Alive and Kicking – Martial Arts Over 40
Monday 13 February 2012: Issue #20
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Published by Brett Kraiger. Your comments are always welcome.
Welcome to this week’s Alive and Kicking, the newsletter for martial artists over 40.
Today I want to take a closer look at balance, which is essential to every martial art, and many other activities too. In particular I want to bring your attention to a website by a fellow martial artist who I believe has written a most excellent post talking about balance and improving it.
You will recall the article I mentioned a couple of newsletters ago, comparing the fitness levels of middle-aged martial artists vs their sedentary peers. As well as better cardio fitness, strength and flexibility, one of the biggest findings was that the martial artists had significantly better balance.
Of course this is no accident or fluke, as balance is a fundamental part of any martial art, and we work hard to improve it. Of course balance means different things at different times. In a kicking art for example, you need to be able to balance on one foot while the other is extended out to some ridiculous angle :). Other martial arts techniques require you to have a low and very strong centre of gravity.
Whatever it is, the skill of balance has to be learned.
And while I remember… you should know that this balance is going to stick with you for your lifetime. Balance is a skill that you will keep forever. You never forget how to ride a bicycle – it becomes an innate skill. With falls in the home being one of the chief causes for injury in older adults, the importance of this cannot be underestimated.
Anyway… I found this great post on a site by Brett Malone, a 3rd Degree in Taekwondo. It’s one of the most comprehensive and interesting articles I’ve found about improving your balance. Of course it is slanted toward kicking, because Taekwondo is a kicking art, but the principles apply across the board.
I don’t want to steal his thunder and I encourage you to head over to his website to read the full article, but here’s just a snippet.
What exactly is balance?
- Balance is a reflex action to prevent falling and injury.
- It involves more parts of the body than any other. It uses 3 of the 5 basic senses, the majority of muscles from the head to toe, a whole host of nerves and the brain.
- Balance is a whole-body reflex which is developed during infancy. It is essentially a hard-wired reflex action.
As example – if you lift one leg off the ground and are pushed from the side, your leg will come down automatically to prevent you from falling. In the 1/2 second that it takes to put your foot down, there is a great concert of actions occurring in your body
- Your muscles receive increased pressure on opposite side of the push
- The muscles in the leg attached to the ground tense in response, attempting to maintain a balanced position.
- Core muscles tense to attempt to hold the upper body upright
- The ears perceive a difference in the body’s orientation to gravity
- The brain receives signals from the ear and musculature informing it that balance has been overwhelmed, that a fall is imminent
- The brain decodes the signals, determines the direction of travel
- A course of action is determined, signals are sent to the raised leg to drop.
- The leg responds, lowering towards the ground in roughly a 90 degree angle to the direction of the imminent fall
- The muscles of the body brace for impact
- The leg contacts the ground, while the muscles act as a shock absorber.
This all happens before your brain consciously registers that you are off-balance – it is for all intensive purposes automatic. Some portions of the reaction even occur without the brain being an active player – the nerves in the muscles have what is known as a feedback loop, reacting to changing pressure and tightening muscles subtly to keep balance without the brain even being aware of it. Standing still with both feet on the ground is a perfect example of this. Dozens of muscles are in constant adjustment for pressure just standing in one place, yet we are not aware of any of them working at all – we are ‘just standing’.
What great stuff… and he’s just getting warmed up. He goes on to talk about “balance awareness” before getting into some specific exercises that you can do to improve your balance.
It’s definitely a good use of your time to head over to his site and read the full article.
I’m off to see a surgeon this week. Many years ago I tore the Anterior Cruciate Ligament in my right knee. The surgeon I saw at the time recommended not having surgery and just battling on without one.
That has mostly worked out for me, as I was able to retrain my muscles and have a pretty stable knee. I did end up having surgery on it much later, but that was only to clean out the joint because there were some bone chips and other things floating around and getting caught in places that they shouldn’t be.
The downside of not having an ACL for that long is that the knee has got more than the usual amount of wear and tear, and now is starting to cause me some grief again.
I’m finding it incredibly difficult to kneel, and hard to get up and down off the floor. (With this and my shoulder injury I do often ask myself why I’ve chosen to study Aikido!).
It got to the point where it was stopping me training so I headed off to the sports doc who ordered an MRI. Turns out I have “horizontal cleavage tear” in my meniscus. But also something my doctor described as “I have no idea what is going on there!” And he was right… on the MRI, where there should have been a nice looking meniscus there was nothing but a big blur. It was impossible to see what was there – only that it didn’t look right.
The doctor gave me a cortisone injection which cleared the pain up real quick, but he also referred me to the surgeon. I have actually been a little worried that the knee wasn’t feeling too bad so that there would be nothing to tell the surgeon. But there’s “good” news on that front because the Taekwon-Do sparring training I did yesterday and the Aikido I did tonight mean that it’s really nice and sore 🙂
I’ll know what happens next on Thursday night. A big part of me wants to avoid surgery if I can, but on the other hand if it helps me out then let’s get it done!
That’s all for this week.
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All the best!
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Quote of the Day
The more you know, the less you understand.
– from Tao Te Ching