Does Your Martial Art's Style Fit your Own Physical Limitations?



Oh, I forgot.  You are young and have no physical weaknesses, right?  I was there at one time.   That youthful era is where I developed the chronic body weaknesses that plague me today.  For example, shimmying up a gymnasium pole to lace up a lose tarp while hanging on with my legs forcing my lower back to arch backward with enough contraction to make it shake, vibrate, and then become numb.  I also remember as kids throwing rocks at each other and absorbing the impact of a small bolder to the inside of my elbow, which forty years later still causes numbness and popping in my joint.  My loose ankle tendons were caused by football injuries and jumping off roofs.  I’m also susceptible to not seeing a right cross because of my left eye’s inability to see peripherally up and to the left.  Who knows what kind of youthful activity led to that disability?  I am intimately familiar with these weaknesses, and they present me with challenges in my martial arts training.

With my limited martial arts experience, it seems that a specific martial arts style may not address these challenges.  Specifically, the martial artist has to develop compensations for these weaknesses.  Fighting styles are developed around a certain strategy.  Each strategy employs certain techniques, which were developed to allow the strategy to accomplish its goal of winning a confrontation.  In other words, a martial arts style must have standardization.  Otherwise, how does it differentiate itself from another style?  This standardization is what leads an experience martial artist to easily observe the difference between karate and Tae Kwon Do.  Likewise, karate and judo each use a different strategy to win.  All students learn the same techniques, regardless of physical limitations.  So what does one do if a physical limitation prevents him from using an otherwise successful technique?

Let’s examine my physical challenges and how I try to overcome them.  First, let’s discuss my ankles.  They twist and roll over easily with movements that impact the floor laterally.  Fortunately, my martial art of choice prefers fighting from an “upright, feet close in” stance.  (Reference Tim Hollembaek’s article: Why Does Lotus use two Different Fighting Stances).  This fighting stance keeps my weight directly over my feet, and the lateral angle of my shin bone to my ankle almost straight.  This puts stress downward through my ankle, rather than laterally through, thus making supination (rollover of the foot) less likely.  The Lotus “horse-riding stance” also presents itself in a manner which keeps the knee aligned over the ankle.  Though less so, this also sends stress downward through the ankle rather than laterally or diagonally to it.  I find that while skimming, crossing and switching, this “feet under, feet close” lessens my weak ankles’ tendency to roll over.  In this area, Lotus serves my physical limitation well.

The elbow popping really presents no problem, if in practice while punching air, I finish movements with a slight bend in the elbow.  Snapping out into thin air or practicing techniques with a straightened elbow usually leave me with some tendonitis the next day.  I find that practicing my strikes against a heavy bag rarely causes me a sore elbow.  I can’t say why that is.  However, this is one of the modifications I must make to compensate for a personal physical challenge.

Now, let’s talk about my lower back challenge.  I absolutely must warm up and stretch it well before class starts.  Compression or being rolled up with knees pinned behind my ears (experienced often while grappling in Jiu Jitsu classes) will occasionally immobilize me for a couple of weeks!  I miss valuable training time if I’m immobilized for weeks.  Therefore, the upright style of Lotus suits this weakness well.  While I am currently only performing the first thirty of one hundred self-defense techniques, I haven’t been introduced to one yet which bears my opponent’s weight on my shoulders.  Also, our joint locks conclude with our backs in a straight manner.

Lastly, my compromised vision causes obstacles I must overcome.  In this case, I don’t know what initiated my limited vision.  It has been with me since birth.  I could catch any football or baseball over my right shoulder, but a high arching pass over my left shoulder was rarely caught.  In Lotus, we train to fight from both sides and I do better with my right side forward.  Fortunately for me, my right is my strongest side.  The right side forward stance also opens up my left visual field, which gives me more time to block that sneaky right cross.

In closing, tell us what your physical challenges are, and how do you compensate for them?

Bill Landry began his study of martial arts at the age of 53 with Lotus Self-Defense under Mack Petry.  Three years later he has added the study of Jui Jitsu to his training.  Visit a Lotus Self-Defense class and keep your eye on the gray-haired student in the second row.  He pops and creaks, but he can do it.  And so can you.  If you wish to comment on this article, please feel free through the website's email address.