A match made centuries ago!
Massage has been very important in martial arts for a long time. Not just for injury recovery, but also for prevention, and even many times as a requirement for ranking as a "master" in w/e discipline or system.
Today we'll explore the main reasons I feel one is indispensable from another and how both complement each other almost seamlessly.
Warm up your hands and grab your lineaments today we're diving into how massage and martial arts make a devastating healing couple!
Many traditional martial arts instructors were healers!
Many come to mind but the 2 most popular ones I feel are Zatoichi, and Wong Fei Hung.
Zatoichi is a traveling massage therapist, and ronin samurai who, while blind, finds himself in very awkward situations assassinating top samurai officials and escaping from near death many times. I don't know if he was a real person but his movies and antics tell quite an amazing story, and traditionally massage therapists in ancient japan were blind... so there may be a bit of validity in that.
Wong Fei Hung is a chinese folk hero who is one of the most popular of the 10 tigers, a group of martial arts masters said to be the best in all of China. Wong, besides being an exceptional martial artist, was a renowned physician and healer who helped many people. Due to his great local rapport there were many stories written about him and as such his persona became a huge focal point for kung fu cinema across the ages. Now having been played by many great actors in the genre, Jet Li and Jackie Chan to name a few.
Outside of famous characters there are various systems and styles of martial art which boast their own types of massage techniques and forms. Japanese massage systems like Okazaki, Shiatsu, and Ashiatsu are practiced by many karate-ka, judo-ka, and jujutsu practitioners. They are used as a way to balance out all the impact, and injuries. Massage in these arts is also used to help people safeguard from pulling muscles, deeply damaging muscles from impact, and assist in strengthening ligaments and tendons. In the case of jujutsu greater flexibility assists in the ability to escape various grapples, and holds. This same massage practice and flexibility facilitates the effective use of these various techniques. Massage is a great asset to bring the art together and help the practitioner progress more efficiently and effectively in its practice.
Japanese martial arts are not the only ones that have used massage throughout the ages, Chinese martial arts of Wudang and Shaolin Kung Fu are said to be the originators of much of the tui na (Chinese massage) we see today. There has also been, like I noted above, countless Kung Fu movies based on facts that the local kung fu master was also the town's doctor/healer. Traditions like these show how intertwined massage, healing, and martial arts have been for centuries in the orient.
Outside of China and Japan we see similar connections in Thailand, Greece, Russia, India, and many more. This mixing and melding has many other reasons outside of the obvious safeguarding from injury and fixing mishaps of sparring or grappling, which we'll explore below.
The result of mixing Massage and martial arts is fearlessness and strength!
I tell this to all my martial arts and massage students alike. Martial art practice takes the fear out of massage, and massage takes the fear out of martial arts.
Martial arts takes the fear out of massage in the sense that by truly knowing and feeling exactly how to enact damage on another person, i.e. breaking bones, dislocating a joint or striking, we deeply come to understand a person's limits. In Martial art practice we learn this very quickly through repeating drills in a safe and controlled manner. Contrast this experience to that of a massage therapist, we have to kind of tip toe the edges until we develop the sensitivity to effectively feel this limit. This takes much more time and can be very detrimental to yourself and the client because you're not enacting enough change to their body and slowing their healing.
Another way martial arts takes the fear out of massage is by allowing us to correctly align and feel our structure. I have a saying, which you have probably heard me say before, "If you can hit with it you can massage with it." This helps massage therapists do their work safer and with way less effort and injury because structure places power into the technique not the other way around. These are the two reasons i say martial art practice takes the fear out of massage, lets move on to how massage takes the fear out of martial arts.
Massage takes the fear out of martial arts because while receiving massage you can truthfully examine your limits. Healthy muscle tissue should be able to be compressed right down to the bone, whereas if it is unhealthy this pressure will be very painful. If a person were to strike you in this tense, rigid and painful area your muscle could spasm and leave you wide open for more punishment. In this way massage becomes a great safe place for you to get rid of vulnerabilities while improving your overall muscular health.
The other way massage assists in martial art practice is by increasing your flexibility and rehabilitation from all the training. When you train excessively in "harder styles" of martial arts (Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Jujutsu, Shaolin, Boxing, Mui Thai, etc.) you accumulate a lot of tension. This tension compounded with striking and grappling is a recipe for injury. Regular stretching can go a long way as a safeguard, but having someone else do it for you will greatly speed up your progress and capabilities. So next time you have a match coming up get some massage before and after your bout!
Massage Therapists find a martial art to hone your skills, and martial artists find a massage therapist to help you get stronger, faster, and feel better!
Daniel R. Hyde
Licensed Massage Therapist
OIF, OEF Veteran
U.S. Marine Corps
Tui Na, Chinese Massage
Shiatsu, Japanese Massage
Tai Chi Chuan
Kwan Ying Do Kung Fu