On Yoga and Combat Arts not being Mutually Exclusive

Over on the right, there’s a link to The Academy of Self-Defence Inc.  What’s that all about?

If you click on the link, it’ll take you to a website that looks like nothing naturally affiliated with yoga.  Self-defence is a really apt description of the videos and pictures presented, but where are the Downward Dogs and the Cobblers and the savasana?  There’s a lot of deflecting and punching and kicking instead!  What’s going on?

The Academy of Self-Defence Inc. teaches Krav Maga, which is a system of self-defence developed roughly sixty years ago in response – in a nutshell – to social violence against specific segments of the public.  The founder, Imi Lichtenfeld, who changed his name later in life to Imi Sde-Or, left Europe for Israel further to develop and to disseminate his system.  Krav Maga differs enormously from traditional martial arts and from current mixed martial arts (MMA); it relies on, and enhances, innate natural reactions, and is purely concerned with how to respond to threats in real-life situations, under real-life conditions.  It is not a “ring-sport” or one used for competition, which is why it’s valued by everyone from members of the lay public to those in law-enforcement organizations.

So, what’s the connection between this relatively young discipline and all of our discussion of asanas and vinyasas and how not to upset your hip-flexors?  This is best answered with a little personal history:

As mentioned in the “About” section, my introduction to yoga had a lot to do with needing to find a restorative, sustainable way for my personal-training clients to exercise.  I found that yoga’s emphasis on eccentric strength, flexibility, agility, core-engagement, and balance was extremely important; it allowed my clients to focus on ongoing physical development in ways that wouldn’t aggravate existing injuries and, in some cases, would allow my clients to progress past these issues in supportive ways.  As an independent form of exercise, and as a complement to other programs, yoga has the tremendous advantage of being truly sustainable when approached mindfully. Without doubt, when yoga practice is comprehensive, it can provide cardiovascular exercise, flexibility training, and muscular development, which are basic pillars of physical fitness.

All of this being said, it’s sometimes those activities that seem most unlike yoga that can best be combined with it.  Bodybuilding, for example, pairs beautifully with yoga.  Bodybuilding, often characterized by heavy weight-lifting, can cause participants to become “muscle-bound.”  This term describes those who are so “full” of muscle that they have difficulty performing fluid movement; they are seen to be heavy and strong, but there’s a connotation of ponderousness as well.  When weight-lifting is approached in an imbalanced way, it can cause so much muscle tension that the bones to which the muscles are attached will shift out of alignment.  An common example is the forward-shifting of the scapula on account of extremely heavy pectoral work not balanced by flexibility training or equal development of key muscles in the back.  Misalignment can lead to further injury, and frankly, it’s painful!  A number of years after my own foray into recreational weight-lifting, I realized that much of the physical discomfort that I felt could have been avoided through the use of a more balanced program, which should certainly have included flexibility training.

Similarly, Krav Maga is an intense form of training, and it challenges the body in ways that can be supported by yoga. It demands and develops strength, speed, agility, and accuracy.  Krav Maga makes full use of the entire body, from core strength to limbs, from joints to bones and muscle, from brawn to precision.  It is physically and mentally demanding, and I have found that enhanced flexibility, balance, and breathing skills are critical, both for success in a class and for injury-prevention and sustainability afterward. The Academy was my motivation to offer classes to individuals and groups from martial-arts and self-defence backgrounds. The skills that Krav Maga seeks to develop are those that yoga upholds as well.  Being a part of The Academy is a novel way for me to continue to bring yoga to those who might not otherwise consider it a viable form of training. Yoga, as I like to mention in the fashion of a broken record, is for everyone.

As a final thought, yoga is a vehicle for the achievement of a higher consciousness, of our “highest” best interest.  It is designed to guide us toward good physical, mental, and spiritual health.  In essence, we do yoga to create and unite with a greater self.  One of the tenets of Krav Maga is to do everything in order not to get hurt; Imi spoke about everyone “walk[ing] in peace.”  These themes are tightly interwoven.  Good health, well-being, and peace often co-exist, and while many systems approach these goals in different ways, paths that converge at a given point are all concerned with the same ultimate direction.  The yoga mat is open to everyone, even if you’ve just taken off your boxing gloves!

Namaste.

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