Pilates?... But I’m A Martial Artist!
By Amelia Sheftall
This Pilates exercise known as the mermaid stretches,
strengthens and lengthens torso, stretches hips, waist shoulders
and arms, improves core connection and balance.
Pilates is a method of exercise and physical movement designed
to stretch and strengthen the body core, particularly the
abdomen and back muscles, promote muscle balance within the
body, and also develop coordination. Widely practiced by dancers
for decades. Pilates has more recently become an important
adjunct to sports training, rehabilitation and general fitness.
It is now taught widely in heath clubs, YMCAs and in schools.
Frequently I am asked by martial arts students why they should add Pilates
to their training schedule, and the answer is always simple: Pilates builds
core (body) strength that is essential for martial artists to hone their
craft and to prevent injuries. Speaking from personal experience I can
say with great confidence that Pilates has changed my life and the way
that I practice karate in a positive way.
I have been studying karate since 1985 and unfortunately was prone to
injuries especially in both hamstrings and in my left shoulder. It wasn’t
until I started training in bodywork, both in Pilates and Gyrotonic Movement
(a system of yoga-like moving exercises performed on a specialized machine),
that I started to understand why. I was not holding my body (muscles and
bones) in proper alignment and as a result I suffered self-inflicted injuries
due to repetitive movements while using improper posture. Improper posture
is usually caused by certain muscles being too strong and tight while
other muscles are too loose and weak. This is a problem that can be corrected
with a regular Pilates practice and is a tried and true method of exercise
used by both professional and amateur athletes alike.
This exercise. "rolling like a ball." is used to
improve balance and massage the spine
The "open leg rocker" stretches the back, works the
"powerhouse" (the band of muscles that surround the body
below the belly button - also known as the tanden in karate) and
massages the spine
Joseph Pilates a German national
was a performer and boxer living in England who studied exercise,
Zen, yoga and ancient Greek and Roman exercise systems. With
the outbreak of WWI he was interned and began teaching a system
of floor exercise and concepts to other internees. Transferred
to another camp as a nurse or caretaker, he began devising
equipment rigged together with pullies and springs taken from
beds to help those with wartime disease and physical injuries.
This was the genesis of the Pilates that further evolved under
the guidance of his wife Clara, a nurse, to better fit the
needs seriously ill or injured patients.
It is not widely known that Joseph Pilates, the founder of Pilates, originally
worked with boxers. This is why his exercise system applies very well
to martial artists. It was his belief that the body is healthier when
it practices stretching, strengthening and control-type exercises in addition
to the actual sport activity itself. Most martial artists have some form
of this in their weekly routines, but often slow steady exertion with
stretching control are hurried through in favor of the activity itself.
In addition, some martial artists attempt to meditate regularly, and this
focus on breathing is also in line with the Pilates philosophy. Slow steady
breathing with exertion (i.e. ibuki breathing – the tightening of
the abdominals inward with a long slow breath) is a large part of a successful
When teaching Pilates to martial artists I like to do almost double the
amount of leg exercises than in a typical Pilates class. This is because
martial artists need to strengthen their gluteus muscles (the buttocks)
in order to make their legs feel lighter and make the act of kicking easier
and more effortless. These exercises include practicing anchoring the
pelvis by pulling the abdominal and torso-related muscles inward while
reaching and extending through the legs in various movements. This not
only strengthens the body but also helps to lengthen the torso and open
the hip joints making difficult kicks and kicking combinations easier.
The shoulder stretches (open hand) stretches and strengthens
muscles of the arm and shoulders, improves ability to lengthen through
In Pilates, there is also an emphasis on learning how to keep your shoulders
down and away from your head, lengthening the neck and strengthening the
muscles under the armpits that create a longer spine. Strengthening the
proper muscles for correct posture helps to prevent back injuries and
create longer lines in the body. This creates the space a martial artist
needs in the joints and between the bones in case of a misstep, a bad
turn or punch while practicing and is the difference between a quick,
shake-it-off type injury versus a permanent one.
I welcome you to experience the power of Pilates by taking your martial
art to the next level. It is my intention to keep training for many, many
years to come and I know that my Pilates practice will certainly be a
large part of attaining that goal.
(DVD, Approx. 46 Min.)
(+$5 shipping within US)
The Karate Pilates Workout
By Amelia Shaeftal
This innovative DVD brings the world of Pilates to karate and other
martial arts. Pilates helps the practitioner learn to use the
correct muscles, open the joints, and train the body for proper
alignment and length.
This DVD shows martial artists how to improve their training
experience, muscle tone and stretch their limbs while at the
same time reducing the risk of injury to the joints and muscles.
This Karate Pilates workout targets the body core, or lower abdominals,
so karate kicks and stances will become more efficient and comfortable.
Pain and strains of the back and shoulders will begin to disappear
as you develop stronger abdominals to take some of the load off
muscles that martial artists typically overuse.
About the Author:
A graduate of Cornell University, Ms. Sheftall is both a certified Pilates
and Gyrotonic Movement Instructor. Always a fan of sports,
Ms. Sheftall began training in karate after the brutal attack of her best
friend in 1985. This exposure to martial arts led to a desire for
her to pursue a career as a karate teacher. After several setbacks
with shoulder and hamstring injuries she started training in Gyrotonic
Movement and Pilates to better understand the causes and possible future
prevention of her injuries. This led to the creation of specialized
Pilates Mat workouts for martial artists to supplement their training
and thereby reduce the chances of injuries and prolong the ability to
train actively as they mature. Ms. Sheftall founded Karate Pilates,
Inc. in 2004 and produced her first Karate Pilates Workout DVD in 2006.
Ms. Sheftall teaches karate, Pilates and Gyrotonic Movement full-time
and has fulfilled her dream of doing what she has always wanted to do
for a living - sharing knowledge and helping others. In addition,
she teaches annual Karate Pilates seminars at World Seido Karate and most
recently taught her Karate Pilates seminars at the 30th Anniversary event
at Columbia University for Seido Karate. She also teaches Karate
at the Seido Karate World Headquarters in Manhattan under Kaicho Tadashi