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Filipino Martial Arts :: Movement Dynamics & Injury Awareness

A Focus on Tendonitis as a Guideline to Injury Prevention for FMA Practitioners

As with anything practiced at a high level, with intensity or frequently for a longer period of time, the monotonous focus of movement makes the body, the muscle groups and joints prone to many sorts of injury.

In this article we would like to share a small and perhaps significant piece of information on what we have found out through working with several FMA instructors and their experiences.

Not too uncommon is the phenomena of tendinitis/tendonitis, the (chronic) inflammation of the tendon which causes a certain soft-tissue pain. The tendon is the tissue that connects the muscle to the bone like for example at the shoulder, wrist, knee, elbow and ankle.

Although tendonitis can be caused by any sudden injury due to a fall or any other unintended movement, the major cause is generally found in the repetition of a single movement over time; like for example swinging your rattan sticks or training blades from your right shoulder load across to a left shoulder load. Combine this swing with the often strong contact of the counter strike of your training partner and you have a combination in which a singular motion can cause some unpleasant consequences if not practiced consciously.

As not to dwell too long on all the different factors that might cause a strain on the tendon, we would like to sum up a few suggestions (5) on how we might prevent an injury to occur:

1. Feeling a strain is a first sign of a possible upcoming injury which shouldn't be ignored. If ignored, the body will automatically start compensating on other muscle groups, joints, tendons, the spine, the hip, and so forth. The cause of an injury commonly results from the ignorance of certain strains. First and foremost listen to your body, it knows.

2. Often enough we have observed that students (especially beginners still getting accustomed to proper lines of striking) are sometimes confronted with a partner who uses a much heavier and denser stick than what they themselves use. At times even wooden sticks instead of rattan sticks are used for contact timing drills. Wooden sticks do not absorb the vibrations or the shock of a contact strike as rattan sticks do. Hence it is highly recommended to discourage such imbalance and to discontinue training under these circumstances. We like to advice that you make sure that you and your partner use rattan sticks that are equally balanced in weight, length and density - unless for specific reasons the instructor advises otherwise. Dense sticks or wooden sticks are good to practice forms which don't require contact, as this could for example be beneficial for strengthening the wrist (if used and applied accordingly).

3. Step away from monotonous training patterns. As an instructor you could integrate or offer this diversity in a student's training program. Being a student, look for the diversity of motion. As an FMA practitioner and then also playing golf or tennis or badminton is not diversifying. They all more or less focus on the same PUSH mechanics. To diversify you need to look for a practice or exercises that focus on a PULL mechanism, for example rowing or even (long distance) running. Aside from balancing out the mechanics of motion, we also feel it beneficial to seek and find your way of attaining mental, hormonal (adrenaline, cortisol) and emotional balance by for example looking for practices that each have a different use of mindset. Some might immediately think of yoga, breathing practices and passive forms of meditation; while there are many other activities and practices out there. For example swimming would be highly beneficial for FMA practitioners. Not only will the mere being in water most likely adjust your state of mind, it also activates the pulling motion mentioned earlier and adds the inevitable focus on your breathing.

4. Train the other muscle groups as well. Over-training the right arm might for example result in compensation from the left arm. If the right arm is constantly pushing, the left arm will be pulling. To balance out, combine your training with left handed strikes as well, this in addition will stimulate neurological activity in your brain and improve your overall coordination. Secondly, elbow tendinitis for example can also be caused by an over-trained forearm and an under-trained shoulder-muscle. This is enormously strenuous on the elbow and as such developing the muscle group on the shoulder and activating this muscle group in your strike might significantly lower the strain on your elbow and wrist tendons.

5. For a last piece of an entire puzzle of information on injury prevention we would like to focus again on the shock and vibration when making stick contact in Filipino Martial Arts. We have experimented with the use of a simple damper placed on the rattan stick and have found that it significantly reduces the vibration when making contact strikes, without changing the feels and sensitivity of the striking and the contact. Consequently the wrist, elbow and eventually shoulder will be absorbing significantly less of the shock after contact. These rubber rings or washers/gaskets can be purchased in our web shop and can also be easily found in almost any hardware store. We would like to advice you to place 2 pieces close to the end where you hold the stick and above the hand. Keep them apart so each piece can work to absorb the shock. Feel free to experiment placing even 3 or 4 pieces and let us know what you have found out.

Train safe & have fun!

Disclaimer: With this article we have intended to provide just a few pointers that are part of a bigger topic. We are no specialists and have no therapeutic or medical background. The information shared with you above is based on our personal findings and the experience of various FMA practitioners.

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