 pound woman less than 5 feet tall break through 4 or 5 boards with a kick. She is able to do this not only because her muscles are strong but because she takes the energy and spirit inside her body and builds momentum until it finally manifests itself at the moment of impact.
When we start to feel illness building in the body, we can do the same thing by closing our eyes, breathing in and focusing our attention on the part of our body which is hurting or sore or unhealthy. We can psychologically move our healing cells to the part of the body which is in need of assistance and heal the pain. This type of body control allows us to recover from illness much faster than someone who does not train in taekwon-do.
In the years that I have been practicing Taekwon-do, I have observed many different ways that the daily practice has made me healthier. Sometimes it is as simple as going to class with friends and being around teachers who inspire me by their excellent example. A positive influence and a role model of a teacher bring a bright outlook to a day that might be full of gloom.
Can Taekwon-do make you healthy? I think if you dedicated 6 months to joining a school with a good reputation, you would find it makes you healthier too. Please email me if you do. I’d be thrilled to hear how taekwon-do helps you or your loved one.
Great article! I am a 52 year old male who has just begun the taewondo experience. Yes, I am a white belt with one month of classes behind me. I love it. While everyone seems to think it is extremely physical...and it is...I tend to view it as being more 'mental' than physical. If you throw your mind over the bar...the body has to follow. It is in fact so physical, it becomes more of a mental exercise. Nonetheless...I thought after a couple of weeks the soreness would improve...but it seems to be getting worse. I take one hour classes three times a week and am constantly stretching and working on technique outside of class. My largest problem currently is my ankles. After several hours of balancing in the side kick formation on either foot, (my instructor says Slow Kick to Perfection) I am experiencing ankle pain. I assume this is temporary...but given my age...do you have any ideas on how I can strengthen my ankles or lessen the pain associated with taekwondo actiivity? I am on the path of becoming a Master. I need a little help on the pain issue however. Thanks.