Kick into martial arts

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By Sara Seibel

At the Shaolin Tai Chi Cultural Center, Leon Xu, 12, practices his form after a 6:30 p.m. Kung Fu class. Photo by Sara Seibel
At the Shaolin Tai Chi Cultural Center, Leon Xu, 12, practices his form after a 6:30 p.m. Kung Fu class. Photo by Sara Seibel

Maybe it’s the idea that a panda can be a dragon warrior or that an average boy can take down the neighborhood bully that makes a person first consider taking a martial arts class.  Or perhaps it’s the rising popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) that influences a teen to register for that karate class. Or maybe it’s because word is out that martial arts offers more than just physical benefits; it provides mental advantages as well.

Martial arts incorporates many activities such as fighting techniques, physical exercises, methods of mental discipline, and other beneficial skills. Originating from all parts of the world, it is involves self-defense, exercise, health, spiritual growth, law enforcement tactics, and athletic competition.

“I started karate to relieve stress and make new friends. I am now currently a green belt,” Nalissala Hadfield, senior, said.

Martial arts covers a broad spectrum of practices, some of the most popular ones being karate, kung fu, taekwondo, kickboxing, wrestling, and a combination of all of the above, mixed martial arts.

Karate, meaning “empty handed,” is the universal name for all Japanese martial arts. Karate focuses on offensive and defensive movements to avoid grappling and wrestling. Nearly every part of the body is used to deliver quick and powerful blows.

Kung fu roughly means “skill achieved through hard work” in Chinese, and it is the general term for a whole spectrum of martial arts in China. Both offensive and defensive moves are used with thousands of hard techniques – force with force – and soft techniques – deflecting the force. Punching, kicking, grappling, blocking, and certain weapons like the bo staff and the sword are also used in this art.

Taekwondo, a South Korean art form, emphasizes the use of the legs based upon the belief that they are the strongest and furthest reaching limbs that a person has. This martial art and sport combines both self-defense and attack methods, and focuses on high kicks and quick hand movements.

Although kickboxing has many origins, most are familiar with the American version. By utilizing all parts of their bodies, the athletes work to disarm any opponent or attacker. The goal is to strike the attacker before they have a chance to respond back. Kickboxing focuses on increasing swiftness, agility, and power.

Wrestling, thought to have originated in Europe, is one of the oldest forms of combat. Its main focus is grappling the opponent and wrestling them to the ground, hence the name. Wrestling is one of the only martial arts that is offered in schools, from middle school through college.

Last but not least is the long-running sport of mixed martial arts, known popularly as MMA. This full-contact, combat sport uses striking and grappling techniques from wrestling and boxing. It also incorporates kickboxing, judo, and karate. Various styles from all over the world hold crowd-gathering matches.

The arts have major benefits that teach self-defense and self-discipline. When used for exercise, it can improve balance, coordination, strength, stamina, flexibility, and posture. Weight loss and muscle toning are also a physical benefit.

The mental aspect of it is what differentiates martial arts from any other sport. Finding a person’s inner-self and self-worth plays a huge part in almost any martial art. It allows a person to progressively change from one mentality to another, and integrate it into their personality. This evolution can reduce stress, improve concentration, and increase willpower. These will carry over to other aspects in life to help one be a happier and more peaceful person.

“I not only want to become a better fighter, but I also want to be more disciplined and confident,” Nathaniel Reibeling, sophomore, said.

Strength doesn’t come without years of practice. Martial arts often take a long time to master, and unless the student is dedicated to years of learning, it can be difficult to achieve a high level of experience. Also, the effectiveness of some dangerous techniques are unknown as it is difficult to practice them on opponents safely. This leads to a theoretical understanding instead of a practical one.

No matter what type of martial arts a person takes on, they all serve a role to make him or her stronger and grow as an individual.

“I want to teach students how to be a good human being by contributing to the society and making the world a better place. I hope my students learn how to use the knowledge taught to help other people,” Master Shi Chang Yuan, Shaolin Master, said.