The first part of early morning training in my dojo is always to run through a full-body joint mobility routine. This is also something that I encourage my students to undertake before each training session. Many traditional karate styles incorporate such activities as standard in the dojo, Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu being two notable ones, and I think that the benefits of this practice go further than a physical preparation of the body for upcoming activity.
The first occasion where many people talk about their joints is usually when describing some sort of pain or restricted motion. Because of this, it is common for us to isolate and focus singular joints (such as knee or ankle) in our mind without appreciating the fact that all the bones, muscles and connective tissues surrounding a joint and indeed throughout the human body, act together as a fully integrated movement system.
The optimum health and ability of a particular joint will rely on the health and ability of other joints around it. If one joint doesn't work as it should then this can have an effect on others, as the body automatically attempt to compensate for its lack of performance. For example, if articulation of the hip is restricted, then the inability to open this joint during a squat pattern may cause undue stress on the knee or ankle joints and supporting tissues. Over time and consistent demand, this can lead to injury.
In general, there are three important aspect of human movement that we need to understand as martial artists. These are mobility, flexibilty and stability. Flexibility corresponds to the distance and direction a joint can move, without necessarily taking into account ancillary aspects such as core strength, balance and co-ordination. Therefore, good flexibility does not always equate to good mobility, where unrestricted and uninhibited motion is key. Stability is the requirement to maintain control of a movement pattern or static position, by the coordinated actions of surrounding tissues and neuro-muscular efforts.
In Traditional Karate, the study and repetition of core kata such as Sanchin, Naihanchi and Seisan help the practitioner to ingrain a higher level of body awareness, proprioception and the control of important patterns and positions that if practised correctly, have a positive transfer effect on the functional application of the art. Also as karate practitioners, understanding how the human body works, along with its inherent strengths and weaknesses is critical for longevity. Therefore, working on flexibility alone does not always help prevent or treat injuries/restrictions, as the mobility and stability of joints also play crucial roles.
Let's look at some of the benefits of investing even just a few minutes of your dojo time each day on joint mobility exercises...
How long you should devote to joint mobility and which parts of the body to focus more on will of course depend on your current state of movement. For most people, a few minutes each day mobilising the major joints will yield great results in only a short space of time. Others may need to spend a little extra time working through specific patterns until the spot rust is removed. There are literally hundreds of exercises to choose from, so it pays to spend some time exploring different routines until you find what works best for you.
Personally, I like to start from the floor (our connection to the Earth) and then work up through the body progressively. However, if I'm feeling particularly tight in any areas then I may break this pattern to suit. Being malleable to how your body feels, rather than repeating patterns for the sake of it, is a valuable skill to develop in all aspects of training. As far as rules go, here are three important ones to keep in mind...
Generally speaking, the 10 areas of the body to think about (bottom to top) are:
Feet > Ankles > Knees > Hips > Spine > Shoulders > Elbows > Wrists > Hands > Head
In recent years, joint mobility has become a bit of a buzz phrase and is growing to becoming a very popular aspect aspect of contemporary fitness practices. However, it has always been a integral part of traditional martial arts training and although it can often seem quite complex to begin with, it's really not. All it requires is that you MOVE with variety and ensure that your joints experience a FULL RANGE OF MOTION on a REGULAR BASIS.
Thanks for reading and enjoy moving :-)
Chris Denwood has been studying martial arts since childhood and specialises in the practical application of karate's traditional principles for civilian self-defence, personal development, life integration and discovery.