Chronic illness warrior and natural health coach and advocate, Gina helps others thrive beyond the challenges of chronic illness.
It is said that the bamboo symbolizes all the virtues of the true warrior. It stands tall, yet bends humbly at the slightest breeze. It is firmly rooted in the ground. It endures the harshest conditions, including the coldest winters. The warrior, like bamboo, is ever ready for action. Bamboo is also the only hollow tree. This hollowness symbolizes the ideal of the warrior's spiritual emptiness. For its lack of solidity and dimension, bamboo is an incredibly strong and flexibly wood with infinite uses.
These are the warrior's ideals:
1. to be strong, yet flexible
2. to be humble, yet epitomize total versatility.
My Diagnosis and Journey Back to Training
There were so many times that I felt like I was being tossed to and fro by life. For the majority of my life, I was pretty healthy. I was eating well, training and things seemed to be going great for me. Then I was diagnosed with one illness after another. Even my doctors were baffled by how sick I had become in what seemed to be such a short time.
I had to take a break from training due to illness—due to severe fatigue and pain of the illness that I was eventually diagnosed with: lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the body literally starts to attack itself. By the time I was diagnosed with lupus, I had already had several organs and systems involved, including the heart, lungs, peripheral nervous system, stomach to name a few.
After several years of illness, losing my hair, having to quit my job, then a slow recovery, a brush with cardiac arrest, herbal studies and training, herbal treatment, I was finally strong enough to resume my training. I consulted with my doctor who gave me the go-ahead, after which I consulted with an instructor who I had been watching for a while, and who was also training my son.
We set a start date, and here I am!
So what does martial arts teach me in dealing with lupus?
1. Martial Arts Helps Get Me Moving!
The obvious reason most people do martial arts in this day is to do some physical activity—to get active and get moving. The obesity problem is an epidemic. For me, martial arts training was a part of my life, and had been for a while. My two older children are both Black Belts, and my youngest is getting close to being awarded his First Degree Black Belt. So for me, it was a lifestyle, and to not be able to train for so long was devastating.
When I was training, I was in the best shape of my life, considering that I had been a cross-country runner all through college. There was something about martial arts that caught my attention. The physical conditioning that I received in training was intense.
Martial arts training helps me to improve both strength and cardio endurance, which means that I am less likely to experience aches and pains, to become worn out from everyday activities or to suffer from obesity-related illnesses and conditions. With my improved level of health, I know I will enjoy a better quality life than someone who is less healthy and not getting some physical activity.
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2. Martial Arts Helps Me Find Focus and Stillness
Life has a way of throwing us curve balls. Lupus, for me, was definitely one. I did not in my wildest dreams think I would be dealing with such an illness—EVER. There are so many issues that come with dealing with a chronic illness. The pain that occurs on a daily basis is enough to make one reconsider living, or what living really is. Sometimes, it is hard to focus on anything other than the illness. We run around from one doctor to another. We forget to take care of ourselves.
At some juncture in life, every one of us comes to learn that the greatest obstacle we face in this lifetime is ourselves. That battle is fought in the stillness of our hearts and the willingness to confront ourselves.
As Bruce Lee pointed out,
Behind the punches, kicks, and knees, a true martial artist learns to sit with himself and see where his weaknesses are.
From years of martial arts classes, I remember many challenges, breakthroughs, and setbacks. What I do not remember are distractions or gimmicks like you often see at your local health club. At the studios and boxing gyms where I trained, there was no loud music or flat screen TVs, just hard work and sweat equity. As a martial artist, I learn what it is to be still, challenged, and focused. Lupus has definitely challenged me, but I learn to refocus using martial arts training.
It is, of course, natural to hope to minimize our suffering as anyone would rightfully want to do. However, we cannot avoid pain in life, and it is only in facing it that we can move beyond it.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!
— Rocky Balboa
3. Martial Arts Teaches Me to Take Hits.... and to Keep Moving
In life we are going to take plenty of hits along our journey, whether we like it or not. How we react to those hits determines whether we move forward successfully or get stuck in "what could have been."
Martial arts challenges my persistence. Yes, I have to gauge my training to how I am feeling on a particularly day, but at no point do I quit. I take a break and move on. I learn what it is to take a hit, whether that hit is a knockout punch or just a jab—a disappointment like joint pain or a lupus flare.
Part of life is learning that we all take hits. The key is in learning how best to take that hit and get back up. I came to learn that accepting I would get hit enabled me to relax and better protect myself. That acceptance led me to be able to better respond, maneuver, and anticipate...anticipate that next punch or anticipate the onset of symptoms.
4. Martial Arts Teaches Me Self-Confidence and Self-Respect
I remember when I was just starting my training. I was an older woman, sometimes in a class with kids much younger than I was. It took me a little longer to become as flexible and as quick on my feet, but eventually, I went on to gain my Black Belt, after three years of intense accelerated training.
That confidence helps me still today as I train with a chronic illness. That type of confidence comes from a deep sense of self-knowledge and respect. Even when I have to pace myself, I know that I am confident in being who I am, and although I am not able to do some things that I could in the past due to my new adversary, I know that the cornerstone of my foundation is strong. It has been cultivated and practiced, and throughout the process, will be perfected.
5. Martial Arts Helps Me Connect Mind and Body
What they don’t teach you at your local health club is how to really listen to your body. To listen to your body is to also see your thoughts and have heightened awareness of your emotional being.
Before every class, I meditate to get in the frame of mind for training. I also practice deep breathing exercises which help with any pain that I may be feeling at the time. As a martial artist I am able to see, feel, and listen—both internally and externally. Tapping into intuition, fear and courage are examples of being able to put the physical together with the mental.
6. Martial Arts Teaches Me Conflict Resolution!
People often ask me whether I have ever used my martial arts and boxing training in a fight. Indeed I have used the skills learned from martial arts many times to resolve conflict, but thankfully, never in a physical altercation outside the mat or ring. I have learned to respond without reacting in the martial arts. I have learned to be at peace when I am told, "Well you don't look sick." I have learned to be at peace when words are thrown my way concerning how I could not possibly be as sick as I am claiming to be.
How to Breathe Correctly
7. Martial Arts Teaches Me to Breathe
Of the many things I have learned in the martial arts, breathing is near the top. I have to use that technique everyday to keep my heart rate at a low enough pace to avoid an atrial fibrillation episode. I use it during every class to pace myself through the sparring techniques. I also have to use it when my heart rate does get too high. I have also used it to get through pain. Proper breathing does help me with lowering the pain.
Indeed, nothing is more essential to the success of how we move our body than tapping into the life force of our essence—our breath.
Martial arts has taught me the essence of how to breathe and even relax under pressure.
8. Martial Arts Teaches Me to Set Goals
Goal-setting is essential for separating trivial things from things that are important in your life. Proper goal-setting will help you decide what you want to achieve in your life. The short-term goals will help keep you motivated building your self-confidence as you successfully achieve your goals.
In martial arts there are certain goals that have to be met, such as learning the forms and other techniques before moving onto the next rank. In life, there are also goals that are set. I write my goals down...and I revisit them from time to time to ensure that I am on track. I even reward myself for reaching a particular goal.
Setting goals is also important when living with a chronic illness such as lupus. Dreams and goals help to keep me motivated and feeling alive when dealing with illness. Goals keep you grounded and give you a purpose. Setting goals when you are ill gives you hope!
9. Martial Arts Teaches Me Balance and Coordination
One of the most difficult diagnoses to accept prior to my lupus diagnosis was that of global sensorimotor polyneuropathy. The neurologist basically said that I would gradually get to a point where I would need assistance walking and eventually not be able to walk.
Yes, there have been days when I did need a cane for assistance, but for the most part, I seem to be doing well. On the days when the neuropathy kicks in with a vengeance, I just simply rest. I know my limits.
Balance and coordination in life is as important as being in self-control. Martial arts is such a technique to make yourself perfect in coordination. But it will only be formulated with growing time as it involves hand, feet, concentration and psychological co-ordination. All these are required at a very high level because it will make me feel complete after its accomplishment. Martial arts training works both sides of the body equally, so I just need to keep on practicing to make my body co-ordinating with the pace of the training. Martial arts help me to enhance these abilities with every step of learning.
10. Martial Arts Helps Me With Individual and Personal Development
It is about you challenging your boundaries and striving to continually improve yourself. Martial arts does that for me: challenges my mind, my body and my spirit. I learn to develop the skills to cope with illness while growing as an individual and integrating illness into my life.
Bonus! Martial Arts Helps Me Meet New Friends and Grow My Support System!
You need to know that you will always have someone in your corner, both literally and figuratively. If you’re not at the right school, boxing gym, or around the right coach, you need to find someone who knows their stuff, genuinely cares, and has their heart in the right place.
I have most certainly found that where I currently train at Alicea's Martial Arts Studio! They have become an extension of my own family!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2015 Gina Welds
Gina Welds (author) from Tampa, Florida on March 15, 2016:
Hi Val. Thanks for your comment. If you have found a school you're interested in training at, please speak to the instructor and let him or her know about your health issues. Steps will be taken to ensure that you are safe. (The only bone I have broken is my big toe, and it was after I became a Black Belt.)
On days that you don't feel well, let the instructor know and you can design that day's workout to fit how you're feeling that day.
Everyone uses sparring gear, so your body will be protected, and you won't be made to spar unless and until you feel ready.
I do caution you to not train on any day that you just feel horrible....even if you want to train for 5 minutes. Take the day off and rest....or you will be needing 5 days to rest because of those 5 minutes of training.
Always hydrate. Eat well. Get massages.
I hope you find a great instructor, like I have, who will understand your concerns and work with you.
Oh....I didn't address bruises. You will feel soreness, but I have never received black and blue bruises. The gear that is used should protect you from those kinds of bruises.
I hope this info helps.
Let me know when you find your school. I'm excited for you!
Val on March 15, 2016:
Hi Gina! This is a very inspiring post. I've had lupus since I was 14 and am now interested in learning martial arts (I'm 34) but am concerned about broken bones and bruises. Is it possible to avoid those while training?