It’s recorded that Shinpan Gusukuma (Shiroma in Japan) regarded the ability to generate the force of 3-4 times one’s own body weight behind a strike as a crucial aim in karate training. It’s also recorded that he was a relatively small, light framed man, yet was capable of generating such force when he hit (This idea is not exclusive to the Okinawan/Japanese martial arts; American boxing legend Jack Dempsey and others stressed a similar idea).

I have come to feel that the other side of this coin is the ability to support one’s own body weight on any limb. Let me be clear in saying that weight training with equipment is an invaluable adjunct to karate and must not be overlooked for a number of reasons (one being to equip the body to safely continue in vigorous karate training for years). Body weight exercises, which exploit one’s own weight and structure for  resistance, develop a different type of strength that is just as important: integrated, dynamic strength.  We need to be able to handle our own weight under any circumstances: in static  conditions and in explosive bursts, on one arm or leg or a combination of either, on our backs, sides or stomachs, upside down, right side up, horizontal, etc. The utility of this kind of strength and mobility for fighting should be obvious. Weight training and body weight training should complement each other in a martial artist’s conditioning routine, not replace each other.

But to get back to Shiroma sensei, I’ve come to the understanding that the ability to support and redirect yourself quickly and powerfully on arm or leg  has a lot to do with the ability to use your whole body to generate powerful strikes. I would suspect that Shiroma did an awful lot of conditioning to achieve his striking ability, both with Okinawan free weights and body weight exercises. Aparently, one of his favorite party tricks was to pinch-grip the rafters of a house and swing himself around the ceiling from rafter to rafter – try that (such stunts are now commonly visible on YouTube).

Below is a link to BodyWeightCulture, a forum that is absolutely packed with good information for body weight training for a variety of goals and outcomes. You have to register to access the content, but the hassle is worth it. Five minutes of perusing this forum yielded many new exercises to try with excruciating-looking variations on some old favorites. In the meantime, I’ll be getting back to leaving foot stains on door frames from handstand pushups and trying in vain to love chinups…

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