Riz's Martial Arts Training

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Fighting Fit – Cardio & Conditioning

One of the earliest posts I wrote on this blog was The Triangle Hypothesis, which talked about three facets key to improving as a martial artist or fighter. For those of you who've read it, you may remember that I chose to add 'C' to the 'triangle' that many past instructors of mine had related to me. The C in this case stood for Cardio & Conditioning. The logic behind my decision was that without the right levels of fitness and body conditioning, you would be unable to fully utilise the three corners of the triangle that are Power, Speed, and Technique. This post intends to elaborate that view.

It's not by sheer randomness either - While rolling last night (my first night back! *sigh*), I was caught in a surprise Achilles ankle lock (and took a nasty elbow to the brow) and as a result, walking just doesn't feel right anymore – but instead of depressing you (my ever-emphatic reader) with a post about how my leg hurts or about how my eye looks like I was the loser of the Thriller in Manila; I'm going to write about my clever improvement of my instructors' theory with C (even though I'm pretty sure most of them just assume that C is a given).

"Minds, like bodies, will fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort."

- Charles Dickens

It's no secret that the more time you spend on the mats (whether rolling, stand-up sparring or drilling), the faster you will improve. And we always hear how martial arts (especially those considered 'Traditional' styles) are all about Technique being used to overcome Athleticism, so then why have I devoted an entire post to Cardio/Conditioning? The answer in short, is that unless you have vastly superior technique to everyone else – your endurance and conditioning is going to play a factor.  pe de pano

If you're looking to excel in competition (you old glory hound, you), stamina is clearly needed as you'll have to spar several rounds with relatively little rest in-between. Furthermore, if you like competing in the Absolute division (or equivalent weight-free zone), it's possible that you'll be sparring against bigger, stronger opponents who will sap the stamina out of you! There's little you can do when you're completely drained of energy against a well-trained bigger, stronger opponent so the best option is to train hard before the competition to ensure it doesn't happen.

"The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."

- John F. Kennedy

Non-competitive types need to be wary of the same points. You may not be competing at tournaments but note that the competition format is pretty similar to sparring sessions in training. If you don't have a high level of stamina, you won't be able to train as efficiently – i.e. Half of your 2 hour training session is wasted if you only manage to train hard for 1 hour before gassing. Though some of you may here point out that training isn't about all about 'quantity' but rather 'quality'…and you're right. However, once you begin to fatigue, your technique without a doubt begins to slowly deteriorate and while training at this point is arguably still beneficial (any training is better than none in my opinion), it is less efficient (the exception here is when you intentionally fatigue your body so as to limit your use of strength and to focus on working techniques).

And as an old boxing coach used to tell me: physical fitness improves 'mental toughness'. But is that enough? Sadly, no – as martial artists, our training all too often focuses on 'dishing out' while we spend relatively little time conditioning ourselves for the more unpleasant reverse scenario of being the 'main dish' (also quoting my old boxing coach).

In fact, I'll just explain it to you the way the old man would rant about it to me (minus some explicit wisdom)! It helps to know that Coach A was appalled by modern boxing tactics where boxers 'dance around' and 'play for points', he was a staunch believer that you punch for the knockout ("There's no such thing as a jab" he'd say).

Exercises to toughen the body have been all but forgotten. Competition has led to extensive cardio training so that fighters can last entire fights (most of which are spent running in every direction except towards your opponent). Exercises to toughen the body to withstand the rigours and demands of training and combat have been more or less discarded. Coach A used the example that most boxers have never boxed without heavy gloves and thorough wrapping – how's one expect to condition their VV1882hands if they're wrapped up and then further protected by a fat padded glove? Jack Dempsey makes a point of it in his book Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense, urging the rookie boxer to train with ‘striking gloves’ or by “snipping the fingers of a pair of leather work gloves” so that he can condition his fists. 

Martial arts such as Karate require even more conditioning to deal with tackles and attacks below the waist. Furthermore, developing the ability to withstand the constant (but minor) injuries sustained in training is paramount as it to an extent, dictates the level of confidence you have in the said art – so hit that makiwara until it apologises to you!

The Best Way to Cardio and Conditioning

This is one of those obvious points that's so obvious people don't notice it. The best way to develop the required stamina and conditioning for your martial art is simply to train…a lot! Not only does that ensure that you'll be developing your body in a natural way that complements your art but, you'll be doing it via means that you already love doing (the assumption here is that you enjoy training)! Make sure to train hard and push yourself in all aspects of your art, otherwise you may find your body woefully underprepared later… and please make sure to properly warm-up, stretch, and cool-down. Here's a clip of Goju Ryu 10th dan Morio Higaonna – he uses a rock to condition his fists… He's a scary man (though apparently a really nice guy too!).

The next best thing…

If you're gym/dojo/basement happens to be closed, you're a little shy about training in the park, and no one is around to play sports with, there are plenty of other options. Main thing – find something challenging that you enjoy. Personally, I hate elliptical and body building machines so I steer clear of them. Instead I prefer to swim (with the occasional bit of underwater karate when the coast is clear!) or go for runs at varying speeds (undisciplined interval training). One of my training partners hates exercise and formal workouts; he instead chooses to dance on days off from the dojo – I've joined him a couple of times… two hours of salsa/hip hop is surprisingly hard work!


Though I know plenty of people that are constantly dieting in order to make weight, I'm not really a fan of the process. Personally, I think it’s better in the long run to follow some healthy eating habits and maintain a weight that is natural to your body even if it means that you end up at the bottom of your weight category – after all, why would anyone really want to fight someone much smaller than them (unless the ickle opponent is an absolute badass)?

Recovery Time

Whatever means of cardio and conditioning you choose, make sure to get in ample recovery time. Not only will this help your absorb information/techniques faster but it will allow you to perform at a higher rate with a lower risk of injury. And yes, sometimes you'll just need a week or two out from training – don't worry about losing the short term training as taking time off not only helps you recuperate but, it also allows your body to fully assimilate the training you have done recently (just be sensible about how often you take time off).

*Sigh!*Amir Khan - Barrera

You may have noticed that I've used more boxing references than I usually do in this post. It's because my head is still going over Amir Khan's defeat of Marco Antonio Barrera from last week. The "Baby-faced Assassin" (Barrera) is one of my favourite boxers and it's sad to see him dominated (though I suppose I must admit, he has been on the decline for some time now). Ah well…c'est la vie! 


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