Curious as to whether Taekwondo and yoga go together, whether adding yoga into my training mix would help improve my Taekwondo kicks, I launched a 14 day group challenge on my Facebook page. Here’s what happened…
- An assistant instructor at my club uncovered a Jedi-like hidden talent for standing on one leg
- Breathing through the burn in my butt cheeks created quality time to shoosh my busy brain
- I discovered JUST 14 days is enough time to see REAL change
I have REALLY weak ankles. As in, the joints are VERY bendy (that’s a technical medical term btw!) and so sprain easily.
Decades of roll overs have never really hurt the joint so much as all the ligaments and tendons that support the joint, which I now picture to be all stretchy like melted mozzarella cheese when you bite the end off your pizza slice.
So I have now reached the kind of mid-range of belt levels in my journey towards black, and I realise I am required to start showing a bit more balance and control to master the next lot of kicking techniques.
My bendy ankles are not impressed OR offering to step up their game and make the process even a tiny bit easier. *humph
In case you hadn’t already noticed, I have one of those brains that’s like a web browser with at least 90 tabs open at once. Soooooo I’m not REALLY sure where I first came across the synergy between martial arts and yoga but somewhere, somehow it happened.
And I haven’t been able to look away since.
Once I started researching the topic, I came across so many benefits for combining the two types of training.
Yoga is of course brilliant for developing flexibility, core strength and balance. All such crucial elements for performing high martial arts kicks.
And the links between the two forms don’t stop there.
Like martial arts, yoga is also steeped in ancient tradition AND promotes the same mind, body, spirit benefits so many martial artists discover through their training as well.
Aspects of both, offer a kind of moving meditation.
So with help from my qualified Yogi friend Janine, I developed my Yoga Tree Challenge for Martial Artists.
How the Challenge worked
For 14 days, participants were required to time how long they could stand on each leg in yoga tree pose (with hands above head, lifted foot above or below the knee joint).
Participants posted their times recorded to the Facebook Event Discussion on Day #1 and Day #14.
To ensure an even playing field, no matter your yoga or martial arts rank or experience, the winner would be the person who could record the greatest percentage improvement across the 14 days.
Not just the person who could hold it the longest.
The challenge started with 27 participants from across the globe – Australia, USA, UK, Canada, Peru, Germany and Norway.
And the range of martial arts styles and yoga experience was as vast.
We had just about every belt colour represented and were even blessed with some high ranking 3rd and 4th Dan Black Belts participating as well.
Yoga experience ranged from low to medium to ‘what is yoga?’.
On Day #1 I recorded:
Left Leg: 3 mins 11 seconds
Right Leg: 1 min 59 seconds
Times among the challengers ranged from under a minute to as high as 16 minutes.
What literally smacked me right on that first day was a realisation this was going to be A LOT harder than I thought.
The pose looks easy enough but holding it there for as long as you can BURNS!!!
And for me, I could REALLY feel all the stretchy bits around my ankle working hard to hold the position. At night they would twitch and keep me awake but a heat pack helped settle them down.
To help keep participants motivated and interested, I posted daily, sharing online articles about the benefits of combining martial arts and yoga, tips from Yogi Janine on technique and funny quotes.
Here’s a few of the articles in case you would like to explore this more for yourself:
- Before starting pick up all 5 toes of the supporting foot and really ground them in to the mat/floor
- Then switch the quads and glutes on nice and tight so you have a stable base
- Pick a point just in front of you, on the ground is usually easiest and keep your gaze fixed on it
On Day #7 I recorded:
Left Leg: 3 minutes 9 seconds
Right Leg: 3 minutes 22 seconds
As times progressed, some participants started experiencing problems with feet cramps.
Yogi Janine made these suggestions:
A warm-up before starting your pose. Target arches and calves.
- Calf raises. Up to tippy toes and down.
- Calf raise but lower all the way down to a crouched position, staying up on your toes to stretch arches.
- Sit down, legs out-stretched. Point you toes down and up to flex arches.
- Same as above but use a resistance band to stretch your calves and arches.
As was to be expected, our group did experience a bit of drop-off across the 14 days. Not everyone made it to the end.
But those who did ALL experienced progress. Which, when you REALLY think about it, two weeks is not a big amount of time so it was encouraging to think change could happen in such a short period of time.
On Day #14 I recorded this:
Right Leg: 3 minutes 43 seconds
Left Leg: 5 minutes 43 seconds
The addition of just a few minutes of yoga a day was an easy adjustment to make really, for the benefits I am now experiencing.
I (and one of my wonderful taekwondo sisters) also noted the opportunity for mindfulness while holding our tree pose.
What REALLY blew my mind though was our Challenge Winner Luke Crane.
He is a WTF Taekwondo Cho Dan Bo. Aged in his 30s, he often trains with his 8 year-old daughter. And he will attempt his Black Belt Grading in November.
More than anyone else, Luke COMMITTED to the Challenge. He regularly posted his times recorded throughout the 14 days and experimented with his lifted foot positioned above AND below his knee.
Check out the progress from a bloke who put down his yoga experience as ‘what’s yoga?’:
Day #1 – Foot above knee
Left Leg: 9 minutes 39 seconds
Right Leg: 5 minutes 10 seconds
Day #9 – Foot above knee
Left Leg: 40 minutes 16 seconds
Right Leg: 44 minutes 31 seconds
Day #10 – Foot below knee
Left Leg: 12 minutes 01second
Right Leg: 19 minutes 58 seconds
Day #14 – Foot below knee
Left Leg: 1 hour 02 minutes 41 seconds
Right Leg: 1 hour 01 minutes 49 seconds
Incredible. What was surprising was that Luke had no idea he had this kind of ability for balance, leg strength and focus. Even he was quite gob-smacked by the whole thing.
And the absolute BEST thing to hear from Luke though was that he definitely could see an improvement in the kicking combinations he is currently working on in preparation for his Black Belt grading.
As the winner, Luke received a copy of this book – The Martial Artist’s Book of Yoga – which I would recommend as another great way to explore the benefits to your martial arts training of mixing in a dash of yoga.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like to check out these prior Taekwondo blog posts by The Mortal Mouse: