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Part 1 was entitled Basic Physical Training Concepts for Karate Practitioners. This installment’s differently worded title is a reflection of our broader focus on fighting arts and sports as opposed to simply karate.
Stagnation: Too Much of a Good (?) Thing
Martial arts are often marketed and practiced as if they are a finished product with set training and methods. The entrenchment of this idea varies from circle to circle, but it is quite common. It’s very appealing to both new students and long-term students alike. Predictability and stability are things that we tend to gravitate towards in our choices of recreational activities, as can be seen by the guy who goes to the gym and does the exact same workout every visit, or the karate sensei who plans each class to be a further exposition on the basic techniques that the last year’s worth of classes were based on. Stagnation of training activities can take the form of:
- repetition of specific skill-based activities: techniques or drills, especially elementary techniques
- repetition of physical conditioning exercises past the point of useful adaptation
For new students the appeal of a set training format is very strong, as it minimizes the new material that they have to learn on a given night, which reduces anxieties and confusion in front of more experienced students. A handful of things can be learned, whether that be a drill, technique or conditioning exercise, and then repeated reliably in each successive class. This is a comfortable routine, and if it is tied to claims of efficacy or magical thinking, the new student may place an inflated value on whatever he or she has done the most, regardless of ability.
For the long term student, stagnation may be appealing due to one of two factors:
In Random Training Notes 16: Heavy Bag Tips, I mentioned the importance of regular feedback from hitting bags etc. in the fighting artist’s training regimen. As important as hitting is, it cane be over done. And without stretching and conditioning, excessive bag work can lead to muscular imbalances that in turn lead to avoidable injuries and performance impairments. So what should a practitioner of a fighting art or combat sport do to stay balanced?
Stretches For Strikers
- Avoid extensive stretching immediately before engaging in heavy striking work. A light pendulum stretch can activate the rotator cuff muscles and mobilize the superior thoracic outlet and sub-acromial space, which may be tight from training/fighting in a “hunched” posture.
- Subscapularis: Shoulder internal rotator. There are also ways of performing this using a stick or towel for assistance, but starting out in the lying position makes it easier to monitor the head of the humerus (upper arm) to ensure that it is not rotating forward.
- Teres Minor and Infraspinatus. Shoulder external rotators. Notice that she is not forcing her arm down. If the head of the humerus wants to bulge forward and the shoulder up off of the table, don’t push it past this point.
- Rhomboids: Retract and elevate scapula. These may lengthened and inhibited from the forward shoulder “hunched” posture common to fighting and training.-Pectorals : Flex, internally rotate and adduct shoulder arm at shoulder, pec minor specifically pulls the scapula forward and down. Do one at a time, avoid the double arm “hanging” doorway stretch.
- Levator Scapulae: Scapular elevator and medial rotator, neck rotator and lateral flexor. This muscle attaches the cervical vertebrae to the upper medial aspect of the scapula. The upwardly rotated, “hunched” position that many fighters adopt during bag work and fighting can shorten and tighten this muscle.
- Triceps: Extends forearm. This muscle is heavily used in straight-arm punches and strikes.
- Biceps: Flexes and supinates forearm. Used heavily in hooks and uppercuts, as well on the return to guard from a strike.
- Upper Trapezius: Assist in elevation and retraction of scapulae. This region of the trapezius may be tight from forward shoulder “hunched” posture common to fighting and training.
- Latissimus: connects the humerus to the thoracic spine, adducts, extends and internally rotates arm at shoulder. These are often tight in people who kick a lot or engage in excessive “air punching.” Hint: if you can’t do a squat with the arms stretched overhead and keep the hands in line with your ears, or can’t help but fold at the waist as opposed to the hips, the lats need serious stretching attention.
I’m in the beginning phases of a Masters degree in Human Movement science. This process will have a major impact on my knowledge of training practices and program design, and I anticipate that much of what I learn will spill over into this blog in the form of correlations to how training for fighting arts may be improved. The other students have diverse and impressive backgrounds, including karate/MMA, and I will learn just as much from them as from the course materials. I also owe Bob, Chopper, Harry and everyone in our intrepid little group a tremendous debt of gratitude for opening my eyes to this path and providing some of the impetus for undertaking it.
One of the first tasks is to provide some information about how we ended up pursuing a degree in the HM field and what our specific goals and interests are are. So to kick off what will essentially be a two-year geek out fest, here’s mine:
The VA club has spent the last couple of weekends cleaning out the dojo space to make more room and get rid of damaged equipment. Among the debris was a cheap old chest protector that had seen better days. Fraying straps rendered it a poor fit for some members of the group and the compressed padding really didn’t take anything off of impacts anymore. But this thing has been around since my college days (a friend broke some of my ribs through it with a well-placed back kick, so there is a sentimental attachment), so I decided to see what some heavy luggage straps, a sliced up cheap foam mat, a little patience, and plenty of duct tape could do for it:
$7.95 later and…viola. Refurbished chest protector. One of the advantages of the upgrade is that the slide-adjustable straps make it a tighter fit. Each segment of added padding consists of a strip of heavy 1/2″ foam running in the direction of the musculature and ribs of the front and sides of the torso. There is a quarter inch of space between each strip so that they can move and flex to better distribute impact while retaining a firm shape. Cross-hatched reinforcements protect more of the upper chest area. I’m curious to see whether or not the orientation and structure of the padding makes a significant difference over the original, a synthetic fluff.
It’s slightly more rigid than before, but does a much better job of dispersing blunt impact forces and keeping smaller weapons (point of the elbow, fists) from compressing single ribs. The side panels are now wide enough to actually cover the kidneys and a wider, heavier belt (visible) helps to keep this protection from shifting around during movement.
If you are working out, you need to replenish fluids regularly for optimum performance. Water is great for this, but if you’re working out longer than 45 minutes to an hour, there’s good reason to drink gatorade, for the salts, for the performance-enhancing carbs, and because that slightly troubling fruity sweat flavour somehow transforms into the elixir of the gods once you’ve worked up a sweat.
But gatorade comes in suspiciously gummy colours, is expensive, and is usually bought in a new plastic bottle every time. And if you read the ingredients you’ll quickly see that Michael Pollan wouldn’t approve. What if you are the kind of karate-ka who likes to “eat clean” and fill your water bottle with tap water?
Then you are the kind who might appreciate this homemade “gatorade” recipe. It’s so easy that I blush to call it a “recipe” and the ingredients are things you’ll likely have lying around anyway, or be able to get in your dorm’s dining hall on the way to training:
1/2 cup orange juice
Then fill your bottle up with water.
3/4 teaspoon salt
Don’t think you’ll make some kind of super-gatorade by doubling or trebling the salt content – I tried that, not good. Ideally you want both sodium and potassium, so check and see what kind of salt you have. There’s potassium in orange and lemon juice, so if you have ordinary sodium chloride for salt you’re good.
Fill your waterbottle with tea, add a little lemon juice and 4-6 teaspoons of sugar (or honey)
3/4 of a teaspoon of salt
Reducing the sugar gives you low-calorie “gatorade” but how useful that is depends on your goals, how much you’re drinking etc. The carbohydrate is an integral part of sports drinks and if you’re not using fruit juice you’ll need to get it from somewhere else.
People familiar with the Niseishi/Nijushiho kata are often curious about the differences between the older and modern versions. There are many versions out there with their own variations, but one sequence in particular tends to be a focal point for speculation: the bit following the “rising block” and elbow strike.
The common modern version goes into a horse stance followed by a high side kick and a hooking punch. To anyone with any practical experience, this makes absolutely no sense. Think about it- If you have just parried an arm that is close enough to strike you, is there really room to throw a side thrust kick into the attacker’s face? And if that kick lands will the attacker still be close enough to hit with a close hooking punch to the body? In the world outside of the courtesies of the dojo, the person throwing the punch will probably not stop after one attempt and wait for you to get a leg up to his chin. Standing on one leg while someone is charging/collapsing into you is an invitation to being spectacularly clobbered. This version of the sequence is a product of the early JKA retooling kata to make them athletic and visually impressive rather than evocative of practical fighting methods.
The older versions tend to offer a sequence that might resemble something more useful to the experienced eye. Harry Cook teaches a version taken from the karate books published by Tokyo University in 1930 and 1933. In this version, the sequence in question involves two hooking parries and a low kick off of the front leg. This affords a more plausible scenario: parry two punches to the face, keep a hold on the attacker’s arms, kick him in the knee cap or groin, finish with a punch to the face or a crank of the neck. In contrast to the high kick version, a kick to the knee cap or groin will slow someone down enough to make the follow up plausible. Historical origins and veracity aside, this sequence makes a lot more sense than the modern one.
I posted a video of this version for some folks who were curious to compare it to the modern ones so I thought I’d share it here too. This video was taken after our 2008 TKRI/Seijinkai Summer Camp. The camera I had on me was pretty cheap so the video is admittedly low quality. Harry was kind enough to demonstrate a few things for me to record after a pretty high-energy class, so the demonstration is rather informal.
I disabled embedding for this clip, so you’ll have to visit YouTube to watch.
Follow the link to a British Journal of Sports Medicine article on rates of injury occurrence within a group of 152 Muay Thai practitioners. The link will only take you to the abstract, to read the full article you’ll have to register, which is free. Not surprisingly, lower leg and head trauma lead the pack.
British Journal of Sports Medicine: Injury and injury Rates in Muay Thai Kick Boxing