Friday, 25 June 2010

Is extreme physical training necessary for martial arts?

How much physical training is enough to become a proficient martial artist? I am always astounded by the amount and intensity of physical training that some people do. Is it necessary to do several hours of week of intense physical training such as push ups, abs training, bag punching, weight lifting, running etc? I ask the question because I don't do a fraction of what others appear to be doing!

The majority of my training is directly related to martial arts and most of this is done during actual classes. I have 5.5 hours of classes a week and probably do around 1 to 2 further hours a week at home - but this is mainly kihon or kata practice or working through some ippons or practising with my bo or sword. I only do a few minutes on the cross-trainer, some stretching, a few weights and sit ups as part of a warm up.

I find the warm ups we do in class can be quite vigorous. Half an hour of kihon or kata practice in class gets me in a sweat and makes me feel I've had a good work out. But is this enough? I consider myself to be fit, though not maximally fit. I think my muscles are reasonably well toned and strong but, again, not maximally so. Do I need to be maximally fit and strong to be a good martial artist? I'm not looking to be a champion in competition.

I think fitness is important in martial arts and it is tested through the gradings - particularly the higher kyu and dan gradings. But is extreme fitness important? It strikes me that the more intensively and frequently that one trains in physical fitness the more likely one is to acquire chronic and disabling injuries. How does that help you to be a better martial artist?

Funakoshi did not think that extreme exercise was necessary and that just through the practice of karate one would gradually improve fitness and strength. He advocated practising karate in small chunks, little and often seemed to be his desired target. For Funakoshi karate was the ultimate form of self defence. He thought the main advantages of karate as a means of self-defence were: "no weapons are necessary, the old or sick, or women, are able to apply it; and one can protect himself effectively even with little natural strength" (quote from Karate-Do Kyohan p.13).

So why is there now a tendency towards more extreme physical training? Is it that people who indulge in this type of training are just passionate about achieving extreme physical fitness and that this is independent (though related) to their passion for martial arts? Or is this level of fitness really desirable for martial arts?

What do you think? Is 'optimal' fitness sufficient or should we all be striving for extreme fitness?
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Sandman said...

Great question Sue! I am somewhat of a fitness junkie myself, but have learned over the course of time that there is most definitely such a thing as "over doing it" when it comes to training. There is a point where the body says "enough!" and you end up on the sidelines.

The answer to your question, in my opinion, is that the way you train depends on your goals.

If you are simply interested in staying fit, sharpening your skills, and being prepared to protect yourself in an altercation, then in most cases your dojo training and a few hours / week outside of class practicing the skills you learned in class should do it. Since most "real" fights only last a few seconds you really don't need the lungs of a horse, nor do you need big bulky muscles to drop an attacker with a groin kick and a punch to the throat. If you are training for practical self defense, its all about the skills work and the mindset.

For me, I train for full contact Jissen Karate competition - I just enjoy the challenge, and I think its a great test of skill under pressure and determination. For competition I think you need to supplement the traditional dojo training with the bag work, high intensity interval training, and strength / power development. This type of fighting puts a different demand on the body versus "street" fighting, and the training should reflect that.

With that said though, you still don't need hours and hours in the gym. You can get in a fantastic cardio session in 10 minutes or less if you train with intensity. Same with strength training. A few basic compound lifts, done in an explosive manner, per session is all you need.

So it may make sense to supplement the traditional training with some strength and conditioning work depending on your goals, but I think spending hours and hours in the gym is almost always counter-productive.

Felicia said...

Hi, Sue,

I'm of the opposite mid-set as Sandman: I think the outside physical training is a very important part of MA training, not just for fitness but for the prevention of injury...

Muscles, bones and tendons all work together to make us move, right? Lifting weights, running, swimming or whatever physical activity we do tends to help them all get more efficient at doing the things we'll need them to do in a situation (fight or fight). That being said, all the ancillary training in the world without working kihon, kata, kumite and self-defense won't net you much "improvement" in MA at all. They definitely must be used/worked together.

I train six days a week although I am in the dojo for four (two teaching days, two learning days); three days a week I lift and run or bike (on Friday I teach and lift; a two-fer!) and every day includes some ab and upper/lower body conditioning. I usually take one day a week off to rest and recover. That routine works for me - doesn't mean it will for everyone, though, although the athlete in me thinks everyone should be doing something outside the training hall.

Man of the West said...

Timing is everything! I wrote a short post on a related subject just a few days ago. But in short, in my opinion, no, it is not necessary to indulge in extremely rigorous physical fitness routines for the sake of your martial arts effectiveness. It would be more accurate, in my opinion, to say that if your martial arts are so ineffective that they must be made to work by the application of sheer muscle, your martial arts need to be re-evaluated.

We all work toward the goal of making our techniques work on anyone, regardless of size or strength, because there is always someone stronger.

Having said that, there is more to life protection than just self-defense against violent attack. There may be times when you have to have some muscle--say, to shove a fallen object off your body--and if you don't have it, all the skill in the world at vital-point striking (for example) won't help you!

But we all live in the modern world, and there are only so many hours in the day. You make the overall best use of your time that you can, and don't worry about it!

Sue C said...

Sandman, it was you I was thinking about when I wrote this post (along with Frank and Avril who also seem to like more extreme physical training)! I think you are right when you say the level of training should reflect your goals. My goals are not set as high as yours but good luck to you, you obviously enjoy your hectic training schedule.

Felicia, you can take the girl out of athletics but you can't take the athlete out of the girl! LOL. Your commitment to training is clearly a legacy from your running days. But I admire your commitment and like the way your physical training and martial arts training are just opposite sides of the same coin.

Man of the west, 'make the overall best use of the time you can, and don't worry about it'. This is good advice. Good luck with your run by the way:-)

Frank said...

I can get a good workout in 40 minutes of weight training, and by rotating different muscle groups, and maintaining intensity, I not only work smarter, but reduce my risk of injury from martial arts, or from overuse.

I've been away from weight training for a while, since I'm dealing with bilateral tendinitis in my elbows, but I'm on the road to healing, and I'm really looking forward to getting back into my weightlifting regimen.

Resistance training improves bone density, and this is especially important for women. Compound movements like squats and bench press are good for overall conditioning, and also release stores of natural growth hormone and others, which keep us feeling younger and more vital.

There are a lot of wonderful benefits to resistance training, but becoming a gym rat and putting in marathon workouts that consume two hours at a stretch, are not doing anyone any good, in the long run.

Keeping the workouts short and intense is entirely in keeping with the philosophy of "little and often."

Sue C said...

Hi Frank, you cite a lot of good reasons why I should be doing more fitness training - I'm definitely going to have to up my work load. Thanks for commenting.

Unknown said...

From my perspective I think fitness is down to the individual motivations/goals.
For myself I enjoy keep fit and I strive between optimal and extreme fitness. I’m often down the gym pushing the weights just beyond my limits. I’m not after a body like Arnie. I use this training as an addition to my karate it helps forge my mental strength and discipline which are two main elements of karate-do. I take solace from the quotes “when the going get tough the tough get going” and the much coined phrase “fit to Fight”. My aim is to be fit to fight if the occasion ever arose.
Watch MMA fighters and professional athletes they push their body to the limit, as improvements are made when you go outside your comfort zone.
However, I train smart and not excessive by listening to your body you can avoid injuries to a degree. I don’t need to run marathons (like a marathon runner) I need explosive and anaerobic fitness to help me in my karate pursuit. Therefore, I do interval training going anaerobic and aerobic and using plyometrics principles and performing weights in an explosive manner. Link this to karate when performing Kihon, Kata, Kumite you can see how my aims influence my training.
This is in addition to practice karate like Funakoshi states in small chunks, little and often
Such training goes hand in hand with my karate and also keep my fitness above that of my students for now at least!!
In lesson if I do a vigorous warm ups those students who goals is to just keep fit will do what is required and no-more due to there goals. Those who goal is to maintain a good level of fitness will do that bit more.
In answer to your question Sue I believe individual goals will influence what extremes their prepared to go to achieve their fitness goals.

Sue C said...

Hi Chris, I think you've answered my questions pretty comprehensively here! Your fitness training sounds like a well thought out adjunct to support your karate training. Like you said, the level of physical training one is prepared to do must link to your aims as a martial artist. Thanks for commenting.

Bob M said...

Hi, Sue, sorry to weigh in a bit late. I think as Sandman says, it depends on your goal. If, for instance, you're doing contact sparring or grappling (as I do), you learn pretty quickly that if you're not in really good condition it's going to be reflected in how well you do.

I re-joined martial arts 10 years ago to get into better shape--I had a health scare and I knew I had to do something I enjoyed for exercise if I were going to stick with it. So the conditioning component is important to me. To the next person, the goals are different.

Good question.

Sue C said...

Hi Bob, that MMA stuff definitely needs a high level of fitness. Karate is the only physical activity I've found that I know I can stick with for the long term as well - it fulfills a lot of thngs for me - physical, mental, social and intellectual.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue C said...

Diana, warming up - now that's the topic of my most recent post. Thanks for commenting.


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