Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Is cross training a good thing?

Dan Prager over on his blog Martial Arts and Modern Life recently wrote a post about cross-training - 'Cross training in multiple martial arts?'   This got me thinking about whether I am doing the right thing by training in jujitsu/kobudo as well as my main martial art of karate.

When you have been training in a martial art for a few years and you are starting to understand its principles; and then you look at what other martial arts are offering you start to realise that there is a lot of overlap between them, or at least between some of them.

In my karate club the attention to detail in teaching us how to punch and kick is intense - the bio-mechanics of striking is explored in detail and we practice strikes repeatedly to get them right. However, with throws and take downs the attention to technical detail is a lot less. As expected, the result of this is that we are better strikers than throwers. On the other hand in my jujitsu club the attention to technical detail for teaching throwing techniques is intense whereas there is very little instruction on how to punch correctly. The result - the students are good throwers but only mediocre strikers.

On the surface it makes sense to learn to strike from a striking art and to learn to throw with a throwing art. However, there are problems. Karate is essentially a 'hard' art whereas jujitsu is a 'soft' art. This difference shows most in the way you move. In karate movements are generally sharper and crisper with stances quite deeply rooted, whereas in jujitsu movements are more flowing and stances much lighter. In both arts, striking requires a little distance between partners whereas locks and throws require you to be close together. Both arts use blocking and tai sabaki.

So, if I cross train in jujitsu will it adversely affect my karate or enhance it? I am aware that these different art forms have a different fighting strategy so it would be foolish to try and pursue the strategies of both arts. I think it is important that I remember that karate is my main art and that, for me, jujitsu (and kobudo) are adjuncts providing me with specialised training in a component of fighting skills (throwing) that is not a main component of karate. This is not to take away from jujitsu which, after a years experience of being a member of a jujitsu club, I have come to respect and acknowledge its strengths as a complete fighting system. It's just that I am more physically and mentally suited to karate.

So in what ways is the jujitsu and kobudo training enhancing my karate? Firstly, I am more confident at falling than some of my fellow karate students. We do break fall practice in both my karate and jujitsu clubs but I am doing more of it so I have got more confident more quickly. Secondly, though karate is generally a hard art, when you are coming in to throw someone it requires you to soften up and flow into the technique just as much as you do in jujitsu. Hopefully the jujitsu training will help me to learn to flow better into these techniques. Thirdly, both art forms include a range of locking techniques, some are the same and some different but I am getting extra training in locking techniques.

I find the kobudo interesting in that it enhances both jujitsu and karate training. It's main advantage is that it teaches greater precision. Precision in how you block - if you don't put your hand/tonfa in the right place you risk getting it bashed with a bo/sword or whatever. Locking someones arm/wrist with a tonfa or bokken enhances your understanding of the principles of the lock. Weapons training also enhances your understanding of distance and timing - if you're distance is wrong you might get hit with the bo/jo, but if you're not close enough you may not block a bo/sword swing at its slowest point.

What about disadvantages? Some of the break falls are performed slightly differently in karate compared to jujitsu so I have to alter which way I do it depending on which club I am in, but that is not a major problem. Altering stances is a little more problematic. In karate the stances seem to be an integral part of the technique, often used to unbalance your partner and to shift your weight quickly and dramatically from one foot to the other or from front to back. In jujitsu the higher, lighter stances enable you to move around more quickly but most of the technique is performed using the arms, upper body and hips. There are exceptions to this I know such as body drops and inside hock ( but then these techniques are not dissimilar to some take downs in karate!). Sometimes I find that my stances are too deep and rooted for some of the jujitsu techniques to work well and occasionally in karate I have started to forget to bend my front leg enough when in zenkutsu dachi!

However, overall I think the advantages of doing some cross training in jujitsu/kobudo outweigh the disadvantages, at least for now. I can envisage a time will come when the jujitsu training (though not necessarily the kobudo) will start to have a negative effect on my karate and I will need to recognise when it is time to stop.

Do you cross train? Do you have a particular rationale for doing so?
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Prof. Guilherme Fauque said...

There was a time that I was doing cross training too. Now I'm more dedicated only Shorinji Kempo. However, I think that is very intersting know a little about the bases of the others arts, like Jiu-Jitsu (ground techniques), Judo (throw techniques), boxe (feints and precision of punches), and so on.

But I think that you are completely correct, we don't must forget what is our base martial art and when we are training another martial arts, then we need make of manner that don't disturb our training in our first martial art.

Again, a good text. Congratulations.

Perpetual Beginner said...

I don't cross train continually, in the way you do. I have taken some tai chi and at other times have dabbled in other things.

I definitely find that I borrow from other experience, not just in martial arts, but in other physical disciplines (fencing and gymnastics particularly, but oddly enough singing too) to enhance my karate training. I would love to have some more experience with locks and throws, but mostly limit myself to hitting up my brother for jiu-jitsu lessons when we get to meet up.

I do find your description of the difference between your arts interesting. Isshinryu has higher stances - we almost never use a zenkutsu dachi - and kobudo is an integral part of the system. We have fifteen kata in all, eight empty hand and seven weapon: bo, sai, and tonfa. So despite being distinctly karate, we seem to occupy a different space in the techniques.

Indomitable Spirit said...

Hi Sue

I'm a big fan of crosstraining in the martial arts and have done so for several years. Since my 'original' style was an eclectic / mixed art where students were encouraged to find their own path, crosstraining never had too much of a negative impact.

However since I started learning kung fu, I do find there is definitely more impact there. Under pressure I revert to previously learned responses.

So what does this say? For me I feel that the issues for students here seem to lie with the more 'prescribed' and classical budo styles than with the more modern bugei arts.

Although I have to 'think' my way through a lot more of my kung fu learning, my crosstraining is still a positive influence in that it helps me analyse what is going on in that same learning. It also helps that my sifu has done a very great deal of crosstraining and he can very quickly see why I am doing things in a certain way.

A very thoughtful article though.


Sue C said...


I think you are following a sensible and well trodden path! I have heard several people state that they cross-trained during the earlier part of their training but then dedicated themselves to their main art as they became more senior. I suspect I will eventually do the same thing.

I think a bit of cross training in the earlier years of training is also useful as part of a general martial arts training - it provides one with reference points by which to judge the strengths and weaknesses of their main art. They can then be sure that the art they have chosen is the right one for them before dedicating themselves entirely to it.


dabbling is a good way of finding out whats best for you. I'd love to know how the singing helps? Is it to do with breathing technique or do you just have the loudest and most melodic kiai in the dojo? lol. Our system of karate does not include any weapons training at all but I was aware that other systems did, I think that's why I wanted to try it in the first place.


It sounds like you have trodden a very varied path so you must be knowledgable about a wide range of different systems and have many reference points by which to judge a new art. I suspect you could even design a new system based around kettlebells! lol.

Perpetual Beginner said...

Sue - singing does help with the breathing. Very few places teach you how to break down exactly how, when and why you take a breath like formal voice training.

It also helps with performance nerves. Singing was my main experience with nerves and public performance before karate, and there have been tournaments and tests where I used every trick I ever learned from recitals to get through.

Felicia said...

Hi, Sue...

Like Cindy, I'm a dabbler. Only limited experience in other martial arts like jujitsu and krav (and they all started AFTER karate training), my cross training comes from other physical pursuits - mainly running and weight lifting (my other "discipline" was track and field, which I trained/competed in for 23 years). But unfortunately, I think it puts me at a bit of a disadvantage when things dip into the "outside of karate" realm - like grappling or getting to the ground. I'd be the first to admit my "fail safe" technique would be to run (seriously) because that's something I know cold where as everything else - blocking, striking, tai sabaki, etc - I'm still learning how to do effectively and without thinking about it. Not quite second nature yet, but then again, I'm not sure if I was doing more krav, jujitsu or judo it would be either...

In my mind, though - especially when I'm nervous before a grading or competition - the strength that I've developed as a result of my "cross training" is what helps me focus. It helps, it really does :-)

Dan Prager said...

Hi Sue

Thanks for illuminating the issues with your personal experience.

"Karate is essentially a 'hard' art whereas jujitsu is a 'soft' art. This difference shows most in the way you move."

This is the nub of it. No-one's body can move in two distinct ways at the same time.

One can train in different ways at different times. This may be valuable, or counter-productive, or a bit of both.

I suggest that you have a good look (and feel!) at how your karate instructor(s) throws and grapples, and how your jiu-jitsu instructor(s) strikes to get an in idea of some possibilities for more integrated approaches.

* * *

I remember watching a tape of Prof Don Jacob -- who teaches jiu-jitsu, judo and karate --and his students, and the juniors were very rigid and karate-esque, while Don Jacob and his senior black belts were extremely soft and fluid. It left me wondering where and how they made the transition.

Indomitable Spirit said...

Hi Sue

Kettlebell-do - I like it!! They'd definitely make a good weapon.

My kettlebell teacher does teach a workshop called 'The Way of the Kettlebell' so there's a good fit already lol.

Some excellent comments here as well. I think it's clear that the value achieved, or indeed even placed, on cross-training is entirely dependent on the individual and what they would like to achieve with their martial arts. At the end of the day, everything is right for somebody.

I love to experience and to learn different arts, even for a short time. At this stage I have no real desire to learn traditional karate, but I love to read about it and about others' training experiences.



Sue C said...

Cindy, perhaps you could write a post on how to breath properly on your blog? Could be useful for us.

Felicia, Running fast sounds like a great tactic to me :-)

Dan, I think a lot of junior karateka have a problem with being unable to discern between 'hard' and 'tense'. One of the principles of a good strike is that you learn to turn the muscles 'on' and 'off' at the right moments. This is very hard to learn and many karateka just keep in the 'on' position too long resulting in too much tension. The experienced karateka has learnt to stay relaxed until the moment tension is needed and then relax again straight after - this is probably the transistion Prof Jacob has managed to make!

Avril, "everythings right for somebody". Think you hit the nail on the head here!

Perpetual Beginner said...

Your wish is my command. Or apparently several commands, since I found I have enough material for a series on breathing.

Sue C said...

Cindy, thanks! Looking forward to it.

Littlefair said...

Hi Sue,
Nice discourse.
For me it's nothing to do with my body being confused in being trained in different ways, it's my mind.

I don't worry that training in Tang Soo Do (which is essentially a hard, slightly fluid but still in my experience 'external' art) might tamper with my technique in shorinji Kempo (which officially is hard/soft "go ju ittai"). My mind can handle it. For me it's like speaking different languages (which I do). When I speak French I don't throw random English or Dutch words in. I know I'm speaking French so French comes out. When I speak Dutch I have an English accent and this might be similar in the martial arts. If you train hard and focused in one art then you may have an 'accent' in any new art you pick up. But to be honest I really think this depends on at what level one has trained.

I didn't have any trouble "emptying my cup" to start training in Shorinji Kempo. I left all my Tang Soo Do knowledge at the door and was prepared to be told what to do. this sometimes isn't always the case but I think if you cross train in similar arts it's important. Diverse arts are much easier to assimilate.

When you walk into a karate dojo you should be ready to learn karate (empty-ready to receive) and likewise Jiu Jitsu or any other art. I'm not saying it's easy (I appreciate one builds up reflexes and habits based on the core art)but I think this is a way of dealing with cross training.

I (and am sure others) train in martial arts for specific reasons and so I have a strategy for my training regimen. This means I no longer want to train in BJJ or Savate as it doesn't fit into my long term goals (I have trained in both before). Seeing these goals clearly helps us make decisions about cross training or different skills acquisition.

If you can get everything from one core martial art I think this is great (best?) and really this is Shorinji Kempo for me. Any other art simply supports it.

Maybe not a great analogy but happy to have it prodded...

Littlefair said...

Uh oh.

Just read Dan's post and it seems I've overlapped with him somewhat.

He has systemised it in a more regular fashion too...

Sue C said...

Hi Chris, I'm glad you've been able to compartmentalize your different martial arts experiences so that you don't get them mixed up, I can see why you would relate this to speaking different languages (I'm impressed, by the way, that you are a proficient linguist).

However I'm not sure the analogy entirely stands up to scrutiny! When you speak in French, Dutch or English the words are different but the meanings are the same (or approximately the same). However different martial arts may use the same words but associate different meanings to them e.g I have noticed that the way a cross-block is done in jujitsu is different to the way it is done in karate. Also the a cat stance is done in jujitsu is also different to the way it is done in karate. It's these differences in meaning that can be a source of confusion!

I agree with the 'accent' analogy though - I think I do jujitsu with a karate accent, at least as far as stances are concerned. However since my aim is to incorporate some of the jujitsu techninques into my karate I'm not too concerned.

I also agree with leaving one martial art at the door when you enter the dojo for a different one. I would never talk about karate when I am training in my jujitsu dojo or vice versa - it seems disrespectful somehow and would prevent me fully focusing on the martial art in hand.

Steve said...

Personally, I would love to crosstrain if given a chance. So much stuff to learn. But I just don't see where you guys get the time! :)

I have trouble getting to class 4 times per week. The way I look at it now is that I've got plenty to learn in BJJ.

I enjoyed reading the article and the discussion in the comments.

Sue C said...

Hi Steve, I'm not surprised you don't have time, you sound very dedicated to BJJ. I train in karate twice a week (4 hours total) and once in jujitsu/kobudo (1.5 hrs) plus extra stuff at home. So I probably still don't do as many hours as you. I also only work 2 days/week so I expect I have more free time on my hands anyway :-)

Glad you liked the post!

Ninja Techniques said...

It's totally a good experience. At the To Shin Do I know a lot of students cross train.

Sue C said...

Hi Ninja, yes it is a good experience as long as you have a clear purpose in mind of what you want to achieve from cross-training. Thanks for commenting.


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