Recently I’ve been spending more time working on one aspect of martial arts that has nothing to do with technique or conditioning (although I’m working on those things too of course), and an aspect that I’m coming to see is of enormous importance.  In some situations perhaps even more important than the other two mentioned.  I’m talking about management of TENSION.  Yes, that most constricting and panicky of states, that won’t allow one to move freely.  Tension slows us down, decreases our flexibility, slows and impedes our thought and reaction time, and just generally makes us miserable fighters in the ring or anywhere else.  I’ve got a particular problem with this in connection with sparring.  I love sparring, and jump at the chance to do it, but I feel like I can almost never completely get loose when I spar.  My body immediately goes into constriction–my muscles move into tension mode, and I lose speed and power.  One recent thought is that this might have to do with the fact that I do a lot of weight lifting.  By definition, lifting weights creates tension in the muscles, because it is through extra tension that a muscle does its work to lift more than its normal load.

Strength training for the martial artist, of course, needs to be balanced, with aerobic conditioning and stretching.  Spending hours in the gym pumping iron without these other two types of training might be fine for bodybuilders or powerlifters, but a strong and muscular person without aerobic endurance, flexibility, and speed is going to be annihilated in sparring.

Still, strength training has always been a particular focus for me, as I was interested in this well before I started in martial arts, and it is something I still enjoy as a relaxing (in some sense) aspect of training.  I find that it is also of enormous help in training my focus.  There is basically no way one can get underneath of hundreds of pounds on a bench press, for example, and lack focus to ensure maintenance of proper form and balance.

However, even with all the positives to weight training, I feel that it naturally generates a great deal of tension, which is anathema to the martial artist.  So how can one reduce the tension?  This has been my recent focus.  I have tried a number of things, including meditation, deep breathing, and increased focus on stretching before taekwondo workout.  This seems to have helped to some extent–my tension is much lower than it was a month or two before I started this, for example.  In addition, I’ve found that jump rope workouts right before taekwondo workouts help with this more than running before taekwondo workouts.  Maybe this has something to do with the full-body activity involved in jumping rope (I use a weighted rope).

I’ve not yet found a super-effective remedy for tension in sparring, but I am making small steps in this area.  I’m sure it’s something one can never completely get rid of.  But I’ll be sure to let you know if I discover any other good methods of reducing tension.  And if there are good methods you know of, I’d be happy to hear from you!