It goes without saying that one of a Martial Artists greatest weapons is his or her body. Properly trained, every part of the body (from heel to top of head) becomes a weapon. As with any good weapon, a Martial Artist must not only practice hard with it, they must care for it as well.
It is perhaps one of the most cliché sayings but most appropriate for this article: the body is a temple. Care for it as you would your uniform, the dojo, your notes, your weapons, or any other tool you use in training your Martial Arts.
One aspect in particular is the care of your joints. I come across too many times where a long-time Martial Artist complains about joint pains – be it knees, ankles, shoulders, wrists or elbows. These joints are one of the most important parts of your body and your Martial Arts. Limited functionality of your joints limits what and how well you can execute your Martial Arts. A bad joint is analogous to a sword with weak bands of steel that at just the right (or wrong) angle can shatter.
But the time to begin caring about your body, and in particular your joints, is not after you have already injured yourself. The time is right now, before any further damage has been done. There are some simple guidelines to follow to ensure you treat your body like the temple (or weapon) it is.
Warm-up and cool-downs.
To start or end any Martial arts practice make sure you go through a warm-up or cool-down routine. These help prepare the body to move at different gears and become well lubricated for the task ahead. If you are picking up on the analogy to cars here, it is because the body is very much like a mechanical device. Just like a car, starting the engine in cold weather or from long periods of rest is often difficult. Immediately pushing the car to drive in cold weather without properly warming the engine shortens the life of the vehicle. Likewise, taking hot glass containers and immediately throwing them into the fridge is liable to cause the glass to shatter.
Warm-up and cool-down routines do not have to be dull either. There are a large variety of ways to do either. It is also a great way to slip into some cross-training from other sports such as weight-lighting, running, cycling, dancing, etc and see what sort of warm-up and cool-down routines they use.
Dit da jao.
For those that do any type of iron body or strength training, you are probably already aware of the use of dit da jao. In simplest terms, it is normally a crema or liquid rub applied externally to the joints to keep them loose. It works on the same basis as popular over-the-counter “Icy Hot” creams.
Even if you don’t do iron body work, but know you are prone to sore muscles a lot, you can use dit da jao. Proper use of dit da jao is before AND after doing the work. It should be spread generously over the joints and immediate areas surrounding.
There are many formulas and recipes for dit da jao. You can also purchase ready-made creams sold online or in Martial Arts stores. Most have a very pungent smell and are distinct based on region they originated from.
People often race at the opportunity to start sparring or hitting a “real” target. Both provide opportunity and experience that single drills or forms can never. But before you even step up to these tasks, make sure you have the proper gear. Gloves, foot guards, and helmets are all there for a reason – to protect your body. It is also important to learn to properly wrap your wrists and ankles. Hand and foot wraps provide much needed reinforcement to your wrists and ankles. Injury to these two areas are not only painful, they can shorten your martial arts career.
There is an art to doing the warps properly. Too tight and you cut off circulation, hindering your movement. Too loose and there is no support for your joints; worse yet, the excess cloth could become a hazard. Thus, even before you learn to punch or spar, learn how to wrap.
Protecting the body, especially the joints, will extend your enjoyment and growth in Martial Arts.