Yoga for Martial Arts -

Thursday, January 17, 2008

With the tremendous increase in interest regarding the Rubber Guard and Twister game a lot of BJJ enthusiasts are becoming more interested in improving their flexibility. Yoga immediately comes to mind, however as John Foster mentioned in his prior post, Yoga is more than just stretching. There's a lot more to it, but where do we start? There are hundreds if not thousands of Yoga DVDs on the market, many of them provide "flows" or sequences of Yoga postures designed around a particular goal. The problem is these goals often just don't match up with the needs of a BJJ practitioner or Mixed Martial Artist. Thankfully Stephen Kesting, Josephine Krizovensky, and the rest of the team at have put together a professional, well conceived, and useful Yoga for Martial Arts DVD. So, let's get on to the review.

Production Quality

Top notch, the DVD has been designed with the beginner in mind. Each section (with the exception of the Introduction) shows both Stephen and Josephine. Essentially Stephen shows the easier or beginner variation while Josephine shows the more complex or advanced variation. Here's where I think Stephen really thought things through, I believe he purposely downplays his flexibility throughout the DVD. I'm convinced after watching the introduction Stephen could easily perform the advanced variations Josephine does, however he doesn't, he dutifully performs the beginner variation. This sort of humility is refreshing in the fitness/martial arts industry.

It honestly appears that he wants any martial artist to feel like Yoga will work for them.

All of the voice-overs are done by Josephine, let's be honest, it's always nice on the ears to hear a woman's voice. Her commentary is excellent, however like all movement based DVDs (Yoga, Martial Arts, etc) you are going to want to watch it a minimum of 2-3 times. The first time you'll be watching the movements closely and most likely missing most of the instruction. With each subsequent viewing you'll be less focused on the visuals and pick up more of the instructions. In fact one of my only concerns with the DVD is here, the background music can overwhelm her voice on occasion. However with good speakers or a head set it's not a real issue.

Lastly, the title of each pose taught in the video is displayed on the screen. For those interested it's very easy to write these down and look them up on Google. This is a nice option for someone looking to get more information on a particular movement.

So, let's talk about the content.


A very nice overview of Yoga movements and why they matter for a martial artist. Stephen talks about more than just flexibility (some will note his rather impressive wide angle forward bend). He talks about controlling the body through extreme range of motion and the power of breath control. Here's where I think he's on to something. As a grappler understanding and controlling your breath, maintaining a calm, relaxed posture throughout sparing and competition is very important. Roll with enough advanced guys/girls and you'll see they can maintain a placid, relaxed demeanor throughout.

Stephen has posted the Introduction on his website in QuickTime format, I've linked to it here.

Breath Work

Much more difficult than it looks. Your lungs are powerful organs, they can work like a pneumatic pump bringing large amounts of oxygen into your system. Here Stephen and Josephine go over a few different forms of Yoga breathing exercises. I'm quite pleased with this section as they go through a very well conceived progression. They start with a very basic form of abdominal breathing, asking you to focus on your lower abdomen using your hands. By putting you in the mind set of breathing using your belly or lower abdomen they are getting you in the right frame of mind for Bellows Breathing, which they cover next.

The Anatomy of Hatha Yoga has this to say about Bellows Breath (Bhastrika)

...highly energizing abdominal breathing exercises. In their mild form they are excellent for beginners, because they require only that students be acquainted with even abdominal breathing. The bellows breath imitates the movement of the blacksmith's bellows...the additional oxygen pulled into the lungs by the bellows exercise increase the potential for combustion throughout the body.
Overall, a well conceived portion of the DVD, for those interested, I believe Rickson Gracie in the CHOKE documentary performs a variation of Bellows Breathing.

Cat Series

It all starts in the core. If you are a grappler or Jiu-Jitsu fighter you know this. Closed guard, open guard, half, butterfly, and anything else in the guard game (yes even De La Riva) depends on a strong and flexible core. Stephen and Josephine's Cat Series is a great warm-up for that core, done properly it's a great way to get the submission grappling core ready for more intense training.

Sun Salutations

What's a Sun Salutation? No it doesn't mean praising the Sun God and getting your summer tan. It's a very simple series of stretches aimed squarely at what John was speaking about the other day. Expand and Contract. Here Stephen and Josephine provide three different Sun Salutation series. Each one is slightly more difficult than the one before it. Here again Stephen provides the beginner variation while Josephine impresses us with more complex variations.

Seated Flow & Supine Flow
Ok all you Rubber Guard Eddie Bravo fans these are the sections you want to focus on. Stephen and Josephine go through a very straight forward series of seated and supine hip openers, core stretches, back bridges, etc. Want to get additional flexibility for the Rubber Guard? This is where you need to pay close attention. In addition the multiple core twisting and rotating stretches in this section are perfect for those of you reading up on the "twister". Just like in all the series before, Stephen sandbags to show you what a less than perfect Yogi should shoot for first. Once you've mastered his movements pay close attention to Josephine for the next level of difficulty.

Bottom Line

Yoga can help your game if you practice it diligently. Could Rickson Gracie, Murilo Bustamante, Wallid Ismael, Dan Inosanto, and Ricardo Liborio be wrong? There is a strong bond between the movements of Yoga and those of the martial arts. So give Yoga for Martial Arts a try and enjoy the journey, I'm convinced your BJJ game will appreciate it.

Stretch Smart!


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Fitz said...

I was introduced to BJJ by my Budokon instructor. Budokon is a movement system that blends yoga and martial arts, with some unique "animal" movements added.

The inventor, Cameron Shayne, held a master class that I attended. He said that he wanted to make his yoga movements more dynamic, and not fall into the common trap of relaxing in a pose and losing the stretch and strength benefits. Budokon is a dynamic system, with long series of flows that keep the muscles engaged throughout slow transitions. There are also explosive movements, such as kicks and jumps.

The animal motions sound kind of kooky but are really a lot of fun. They add a unique aspect and are very good strength and endurance builders. For instance, the organutan (squat and walk, with arms waving overhead) really opens up the hips and makes your thighs burn. The komodo (like a spiderman crawl) builds balance and strength in all four limbs plus the core.

For me, it's a great workout, not competitive (well, maybe a little ...), and provides another discipline for mind/body awareness and progression.