Area martial arts instructor and author Melodee Meyer has kicked and punched her way to good health and continues to land a positive impact at her Martial Arts Family Fitness center and afar. I asked the celebrated coach what makes the many kinds of martial arts such special disciplines and what health benefits we all could derive from the peaceful warrior’s way.
How did you discover martial arts? I dated a guy who taught martial arts, but I wasn’t impressed with the idea of doing it myself, as I thought martial arts was all about fighting. I asked him, “Do you expect me to do that?” When he said, “No,” I was relieved. However, I did like kickboxing and started doing that at his martial arts school to get in shape. I loved it. He said if I wanted to teach fitness kickboxing, I should take a few martial arts lessons so I could learn the techniques better. Two years later, I married him, and 21 years later, I’m a fifth-degree black belt.
From a workout standpoint, what sets martial arts apart from other sports or exercise? Martial arts is a category all to itself. It is neither a sport nor exercise, and yet it can be both. Even the name “martial arts” can seem like a contradiction. Martial arts is based on traditional fighting systems and usually emphasizes physical skill as well as fitness. What I love about martial arts is that there is always something new to learn or something old to master. It is the ultimate mind/body workout that challenges me on every level. It’s an amazing form of self-defense and personal development, which builds confidence and self-esteem.
Are different diets applicable to different martial arts, i.e., does one diet work better for kickboxing, and another better for tae kwon do? First, let’s address “different martial arts”: There are many types, or styles, of martial arts — some of which you might have heard of, many of which you probably have not. I don’t think the style is as important as the philosophy of the school. For instance, some schools prioritize competition, whereas another school might be into fighting or self-defense or demonstrations or team building or character development. Regardless of style, it is the philosophy and the culture of the school that will dictate the experience of the student.
Regarding nutrition: Eating a clean, real-food diet is what works best for everyone regardless of what activities we enjoy. It is so imperative to our health that I wrote a book about it called Clean Food Diet. What is clean food? Unprocessed, real food. In other words, food that can be eaten in its natural state — if you can hunt it or gather it from nature and eat it, that means it is real food.
What are the most common injuries in martial arts, and what can be done to prevent them? Most injuries in martial arts come from contact with others in sparring situations or from doing techniques incorrectly that torque the back, knees, or hips. This can be avoided by using the correct gear, avoiding contact altogether, and learning how to do the techniques properly.
The beautiful thing about training in the martial arts is the opportunity to be mindful. Exercising mindfully reduces the possibility of injury. Martial arts works on balance, coordination, technique, and mind-set. And then as you improve, we can add speed and power.
What are the brain-health and neurological benefits of martial arts? Martial arts is great for brain health as you have to be mindful when you train. You can’t read a magazine while you work out — that is for sure! While training, you are constantly engaged: Working on balance, distance, accuracy, speed, power, intensity, flow, relaxation, and flexibility are just some of the things your mind is working on as you do martial arts and fitness kickboxing. Practicing mindfulness has been proven to be beneficial to neurological health.
How has the martial arts landscape changed for women since you first began practicing? Well, there certainly are a lot more women in martial arts now than there were 20 years ago. There are more women professional fighters and even more women in action movies like Wonder Woman! I am very proud that we have a martial arts school full of women black belts, which is not all that common.
Are punching bags necessary? Can one make a homemade punching bag? A super challenging workout is shadow boxing — you do not need to hit anything to get a great workout! It’s an amazing exercise for lower and upper body, core strength, and heart/lung capacity.
Anything else you’d like to say? It is important to move every day and to do something that challenges the body as well as the mind. Most people stick to an activity they did when they were younger, but that is not always possible. It takes courage to start something new as an adult and to challenge yourself in that way — beginning with a white-belt mind, completely open to learn. That’s why martial arts is so special: It is a fitness practice that you can do your entire life and always have another level to achieve.
Melodee Meyer is the author of Black Belt Power and Clean Food Diet.