This summer at Bangkok BJJ, we started a new program of Yoga classes with a very good friend of mine from California, Ms. Minyoung Kim. It's made a huge impact for those that have taken up the challenge to complement their jiu-jitsu training with Yoga. I will be the first to tell you it kicked my ass and continues to challenge me, leaving me very humble each time. What's great is that she's hell-bent on catering her Yoga classes for the BJJ practitioner. So much so that she's begun taking private jiu-jitsu lessons just to better understand the movements and apply her new found knowledge to her instruction. So while recognizing how fortunate we are to have her here, I asked her if she would be interested in writing a series of articles documenting her experience as a newbie to BJJ but through the perspective of a yoga-instructor. Thankfully she agreed and this first part is a basic introduction. She will continue to delve into the some of the topics she writes here but in more detail. It'll be exciting to see how things develop. Enjoy, Luke
Hello BJJ-Asia readers! It’s great to be here with everyone and thanks to Luke for the opportunity to share my experiences. Just to give a bit of background, my journey with yoga first started in 2008 after a scooter accident left me hospitalized for a month with severely lacerated knee (down to the bone), fractured right patella and hairline fracture in the left hand. I was teaching English on a small island of the South coast of South Korea and unluckily for me, the doctors had little to offer in the way of rehabilitation. Although acupuncture dramatically improved the range of motion in the knee joint, it wasn’t until I walked into my first yoga class that the real healing began. Anyone who has had a serious injury understands how humbling the recovery process is. Not only has yoga healed my knee, it’s also whipped me into the best shape I’ve ever been in my entire life. After 400 hours of various teaching training workshops, 200 of which were under senior instructor and author, Mark Stephens, I am now the yoga instructor for Bangkok BJJ.
Having had no prior experience with BJJ, what fascinated me the most about my first observation class was the direct correlation that the warm up exercises had with yoga. The drills that take place before any activity are indicative of what kinds of movements are required for that activity. The Hindu Push Ups look almost identical to the transition from Downward Facing Dog to Up Dog. The BJJ Bridge, with the exception of the foot placement, was the yoga Bridge.
As the class progressed it became more and more apparent that a regular yoga practice could bring tremendous benefits to the BJJ student. Right away it was apparent that the hips served as a crucial base for movement. I also noticed repetitive lateral movement and twisting in the body, especially in watching the movements of the hip escape. The movements of BJJ are complex in that it requires the body to move throughout various planes of movement and space and in different relations to gravity. If we look at the movements of a sprinter, most of the momentum is propelled linearly – the sprinter moves in a straight line from point A to B, in an upright position, using the same repetitive actions in their arms and legs. The movements involved with grappling are so much more complicated in that there is so much more variation in the types of movements and the planes in which they occur. So many of these elements involved in BJJ are also present in yoga; the focus on the hips, lateral movement and twisting, the importance of core strength (core including the front and back body), the list goes on and on.
Yoga is widely known for improving flexibility, but the benefits of yoga are far greater than just being able to touch your toes. Yoga can strengthen and condition your body, prevent injuries and help your body recuperate faster. Because so much of the movements of BJJ are focused on joint manipulation, it goes without saying that greater range of movement would vastly improve the abilities of all BJJ fighters. Men are chronically tight in the hip flexors and shoulders, two critical area of focus in BJJ and also the focus of the vast majority of yoga poses. Where BJJ focuses on pulling into the center, yoga emphasizes creating movement out through the center. Yoga can be the yin to the yang of BJJ.
Being new to the BJJ world, I’d like to ask those of you who do practice yoga, what benefits (if any) have you gained that directly translate to BJJ? To all those who are still yoga virgins, I highly encourage you to take a class (preferably at Bangkok BJJ) and then send in some feedback so that we can all benefit from each other’s experiences.
Thanks for reading, Namaste.