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By Aaron Hoopes
Supplemental Training takes place outside of your normal karate class. Regular group classes are the main focus for many martial artists, but in order to truly excel in your art you must be willing to put in extra time outside of regular practice in order to fully internalize the techniques and movements you are learning.
Then starting training, there is a tendency to feel that the regular class is enough. However, as you progress and see how truly deep the art goes, you begin to realize that much more training is called for. You will never reach your potential if you only think about karate when you are training in class. Of course, you must attend the group classes. That is where you are taught the specifics of karate techniques as well as kata and kumite, but it is up to you to spend the time necessary to actually learn or internalize what you are being taught. Supplemental training is your opportunity to do this. Note too that the effort you put into training outside of class will quickly be apparent when you are in class.
The Long Stretch
One of the most important aspects of Martial arts training is proper stretching. Training is difficult enough without having to be concerned that our muscles are not ready for what we will ask of them. In most karate classes, stretching is primarily focused on specific muscles or muscle groups of muscles that are to be used during the class. It usually entails pulling muscles in opposite directions, often with a soft bouncing motion in order to loosen them up. The stretches concentrate on short extensions in preparation for the rigorous physical exercise that is to come. Other muscles which may only play a supporting role, are often insufficiently stretched.
The Long Stretch can be described as a holistic practice. It concentrates on the body as a whole instead of individual muscles. It focuses on the interconnectedness of the muscles of the body and works to strengthen and tone them effectively. In karate the body is trained to move as a complete unit. Each muscle works in harmony to produce an effective technique. Proper stretching, which enables each muscle to do its part, is a priority. The better we train all of our muscles the better they will respond when called upon to perform.
Practicing the Long Stretch helps coordinate the muscles and get them all working together. It works to lengthen, tone and stretch your complete musculature along an extended range of motion. This is done by slowing down the pace at which you stretch and bringing mindful awareness to your body. Deep breathing and relaxation are used to gradually lengthen the muscle extension, enabling the release of the tension trapped within.
Slowing the Pace
Slowing down the pace of stretching is simply a matter of time spent. Most karate classes spend the first ten to fifteen minutes in stretching. This is fine to warm up muscles that are already stretched, however it is woefully inadequate as a primary stretching session. It is imperative the karate practitioner take time outside of class to stretch. Participation in group classes should only be one aspect of your overall training.
Slowing down the pace of your stretching is really quite simple. Don’t rush through it! The key is to start by relaxing the mind. The body will follow because when the mind touches the body, the body responds. Keeping your attention focused on the particular muscles that are being stretched brings your mind and body together toward the same end. Slowing down your stretches enables you to feel each stretch completely and to experience it in depth.
Central to the long stretch is deep breathing. Deep breathing practice has been a major part of the martial arts for thousands of years. It is only recently in the more modern martial arts, with the emphasis on sports and tournament competition, that breathing exercises are not practiced as much. Proper deep breathing oxygenates the body. When we are breathing deeply we take in larger amounts of oxygen and energy which are distributed throughout the body via the cardivascular system.
he rich oxygenated blood assists the muscles in becoming more supple and strong. Breathing also has the effect of helping the mind to calm down. When we are looking inward, focusing on our breathing, other disruptive thoughts that run continuously through the mind settle of their own accord. The mind relaxes. This, in turn allows the muscles to relax, stretch and lengthen to their full potential.
There are many different breathing exercises used in the various martial arts, but for the long stretch suggest you stick with simple abdominal breathing. Abdominal breathing or belly breathing is filling the lungs completely from the bottom up. The focus is on the abdomen, or hara, the spot just below your navel. As you breathe in push this belly area out and down. It is a muscular action as well as a respiratory action, so become aware of your abdominal muscles expanding. By pushing the abdomen out, you create a vacuum allowing your lungs to open and be filled to their maximum capacity. As you breathe out, contract your abdominal muscles, pulling them in and up allowing them to squeeze the air from your lungs. It is especially important to relax and focus on releasing tension during the exhalation process.
Practice abdominal breathing during your supplemental training. Take three long, complete breaths during each stretch. The muscles need time to unwind and release the tension that builds up within them during everyday life. As the muscles relax they will begin to gradually lengthen. Sometimes it helps to visualize your body as a lead weight sinking down with the pull of gravity. Whatever stretches you do are fine especially ones that are done in your regular karate warm-up. Just do them longer and slower…and remember to breathe.
You should very soon begin to notice a difference in the way your muscles feel and the quicker response you get from them. Part of training is becoming aware of living in your body, feeling the muscles move, experiencing the deeper effects the techniques have. The Long Stretch puts you in closer communication with your body. Use it to make you body your ally. Practice the Long Stretch a part of your supplemental training and your karate can do nothing but improve.
This article has been reproduced with the permission of Aaron Hoopes
Aaron Hoopes is a native of Vermont and the founder of Zen Yoga. He is the author of: Zen Yoga: A Path to Enlightenment through Breathing, Movement and Meditation, Breathe Smart, and Perfecting Ourselves: Coordinating Body, Mind and Spirit. He has studied the martial arts, Eastern philosophy, and alternative medicine in the United States, Australia, and Japan for over twenty-five years. He has a degree in Asian History and Japanese Culture from Tulane University and spent a number of years in Japan studying under Masatoshi Nakayama, the chief instructor at the headquarters of the Japan Karate Association, until his death in 1987. He holds a third degree black belt in Japanese Shotokan Karate and is a certified instructor and one of the Hoitsugan Instructors. He is also certified as an instructor of Shanti Yoga and Meditation as well as Tamashii Tai Chi. He is trained in Chinese Qigong (Chi Kung) Energy Healing and studied Shiatsu Finger Pressure Therapy under Hitoshi Koeda in Japan. In addition, he has extensive knowledge of Iyengar Yoga, White Crane Qigong, Okinawan Karate, Shorinji Kenpo, Wing Chun Kung Fu and Zen Meditation.