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Pilates: foundation and cross-training for martial artists

The first kung fu class I took at the USA Shaolin Temple downtown had me so sore from all the repetitive kicking that I was barely able to get out of bed the next morning, and found it extremely challenging to walk properly for the next week!  Kick kick kick kick…and kick somemore.  No wonder my hip flexors felt like they were going to pop out of my body.  Then I realized that I wasn’t putting into practice what I’d been preaching to all my students who were muay thai fighters (and had steel rods for hip flexors!): that the psoas muscle (a major deep hip flexor muscle that attaches the spine to the legs) is much longer than we think.  If we start using the psoas more evenly by initiating hip flexion from the origin of the muscle, closer to the 12th bone of the thoracic spine, rather than at its insertion in the lesser trochanter (near the groin) where we tend to feel most of the pain, then perhaps we wouldn’t have hip flexors like iron clamps fusing the legs and pelvis! By really taking the time to understand the taken-for-granted relationship between the legs and the pelvis, movement function can be directly improved. A year and a half later I am amazed at how much easier those front kicks feel and I don’t have pain in my hip flexors.  Thank goodness for Pilates and yoga for giving me a better understanding of how the body works.  Pilates and yoga help integrate the core into every movement so that it becomes second nature, creates space and length in the body which so often gets compressed with tension, habit, or,  in the case of martial arts, repetitive movement!  Even more of a challenge is learning, once you've created that space, how do you maintain it?!  It feels great to put that knowledge into my kung fu practice and know that helping other martial artists get a better understanding of their bodies is definitely helping them be more efficient in their movement – not to mention correcting the muscular imbalances developed from specific repetitive impactful movement!

I’ve trained Nathalie Fuz, owner and founder of Chok Sabai gym, and who is one of the first professional female muay thai fighters in the country.  She is a firm believer in Pilates.

"I have been working with Jo-anne for over 4 years. As a retired Muay Thai fighter and a Muay Thai instructor/ coach, I am the living example of how Pilates can change your body’s capabilities for the better no matter what age you might be! Regular Pilates private sessions and mat classes have helped create more fluidity and range of movement in my Muay Thai practice, enhancing mobility and greatly reducing injuries. This is why Pilates with Jo-anne has become an intricate part of the training regimen for all my Muay Thai fighters and students!"

Whether it’s training the martial artists at Chok Sabai, or training my private clients at Studio 26 (who range from athletes looking to find a better balance in their own training regimes or to rehabilitate specific injuries, to regular folk seeking an overall sense of wellbeing), I am finding that cross training between these different movement forms to be so beneficial.  The key is alignment and setting up the foundations for spacious, healthy, pain-free bodies so that we can kick, run, jump, swim..whatever provides fulfillment for us.  How awesome to have a job that cultivates that kind of mindful presence in our bodies!

Written by Jo-Anne Lee