MASTER WAI LUN CHOI – SPEECH ON THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF INTERNAL MARTIAL ARTS
Presented at the Illinois Martial Arts Hall of Fame Banquet on April 1st, 2017
Martial arts practice is not just for self-defense. It also has great value in promoting and maintaining our health as we grow older.
It is well known that from birth until about age 30, the body is generally strong and vibrant. After 30 years of age the body naturally starts to slow down. After 30 one’s overall energy starts to go down and many people easily become tired from vigorous physical activities. While this natural change with aging affects many people, some individuals are able to avoid these negative affects. One of the reasons many people have low energy as they age is that when doing physical activities they only use hand power, and do not use whole body mechanics. The old masters identified that using only hand or muscle power in this manner, in martial arts training, is described as external style martial arts.
In 1971 at the age of 31, I challenged myself in order to test my courage, and signed up to compete in the all Southeast Asian hand to hand tournament. After this tournament, as I began getting older, I started to feel my energy and endurance begin to lessen. It was at this time that I began to analyze and study the internal style training principles and methods in more detail. In studying the classic writings of the old masters I noticed that the founders of the internal martial arts were also interested in understanding this problem of decreasing energy that occurs as we age. The masters figured out that by using whole body mechanics, leverage, comfortable breathing and gravity they were able to prevent the fatigue, low energy, and weakness often associated with aging.
The masters of the internal martial arts realized that the first thing one has to learn is to completely relax the whole body. They also understood that one has to learn how to get the whole body united as “one piece”. A united body structure and proper body mechanics allows you to move as a single unit. This principle was later described by Newton in his second law of motion, which states that “force equals weight times speed”. Based on this law of physics, when one moves with the whole body connected as one piece, greater amounts of force can be generated. An example of this type of whole body power is illustrated in the power generated by a battering ram used to break through a strong door. The internal methods that the old masters developed and practiced involve using mind and whole body mechanics, not using muscle power alone. If you only use muscle power, you just use your hand and muscles, and do not use your whole body weight. The masters of old also understood that in addition to getting the body structure to be united as one piece, it is also important to develop harmony of motion. When we talk about harmony of motion we are referring to the coordinated opening and closing of the nine main joints in the body.
Returning to the topic of whole body relaxation, the reason why it is so important to relax completely is that when you’re relaxed, your breathing will be natural and comfortable. We all know that we breathe in order to get oxygen into our bodies, and to circulate the oxygen through the body, so we can have the energy we need to move. When one is not relaxed one’s breathing is shortened and delivers less oxygen into the body. This will cause fatigue to occur. Not being able to relax can create other problems as well. First there is the problem of mental pressure, which will create tension in the body and affect one’s energy and speed. In addition, if you are tense in the body for too long, this depletes the oxygen in your body quickly, and you become tired and thus slower in movement. Excessive mental and physical tenseness can also lead to damage of one’s nervous system, musculoskeletal system, circulatory system, and can potentially cause damage to the heart as well. When we understand the effects of this type of tenseness, it should motivate us to practice relaxation exercises in order to prevent these negative health effects. One of the most effective ways to develop whole body relaxation is through standing meditation practice. This kind of meditative relaxation exercise can be called a “natural medicine”. Relaxation practice of this type has many health benefits and costs no money at all. Standing meditation relaxation practice can help reduce and prevent much of the illness, sickness and suffering that frequently occurs as people age. However, we should also remind ourselves that proper nutrition, healthy eating as well as regular aerobic exercise are important for maintaining good health as we age. In addition, regular check ups with one’s health care provider is recommended for the overall prevention of illness and medical problems associated with aging.
In closing, let me say that although we know that one day we will all have to leave this world, it’s very important for us to do what we can to maintain our health and energy as well as to limit our sickness and suffering as we age. When eventually it is our time to pass on, the best we can hope for is to leave this world naturally and peacefully, and if possible, with a minimum of sickness, illness and suffering.