HEALTH // The Positive Impact Of Martial Arts
How Taekwondo And Kung Fu Improves Personal Wellbeing
Multiple forms of martial arts have been around for centuries. From the Karate dojos in Okinawa and the Kung Fu masters of China’s Shaolin Temple through to its place in cinematic history (where most of the Western world were introduced to it) – hello Bruce Lee!
Now we know practising martial arts is going to have a positive physical impact. You’ll become a lean, mean fighting machine, right? Well, of course you will become physically stronger and improve your fitness levels, but the foundations of martial arts also focus on improving the mental, emotional and spiritual self. The physical benefits are an awesome by-product!
We spoke to Stephen Atkinson of Ta Mo Tao Martial Arts in Mittagong to understand how martial arts – specifically Taekwondo and Kung Fu – helps build resilience, confidence and give us the tools to deal with daily life.
Stephen is the Head Instructor of Ta Mo Tao and is a 5th degree Black Belt in both Kung Fu and Taekwondo.
“I was in the early years of high school (such an anxious time!) when I discovered martial arts,” Stephen recalls.
“At that age, you don’t know who you are, what you are, where you belong…you haven't had a lot of life experience or much of a chance to develop personal confidence. Some kids at school were doing Taekwondo classes so I went along to my first class in 1974 and have been training ever since.”
“The tools and skills – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – I have learned through practising martial arts, have helped me deal with life crises, relationships, births, deaths…everything that life throws at you.”
Well, THAT sounds handy and super important! So let’s get to know a bit more about Taekwondo and Kung Fu.
TAEKWONDO // WAY OF FOOT AND HAND STRIKING
A Korean style of Karate, Taekwondo is self-defence taught within a framework of respect for life and respect for oneself.
“Taekwondo focuses on keeping the distance between you and an attacker using explosive kicking and hand striking techniques,” Stephen explains.
“It’s about keeping an attacker from coming into your personal space and striking powerfully if they do enter. It’s active and fast paced with lots of pad work and sparring. It also incorporates some quite spectacular jumping and spinning kicks. The kids love that aspect!”
KUNG FU // DISCIPLINE AND SKILL
Many of us were introduced to Kung Fu thanks to the theatrical exploits of movie stars like Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan.
“Wing Chun Kung Fu is a close-range style of Kung Fu which rose to prominence because it was the first style practised by Bruce Lee,” says Stephen.
“The Wing Chun Kung Fu we teach is less combative and focuses on a more relaxed Tai Chi way of doing things –concentrating on the alignment of the spine, relaxation and doing things in a slower but meaningful yet still powerful way.”
Wing Chun Kung Fu is known as an internal system.
“This means there is an internal focus of the body where we emphasize relaxation over rigidity. We want the body and mind to be resilient, flexible and relaxed,” Stephen says.
"It’s not about brute strength. It’s about harnessing your inner strength.”
RESILIENCE AND CONFIDENCE // I KNOW WHO I AM
Sadly the stats say it all. Bullying in all its forms – in the schoolyard or workplace, whatever your age – is on the rise. Stephen believes Taekwondo training gives people the skill and confidence to negotiate a bully or conflict situation from a position of strength and confidence in yourself.
He cites an example of a student, a young girl who had been bullied at school – even her best friend had sided with the bully which can be so devastating, right?
“On an emotional level, she was devastated, yes. But her Taekwondo training meant she retained her self-confidence and had the ability to reframe the situation and clear it emotionally,” Stephen says.
That sounds pretty in depth for a kid, doesn’t it?
“That’s the impact Taekwondo can have. Thanks to her mindfulness training she rewrote the story of the situation - This is not my problem. The bullies are the problem. I’m okay. If there is a conflict situation, I can manage this. I know who I am – it’s so powerful.”
Stephen and his team of instructors teach their students what to do and how to react in conflict situations.
“We give children and adults behavioural strategies to use when managing conflict and equip them with the physical skills to defend themselves if a situation escalates.”
MINDFULNESS // A TOOL FOR MANAGING LIFE
“The Buddhist monks of the Shaolin Temple in China used martial arts for exercise and body movement so they could be stronger and healthier for their spiritual life - not just for fighting,” Stephen explains.
Ta Mo Tao’s approach focuses on the mind, body, spirit connection and each class ends with a short meditation.
“The physical part of the class gets the endorphins and positive neurotransmitters in the brain firing, creating the perfect environment to sit quietly in a nice, meditative space,” says Stephen.
“Tension is released in the body, breath is regulated and controlled, and the mind is trained to let go of negative thoughts and the harmful messages we’ve received from life situations, others – or ourselves!”
“These are skills students can take with them into everyday life. You may go your whole life and never once need to defend yourself but every moment of every day we need a healthy mind and body.”
RESPECT // WHEN RITUALS BECOME SECOND NATURE
Taekwondo specifically is built on the fundamentals of respect.
“Everything we do begins and ends in courtesy and respect,” Stephen says.
“The traditional rituals such as bowing builds mindfulness within the practice. It’s all these little moments of mindfulness and gratitude that leads to a deep respect for yourself and others.”
“It is the gratitude and respect that becomes second nature in all that you do in life, that ultimately builds resilience.”
Ta Mo Tao Martial Arts in Mittagong encourages students to focus on personal growth and the rewarding nature of challenge and discipline. Experienced instructors teach Taekwondo and Kung Fu with a strong focus on mindfulness and building confidence and resilience. Click here for class and timetable information.
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