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Conditioning and Resistance Training

October 6, 2009 7 comments

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.

Should You Only Learn One System, a.k.a. To Know Your Own Art, You Must Know All Others

October 3, 2009 Leave a comment

We’ve all heard of that unbeatable master, that only ever learned one art.  They are few and far between, not to mention long gone from this world. All through history the greatest fighters have all learned more then one system. If anyone does their research, I believe it will bare this out.

I certainly think you need a primary system which you focus on, but need training in other systems to augment it. Back in the 70’s when I started my training, the approach many of us took, was to learn a grappling art, striking art, and a weapons art at a minimum to consider yourself complete.   Different folks might add in a locking art, a kicking centric, and a hand centric system as well, or do them as subsets of each section.  Weapons system of choice could be traditional martial arts weapons, as well as modern firearms. I think you need both. After all men/warriors fight with weapons, and only fight without when they don’t have one, can’t get away with using one, or just find them inconvenient for the circumstances.

The approach I was told, and believe to be best was to get to at least Black Belt level in an art, before adding another system. Many people don’t have the patience to do this, and are convinced to try systems that claim to have taken the best parts of many systems and combined them in a synergistic manor. Many arts have been created using this concept.  In some cases it could be true, or at least true for the founder of the system.

Then again if your a student of this system, how could you ever have the depth of understanding the founder supposedly did, without the complete training he did? Then again what if the founder of the system, didn’t really have the depth of knowledge in each/or any of the systems he claimed to be incorporating into his new system? You could end up going down a misguided path, and never really learn what you thought you did.

Of course from an instructors view point, you want a student to empty his cup and only train what you teach. My experience with that has been that students that are trying to train in multiple schools/systems at once tend not to make progress as quickly, if at all.  At least without getting to a Black Belt level in one, before beginning the other.  In any case the instructor will always feel that they have so much more to teach the student, and if they would only focus on learning what they are trying to teach, they’d make much more progress. I would certainly not try to learn more then two new systems at any time.

I took over an existing Kempo school as owner/instructor in 91.  The previous owners never taught sparring, because they didn’t know how, and couldn’t do it themselves.  I felt that sparring was a necessary part of training. Many of the students wanted to go compete in open tournaments. They lacked the tools when I took over, and had limited skills.  My first approach to teaching them how to spar was to one step, two step sparring drills, etc.. Most of their previous training was all hand technique, though during basics in each class they threw as many kicks as they did punches.  While trying to teach them sparring techniques, I found that none of them really could kick. So I tried to teach them strategies/techniques they could use against an accomplished kicker with their existing skill sets.

After months of training folks this way, they just never seemed to get it. So I changed my approach. I started teaching them to kick like a Tae Kwon Do practitioner. Once they developed better kicking basics, I then moved them on to” Bill Wallace “style kicking routines, and strategies. Later I taught them kicking methods ” Bennie the Jet” taught.  I found that once they actually became proficient at kicking and truly understood, they could now learn to counter it.  When they could kick better, they not only made a better/more realistic Uke (attacker) during practice, but when we went back to the techniques and drills I had originally taught, they could understand and do them.

After that I took the same approach to everything else. If I was teaching knife defense, I would teach them some knife fighting first. I would go through some fundamental Philippine, Indonesian, and/or Japanese knife techniques/drills with them for a some time, before teaching empty hand defense against a knife.  At least with this approach they had a realistic idea of what they were up against. I’m sure we’re all seen many a McDojo teaching techniques of question. Some teach techniques building false self-confidence that will get their students killed, should they ever try to use them against a trained attacker. When teaching to defend against grapplers, I taught some basic Judo, etc..

Today MMA could be considered an evolution of the same approach.  I say throw in a weapon system at some point to be complete. There is one other thing to consider, and that would be internal styles and external styles.

I personally believe you need to start with external systems first. There will be a time when transitioning, or at least learning an internal system will need to happen. This is for many reasons. One is continued learning to deeper levels of understanding of how the body can be used, once you have attained the level of knowledge/proficiency you can with your external systems of choice. Another reason is that we all age.  As we age our bodies deteriorate. The internal styles rely far less on strength, quickness, and size.  You can continue to get better in an internal system into old age. Not only that but while training external styles you see a tendency for injuries over time that accumulate. People tend to modify their technique around their old injuries. The internal systems tend to help you heal your old injuries, and improve you health.

I train several systems religiously today, and still go play with others from time to time, because I like them, and they are fun. Each of us have to make our own decisions on what and how to train. Keep the things I’ve mentioned in mind when making your own decisions. After all it is a life long journey, and there are many paths to the top of the mountain.

You Should Always Attack High and Low Together

September 25, 2009 Leave a comment

This is a pretty common concept amongst martial artists.  Let’s face it, if your being attacked in more then one place at a time, it is harder to defend then just a single attack. Untrained fighters just aren’t aware at all, and are much more vulnerable to this approach. If they see, and defend one, the other attack will most likely succeed.

There is a concept in Kempo known as walking techniques.  The idea with it is that as you move/close with your opponent you put your feet in close to your opponents feet/leg on the first move. There will of course be subsequent movements (at least a second move, you disrupt them on the second move). Once you close follow the previous methods I’ve talked about for positioning, skeletal freezing, timing, etc. if you put your foot very close or on top of the opponents foot, it allows you to control them with your leg as they try to move again. Again you can stop them from moving, take them off their feet, or break things, as they try to make their second move.

Kicking the leg as they try to move, or sweeping them as they move, works well if you want to be more aggressive then just stopping their rotation.  Of course you’re still doing everything you should with your upper body attack. You need to learn these different principles,   ingrain them until they become unconscious things for you. You keep  adding in principles this way. It is like layers of an onion.

Of course this isn’t the only method or system. If you have seen Chen Taijiquan practioners do push hands, you will see them with opposite legs forward, working sensitivity with their legs. While doing push hands  they are also pushing with their legs, and will take advantage of an opening either high or low, whichever presents itself.

Other approaches can appear to be more aggressive. For example many systems,  most Kempo systems included will fight from a further distance, and intend to immediately resolve the conflict, on contact through the fist move, or flow of moves.  Though you need to hit which ever target presents itself, as a general rule it is preferable to hit with the hands, then the feet/legs. The reason for this is that if you kick them on your way in they may not be in reach for your hand/arm attack.

One of the key things I think you need to do to use this approach, is to unbalance your opponent on contact. You want to break his balance and set him in place with your hands, exposing the leg nicely stretched out, locked in place and ready to attack.

If you have ever seen Liu Ho Pa Fa being performed with that 30 degree  lean they do, it is perfect for this. They come in from an angle, break the opponents balance, set and stretch out the opponent. Then they follow up. I look at it like using you hands similarly to sticking a fork in a piece of steak to hold it in place, while you use your legs, like a knife to cut off the piece you want.

There are lots of variations on this theme, but you need to think three dimensionally, not two  dimensionally.

There is more then one way to do things

September 13, 2009 Leave a comment

I just spent the first half of the month training with Sifu McNeil in California. We were training Hsiao Chiu Tien (Little Nine Heaven). We were specifically training the three exercises, and 17 animals of the system.  Any time I get to go train with any of my teachers, I seem to have some kind of epiphany.

I’ve had the chance to train many different systems in my life. Internal and external systems. Traditional, and newer hybrid systems.  Each and everyone was the right system for me at that specific time. While training these various systems I’ve always looked for the similarities in the systems.  My thought was that truth was in the similarities, and that differences could probably be attributed to ego.

So up until this month, every time I had learned a newer, and what I thought was a deeper understanding of a principle/concept, I had changed every system I practiced to fit my new understanding. My epiphany this week is that, that is wrong!  You’d think that after almost 40 years of training, I’d have things figured out by now? I guess the path I’m on is a long one. I think I’ll enjoy the journey.

So at this point in time, I think that the principles that are taught may have a universal truth. How ever the interpretation from system to system, while different can equally be true.  This is so for both internal and external systems.  If you are practicing the various internal systems, they each have there own energy. Don’t try to make them the same.  To quote Bruce Lee “Don’t think, feel.. or you’ll miss all that heavenly glory”.