The following is adapted from Step on The Mat by Ninja Nguyen.
In any sport, warming up is important. Whenever you train, you need to warm up to prevent injury.
If you’ve ever played sports, you already know this. It’s what our coaches are always telling us — and they’re right. A baseball player can’t throw or swing the bat as well if he doesn’t warm up first. However, warming up has other benefits as well, especially in the martial arts. Through a warmup, you create flexibility, balance, and coordination. Don’t skip your warmup!
What the Warmup Teaches Us
Wait, the warmup has a lesson? Of course! Everything has a lesson. In some sports, the warmup may be just for getting the body ready. But in martial arts, the warmup is much more. It’s a way of training the body and the mind as well as an opportunity to refine your martial arts skills.
Coordination, Courage, Patience
There are lots of exercises you can do to warm up. You probably know several and maybe even have some favorites. In my gym, part of our warmup is the scorpion walk. The scorpion walk works the core, upper body, and prevents back injury. It’s also quite difficult.
Imagine doing a handstand, and then walking. With the help of a partner, that is the essence of the scorpion walk. You start with two hands on the floor, and one foot. Then imagining yourself as a scorpion with your feet being your tail, you throw the foot on the ground toward the sky to meet the other one.
Like I said — not easy. So why do we do it? Why don’t we just run or do jumping jacks? Well, we do those things, too. But still, why would I make my students attempt such a difficult maneuver if all I was trying to do was get their muscles warm? Because it’s not just the muscles I’m warming up. I’m also warming up and sharpening the connection between my students’ minds and bodies.
This is why I say the three main lessons of the warmup are coordination, courage, and patience.
It also takes coordination to get it right. It takes courage to perform a warmup like the scorpion walk as the entire class watches. And it takes a lot of patience to build that coordination.
This is true of whatever exercise you do, even if it’s something as seemingly simple as jumping jacks. Each warmup exercise has its own benefit. And if we’ve practiced our meditation and are fully present, we can learn what each of the warmup exercises has to teach us.
Nowadays, I don’t think of things in terms of right or wrong. In any situation, there’s a lesson you can easily learn if you listen, focus, and have the right information. If you choose not to listen, or if you lack focus, lessons will be much harder to learn.
That’s especially true in the warmups. The warmup is one of the best places to practice listening. Think about it. How many times have you been in a warmup session and you were only half paying attention because it was just warmup? It happens all the time. Warmups have lessons to teach us. But we need to really be paying attention — really listening — in order to learn those lessons and gain those benefits.
Strength and Agility
Think in terms of rewards. When you do good things, good things will happen for you. For example, when we run, we practice coordination and balance. When we do the scorpion walk, we strengthen our core. Every time you do a jumping jack, there’s a benefit of coordination. If you think of that benefit every time you do a jumping jack, you’ll be more motivated to do more. A jumping jack is no longer just a boring movement. You’re not just warming up, you’re practicing. You’re training your body.
Have the courage and patience to participate fully in your warmups. Listen to what you need to be doing. And, remaining patient, reap the rewards.
For more advice on applying the principles of martial arts in your life, you can find Step on the Mat on Amazon.
Ninja Nguyen started his martial arts journey when he was four years old, growing up in a small fishing village in Vietnam. He continued to train in refugee camps, where martial arts served as his guiding light while he struggled to learn English in unfamiliar classrooms, preparing to come to America. Ninja originally worked in security for nightclubs before finally opening his own dojo and building the life he has today. A devoted husband and father of three, he is the owner of Xtreme Ninja Martial Arts Center in Boston, which currently trains more than 500 students.