Conditioning and Resistance Training
Martial Arts practitioners, all have different opinions on this topic. However as a general rule. every teacher I’ve had, has said not to weight lift/Body Build. This includes external, as well as internal martial artists. Yet to a man they all do some form of resistance training.
I think the reason not to lift weights is that weight lifting/ Body building, focus on isolating muscles to develop maximum growth, and sculpt the body for appearances sake. This is not the best for functionality. What you need is for everything to work together in a synergistic manor. Not to mention that while body building you are constantly tearing down the body, and each time it recovers strength and coordination change a bit. I also noticed while lifting in this manor, while I felt a lot stronger, I was also a bit slower. You certainly need to spend more time stretching to keep from tightening up, or becoming muscle bound.
Of course being hard headed I’ve had to test this theory out myself in my youth. I used to weight lift/body build through High School. I went into the military after High School. My first duty station was Japan, where I learned judo. While in Japan I did very little weight training. Judo classes were two hours long. The first half hour was calisthenics, stretching, and break falls. The second half hour was Newaza (grappling techniques). This was basically paring off and wrestling, switching partners every so often. The second hour was all tachiwaza (standing techniques) we spent the first half hour doing uchikome (fitting in for practice throws, or working on a new throw). The last half hour was randori (free sparring standing). I believe I was in the best shape of my life then. On days not in class I ran3-5 miles, did my push-ups and sit-ups, and trained practice throws using a bicycle inner tube.
In 80 I PCS’d to Germany. I had been given a letter of introduction to Franz Fisher by the Kodokan, to help me go train there. Unfortunately I was stationed on a one acre site on a mountain top. I had a six mile walk to the bottom, where I could get a train to take into Frankfurt. So I spent a lot of time on the mountain lifting weights, and training with another guy that was a TKD Black Belt (we were teaching each other). Anyway after about a year, I managed to get to town to train. I thought I was going to be much better since I was a lot bigger, and stronger then before. Boy was I wrong. The warm-ups about killed me for a few weeks, then I was slow, stiff, and my timing was off. that took a few months to fix. Another guy in the class was also body building, and practicing karate. The instructor was always trying to talk him into giving up the weights, since he was displaying the same speed, timing issues, etc..
After I got back to the states I started training Judo twice a week with Charlie Hooks in northern Indiana, and training Juko Ryu Aiki Jujitsu with Randy Harvell six days a week. Randy had a full nautilus machine gym. We did circuit training three times a week, which did work well, and help our progress. We did high reps, and low sets.
Later I moved and learned/taught a couple different kempo systems. I tried to keep the same approach to conditioning, but if you couldn’t lift doing exercises like push-ups, and sit-ups, anything using your own body weight worked well.
When I started training the internal systems, I notice a different attitude about conditioning.
My first Internal instructor was Wai Lun Choi in Chicago. His approach to training was to do push-ups, sit-ups, leg-lifts, and stretching. The only weight training he did was to use a dumbbell, and he only did a few exercises which simulated things like throwing a hook punch. His belief was that you should only do exercises like this that developed power for a specific martial application.
My Next teacher was Jim McNeil. He also did push-ups, sit-ups, leg-lifts, hand conditioning exercises, and Shih Shui which you swing weights with. The beater that I have for use as part of your training weighs in at just under 5 pounds. Swinging that hundreds of times with each hand is a bit of exercise in itself. We also used to start each morning off with a 1-3 mile run depending on how folks felt that day.
I next started training Taijiquan. The Taiji folks leave me scratching my head the most on the subject of conditioning. They seem to be the most set against physical conditioning, out side of doing their basics, and forms. I was at a seminar, and a couple of us were stretching a little, one guy did a few push-ups before the class started. The Master running the seminar came up to us, and told us not to do that stuff, we should loosen up by only doing our jibengong. Now of course this group does do some resistance training with rubberbands/Bungee cords, but seem to not think of it as a conditioning exercise. The mind set seems to be against anything that isn’t taiji, because physical conditioning supposedly won’t help your taiji. While I can understand there is some truth to that on some level, purposely avoiding normal exercise doesn’t make sense to me.
Here are my reasons for that. First I think that the approach to not waste time on exercise, and devote your time to fundamentals, and your training worked very well up through the 1800’s. This is because people did manual labor all day. They were in great shape, and didn’t eat the junk food we get in the modern western world. For example the Chen villagers were farmers. I don’t know about you, but I grew up around farmers, and they were the strongest people I knew. Most of the people I see drawn to taiji today have desk jobs. The most exercise they get during the day is typing on a keyboard. So we’re certainly not talking about the same animal, as far as practitioners go.
Another reason I think you need some type of resistance training is that, as we age we lose muscle mass, and bone density. It becomes a bigger problem the older we get. The speed with which we lose muscle mass and bone density increases significantly over the age of 50. While losing muscle mass we tend to replace it with fat. So we might not really notice this slow process, as quickly as we should. As you loss muscle mass and replace it with fat, your metabolism slows down. You may stay about the same weight. This turns into a vicious downward spiral. So add some resistance training in, and some cardio. To me this is common sense.
I tend to change up what, and how I do things from time to time. Right now I’m using kettlebells a few times a week, along with a few push-ups, and hand conditioning. I want to slow down the deterioration as much, and as long as I can. I certainly don’t want to have a heart attack, shoveling snow, or pushing a car out of it, because I refused to take basic care of my health.