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j-squared

Martial Arts and Fitness / PT / Conditioning

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This almost seems like a superfluous post, in that of course martial artists should be fit. However, participating in a few martial arts forums, this topic often comes up.

 

Should you be doing fitness training at your dojo/dojang/studio/gym or is that strictly for martial arts training? Also, do you really need to be fit?

 

If you look at some styles of martial arts, you can often find some of the "masters" and long time teachers to have a considerable amount of body fat. They don't worry about using their skills in real life, they feel their training will make up for any deficiencies in physical fitness. Also, many people say that they would rather train physical fitness at home, and not at the dojo, they believe they spend their training dollars on stuff they can do outside of class. 

 

To start, we can categorize people in a few categories:

Fit and trained

Fit and not trained

Not fit and trained

Not fit and not trained

 

I think it is easy to see that a person that is both fit and trained would have an advantage in an actual fight over the other three categories. Also, the person that is not fit and not trained has a distinct disadvantage against the other types. However what about the middle two categories, how do they rank?

 

If a person is fit, but not trained, he may have an advantage in a fight as long as he can keep some distance and tire out his opponent. If the trained but unfit person is able to perform strong blows early, especially to vital areas, then that may provide him an advantage over the other.

 

If protecting oneself is important, or you are in a risky area/job, I think the reality is one should be striven to not only have quality self defense training but also work on their fitness. The fitness may help make the footwork smoother, the strikes faster and the blows more powerful. The training will help with the timing and targeting of the blows. Posting this idea here, on Nerd fitness is probably like "preaching to the choir", but there are a number of martial artists that actually devalue the importance of fitness.

 

Next people argue whether to have fitness training as part of their martial arts training, or as something they should do at home. If you are spending money for classes, they don't want to be using it on pushups, situps and other conditioning drills, they want it used on the art.

 

In early days of martial arts, conditioning has always been a part of the training. Implements like those pictured below, from traditional Okinawan Karate and the other from Kung Fu, show some of the tools used for conditioning.

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However, classes back then were much longer than your average class today. They had time to do both conditioning and martial arts practice.

 

One advantage of some PT before technique work, is that it helps place the student into the right frame of mind. Similar to training dogs, where you take them for a walk or run before doing some obedience training to settle them down, doing some PT before technique training can warm up the muscles, loosen the joints and help you focus and get into a learning frame of mind. 

 

Another advantage of offering some conditioning at a martial arts studio is so that someone can watch and correct your form, and teach you the best exercises to do. Also, there is natural competition against the other students. One usually works harder with others than they may do on their own (this "community" is one of the real strengths of crossfit, in my opinion)

 

Personally, I think a mix of classes is good. Martial arts schools can offer some classes strictly on self defense, strictly on grappling, strictly on striking, etc and also some with a lot of conditioning. It does not need to be an all or nothing thing. I also think you should work on your personal fitness outside of class. 

 

What is your opinion? Do you believe fitness to be important to the martial artist? Do you like to have conditioning as part of your martial arts classes or would you rather do them on your own? 

 

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J-squared,

     My two cents is this.  Every martial artist needs to have a basic level of strength and conditioning.  A conditioned person doesn't tire as easily under stress.  Strength is needed in all applications of martial arts whether it is striking or grappling.  If you can't do a push up, you are not going to hit that hard because all the muscle which support the punch are not strong enough to generate the speed and power necessary to make the technique work.  For example, you can teach an eight year old girl how to properly hit someone or use the right leverage to lock someone in a hold but that little girl is no match for a full grown adult, no matter how skill she is!

 

Personally I think the martial artist should do his/her physical training on their own time.  That also goes for martial arts practice.  The class should be devoted towards learning new techniques or refining existing ones under the watchful eye of the teacher. There simply isn't enough time in the day to incorporate the two disciplines into one class. If you only have an hour for class, I don't want to waste the first 20 minutes on situps which I already did earlier in the day.  Plus, making classes longer isn't an answer.  Most people can only focus on one subject for about 30 to 45 mininutes before they are bored or just simply to tired to pay attention. 

 

My two cents, but this is a good post!

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Being a complete novice, my view might be wrong, but I think fitness is a required part of martial arts, even if it isn't taught in the dojo.  

 

My training has been sporadic at best, however every single artist I've encountered has been in at least moderately good shape.  It's something I push myself to do as well.  

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Ideally a good club should steer the training each lesson to match the needs of the people who are paying to be there. For example, I've trained with the same club for near-enough 20 years, and there's only so much one sensei can offer whilst teaching a general class; the challenge comes from fitness and efficiency of technique for me, with the odd technical challenge or bizarre bit of bunkai from time to time. At the same time, beginners may need the initial fitness to work to allow them to proficiently take part in the classes and perform in the different activities, but the majority need lots of work on new techniques and their application.

 

Sadly, although I agree with Seeker (if I'm training ideally I want expertise, and can add extra fitness myself), the fact that clubs have to compete with other forms of exercise, as well as free time activities in general, means that most clubs have to include fitness elements to keep the numbers up.

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There was a line in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do that stuck with me.. it might have been the bolded "Important" at the start of it. 

 

"IMPORTANT: Do not practice finely skilled movements after you are tired, for you will begin to substitute gross motions  for  finer ones  and generalized efforfts for specific ones. Remember, wrong movements tend to supervene and the athlete's progress is set back. Thus, the athlete practices fine skills only while he is fresh. When he becomes fatigued, he shifts to tasks employing gross movements designed principally to develop endurance."

 

I always used this logic as a result. Fine motor training (Skill, technique) is best to practice, but by increasing your endurance (Cardio, strength, ect.) you improve your ability to train, thereby allowing you to train your skills/techniques harder/longer.

 

I include strength as I use weapons, and having more strength absolutely helps you train longer with heavier weapons. Which in turn helps you master using the proper technique/muscles, which in turn helps you practice longer as you become more efficient.

 

As a result, I personally find anything more than a decent warm-up at the start of the class to be a waste, and ideally I would like my students to be tired by end. That being said, within the first couple of weeks, some students coming from very sedentary lifestyles find even the warm-up tough. They adapt quickly though, and it would be silly to lower it. 

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This is a good opportunity to remind people that the greatest Marvel comics character of all time is undoubtedly Fat Cobra! http://marvel.com/universe/Fat_Cobra

 

And the fact he doesn't have his own movie is criminal. Someone call Sammo Hung and get him on the donuts.

 

I did Shotokan karate for eight years and our sensei spent about half a lesson on stretching and getting good and low with our stances like kokutsu dachi, he always threatened to put glasses of water on our knees during the Kokutsu but he never did, then half the class doing fundamentals and finished up with some sparring which overall was focused on aerobic fitness. He always stressed that while Karate didn't necessarily require strength, it did require a degree of fitness, that you needed to be able to 'spar all day', one of the black belt conditions for our particular code was ten kumite sessions of two minutes each against ten different opponents one after the other.

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They are two opposite sides of the see-saw. There is nothing you can do with absolutely no strength. Sleepily liftong your arm requiees some degeee of work and strength.

In jiu jitsu we diacuss this alot. I hate newcomers or potential team mates not coming to class becusse they feel they need to get in shape before getting in shape. Juat get out there and train.

The elite level athletes all know that strength and conditioning weens out the competition. But for most of us. Simplt going through the reps is enuf.

And as for that quote. I agree and disagee. We sometimes drill techniques when tired so that we are fine tuning out movements to ingrain a natural response when truly fatigued. Otherwise you run the risk of having poor technique qhen you rw ally need it bc you are tired.

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They are two opposite sides of the see-saw. There is nothing you can do with absolutely no strength. Sleepily liftong your arm requiees some degeee of work and strength.

In jiu jitsu we diacuss this alot. I hate newcomers or potential team mates not coming to class becusse they feel they need to get in shape before getting in shape. Juat get out there and train.

The elite level athletes all know that strength and conditioning weens out the competition. But for most of us. Simplt going through the reps is enuf.

And as for that quote. I agree and disagee. We sometimes drill techniques when tired so that we are fine tuning out movements to ingrain a natural response when truly fatigued. Otherwise you run the risk of having poor technique qhen you rw ally need it bc you are tired.

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There was a line in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do that stuck with me.. it might have been the bolded "Important" at the start of it. 

 

"IMPORTANT: Do not practice finely skilled movements after you are tired, for you will begin to substitute gross motions  for  finer ones  and generalized efforfts for specific ones. Remember, wrong movements tend to supervene and the athlete's progress is set back. Thus, the athlete practices fine skills only while he is fresh. When he becomes fatigued, he shifts to tasks employing gross movements designed principally to develop endurance."

 

Drakan, good quote, thank you for sharing. Just to be clear, I wasn't speaking about making someone dead tired. Many newbies have a tendency to try and muscle their opponents, rather than using proper technique and leverage. What I referred to was warming people up, and expending the excess "pent up" energy, before doing finer work. This is allow people to focus and not try and just muscle their way through a problem.

 

Eventually though, once you have some techniques with fine motor skills down pretty well, you should practice them in a tired state. This is one part of being able to focus when tired, and perform when tired. 

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As it was explained to me, the goal is to make fine motor skills into gross motor skills through practice. Alternatively, benefits from practicing tired, aside from working on endurance, tend to come from students working techniques they are able to do correctly, or feel/notice the errors they are making while tired, at least in my experience.

 

I don't consider warming up to be fitness. I know it can be in completely untrained individuals and varies significantly based on age, experience , and bodytype, but ultimately to me a warmup is just to get the muscles loosened and blood flowing. Fitness to me involves some kind of training designed to push/improve either the strength or conditioning of the practitioner, whereas warmups, however taxing they can be for new students, are generally quickly adapted to by most people and are not designed to develop conditioning by any real degree.

 

Personally I consider both strength and conditioning to be important aspects of martial arts. I barely train either specifically in the classes I run, as I don't teach a fitness class... well not anymore anyway, I did when I ran a muay thai based fitness oriented class. I do recommend resources and training plans for both though and introduce the students to effective exercises here and there. Ultimately, much of the classes I personally run are paced by the partners working together. I work to provide motivation, and try to choose music and such for a more active atmosphere but ultimately as I was taught and as I remind my students: "You get out of it what you put into it."

 

I haven't had very many students rely on muscling through techniques. The order I tend to emphasize is Big-Strong-Fast-Light. My stronger students are often quick to see the need to develop an understanding of the technique in order to understand where the power can properly come from, as they are usually trying far too hard to exert force with the appendage used, rather than the hips or legs or whatever the primary source of power in the technique is. Often by pointing out subtle differences in the technique that allow me to exert more force with less apparent effort, or to more obvious effect they are willing to slow down and work to grasp the subtleties on their own. I may also remind them that tiring faster has long been considered the weakness of larger fighters, and that learning that being able to move easily and not rely on their strength drastically improves their staying power without sacrificing the advantage strength provides.

 

Purely from an anecdotal standpoint, my stronger students tend to rely more on that raw power when they become fatigued until they are more experienced or unless corrected. More corrections are usually necessary at that point though.  

 

As to that initial boost when they are fresh and eager, I think it's important to teach them to be able to hold the reigns on that excitement and energy and to control its use.

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All depends on what the intent of the class is. A lot of people join martial arts classes in order to "get some exercise in". Some people want to "get in shape" first because for some reason they think they are fighting for the world championship on their first day. Some people market their classes as self-defense, some as fitness classes. Some sell their sessions as hardcore "fighter sessions", and some hold women's training.

For effective motor learning though, it is always best to do it with an untaxed CNS, after some movement prep. In Jiu-jitsu, it's usually movement drills, then the lesson proper, then live drilling and rolling. It's the same way athletes are trained, where the workout order is movement prep first, then agility and skill drills, then speed and acceleration, explosive movements, strength, conditioning, then stretching. This way motor skill acquisition is maximized, and the training for the different areas of fitness affect each other minimally. This is one of the arguments against Crossfit: Olympic lifts are very technical, and repeatedly performing them while tired reinforces bad motor skills. One of the Krav Maga instructors where I used to live integrated elevating heart rate to replicate the actual fighting scenario, but he did emphasize violence of action over technique.

A skilled coach (mostly for competitors) can integrate athlete periodization into the training cycle. While working on cardiac output the rounds may be longer and the intensity less, then modified accordingly once anaerobic power is addressed. It is possible to do everything at the gym, but due to the nature of classes and the commercialization of martial arts, people usually have to perform their own strength and conditioning sessions elsewhere. Not a lot of people are privately trained.

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Having good fitness helps, a boxing gym can teach a lot of workouts in one area, but the gym in another area could teach self defense more than that one. Geographical locations and distance really creates variation within a style of martial arts.

kung fu Brisbane
 

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funy how this comes up. last night was my first night of judo training in weeks, and before that for about a year. in that year i have been doing nothing but school full time, assignments and projects, and being a lazy fat ass.  i got my ass handed to me by a bunch of kids and a lot of it had to do with my severely lacking fitness. rolling around with kids half my age is not fun when you get winded after the first minutes.  last night was a whirlwind of chokes and arm bars

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In my experience, It is possible to be unfit and still effective as a combatant. Over my time training, I have gone from 75kg to around 120kg and all points in between. I have been both trained and fit as well as trained and unfit at various times. An experienced martial artist should be able to make their body work toward their goals, and their instructor should help them achieve this. There's little point in refusing to teach techniques to someone you perceive as unable to do them, modify the technique so it works. Hell, I've developed armbars that only work because of the gut I had grown as a consequence of weight gain. Enough experience and training can overcome physical disparity.

Having said that, all things being equal, fit beats unfit.

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