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The modern understanding of “the core” and the need to properly condition it has become well known among athletic and active people, including martial artists (yes, the importance of the hips has been belabored for centuries, but the modern anatomically based concept is not necessarily the same thing). The core refers to the muscles, connective tissues and bones of the torso, yet to many it’s just the rectus abdominis (the “6-pack’). However, the core can be more accurately thought of as the support, stabilization and movement system for the spinal column. This stack of 33 vertebrae (24 moving and 9 fixed) is connected by many ligaments and muscles, which provide oppositional tension akin to the guy wires on a tall tower.
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:
All throwing techniques, including trips and tackles, involve movement in the transverse plane. Initiation may involve sagittal or frontal plane movements, but the follow through and landing will occur around the thrower’s longitudinal axis to a greater or lesser degree.
For the person being thrown, this means that:
- Landings will involve rotational forces and increased risk of damaging the ankles, knees, shoulders and neck. Pursue isometric strength conditioning as well as concentric conditioning, especially for the neck.
- Falling skills should be thoroughly practiced in all three planes of motion, as well as from kneeling, standing and moving positions.
- Failed throws wherein a foot remains planted will pose a high risk for knee injury, particularly ACL damage. Agility training can help a student to recognize these conditions and react quickly to move an endangered leg.
- For students and fighters whose activity is throwing and takedown-intensive (Judo, wrestling), specific programming for muscle hypertrophy should also be included to protect bony surfaces and joints and to help diffuse impact forces.
For the person throwing, this means that:
- A throw will involve torsion on all joints involved in the technique. Specific strength and stability conditioning involving transverse plane movements can help to increase joint stability and ensure proper muscular activation around the ankles, knees, hips and core.
- Depending on the other person’s weight and velocity, a successful throw will involve accelerating and potentially decelerating several times more than one’s own weight and mass. Strength conditioning programs typically emphasize movements in the sagittal plane, while the frontal and transverse planes are less emphasized or neglected.
- Progressive balance and stability conditioning, comprehensive core conditioning, and agility/reactive training in all three planes are strategies that can reduce the chance of avoidable injury while improving a student or fighter’s performance.
- If a throw begins to fail at any phase, your body will be required to decelerate and stabilize the load while in non-optimal conditions, and several times your own weight and mass will pose a threat to your knees in particular. Condition the knees in all planes of motion, emphasize single leg balance and stability skills.
- Throwing and takedowns occur predominantly in the transverse plane. Most athletic injuries occur in the transverse plane. Do not neglect conditioning in the transverse plane (do I sound like a broken record yet?) .
Drop us a line for more info on specific conditioning and programming ideas.
Train Smarter to Fight Harder
There’s a growing recognition of the benefits of evidence-based training methods for the fighting arts. More and more martial arts sources are beginning to discuss the benefits of periodized training and activity specific conditioning. As tempting as it may be to assume that these developments “already exist” within traditional or standard training approaches, sports science and the broader Human Movement field are way ahead of the training notions that are common in most fighting art. Consider that martial artists have always adopted the most promising training methods of their time- why should now be any different? Although more people are catching on, there still isn’t much practical information on how a student, fighter or coach can go about implementing these strategies into their own training and practice.
For the past several years we’ve been working on introducing modern periodized training methods to the broader martial arts community. Our blog is chock-full of relevant studies, reports, and training tips for avoiding training injuries, improving performance and making the most out of training time. With credentials in both the fighting arts and modern evidence-based training methods, we are poised to offer further consultation and information that is beyond the scope of this blog.
Our Fitness for the Fighting Arts DVD’s and educational materials are still in the works, but in the mean time we are available to offer consultation for martial artists, amateur and pro competitive fighters, coaches and club owners. If you are interested in tapping the knowledge base of NASM-certified trainers with over 45 years of experience in training and teaching, visit us HERE to find out what we do, how it can help you, who we are and samples of what we can offer, and how to contact us.
Improve how you train, improve how you teach, improve how you perform.
The FSRI Virginia club will once again be hosting the annual FSRI Summer Training Camp in Ferrum, Virginia. Camp will run from June 24th-26th (Friday-Sunday). As always, all comers are welcome, regardless of what they practice.
The rough theme for the weekend will be “Train Smarter to Fight Harder.” Instruction will feature:
David Campbell– chief instructor of the TKRI Virginia club
Randy Simpson– NASM CPT, Fitness for Fighting Arts Certified Trainer. Simpson’s classes will explore Gentile’s taxonomy of motor skills as a method for planning instruction and analyzing the complexity of fighting skills, and present partner drills to foster development of game skills for close range fighting in a variety of environmental conditions and action goals.
This year’s camp will reflect the transition that TKRI has been making away from “traditional” karate and towards a broader approach to the elements of training for fighting skills and self defense. We invite boxers, wrestlers, judoka, MMA students and competitors and other martial artists who have an open mind and the desire to explore methods of pursuing the goals common to all fighting arts. The skill-based training sessions will focus on practical, intuitive responses to violence, rather than historical or theoretical conjecture.
I’m a big fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I can’t help myself. I love watching those guys destroy each other. The top fighters exhibit explosive athleticism and devastating technique. There’s a big difference between training to fight in a cage and doing martial arts as a hobby. But, there’s a lot we should have in common, too.
The most important thing is mindset. If you learn all the best techniques out there but don’t have the will to fight, nothing else matters. The aggressive attitude of cage fighters often seems ego-driven and arrogant…and it is. But, when the time comes to defend yourself or your loved ones, you will have to “turn off” your conscience. It’s either you, or the other guy, that’s going to get hurt. Make sure it’s the other guy.
The importance of physical conditioning cannot be overemphasized. When fighters know all the same techniques, strength, agility, and endurance make the difference. It’s like football. Nobody thinks any other team has better blocking or tackling technique. They just have better athletes. Besides, it should be obvious that we use our bodies to perform every move. The better condition we’re in, the better our karate will be.
Many people credit Bruce Lee with initiating the mixed-martial-arts revolution. His Jeet Kune Do was an amalgamation of techniques from different styles organized around the concept of the “stop hit” from Western fencing. Also, he believed in live sparring as the true test of a technique’s effectiveness. But, he was not the first.
Mixing martial arts is nothing new. Throughout history, people who actually fought have always wanted to learn anything that would help them survive. For instance, caravan guards of nineteenth-century China often combined Xing Yi’s powerful linear striking methods with the circular throws and evasive footwork of Ba Gua.
I would argue that an effective self-defense method could be created by combining only the primary techniques of a few different styles:
Boxing – Nobody punches better than boxers. That’s all they do. The straight-lead, or jab, is a great way to gauge distance and create a reaction in your opponent. I like the method described in Jack Dempsey’s book, Championship Fighting. According to him, the “stepping straight-jolt” is the most important punch.
Muay Thai – The signature technique of Thai boxing is a round kick with the shin. It’s absolutely devastating, but I don’t like it. I could probably do some damage, but my shins aren’t conditioned to handle the impact. However, I can throw knee strikes, while controlling the opponent’s head in the clinch, without hurting myself. That’s good stuff.
Freestyle Wrestling – The single and double-leg take downs are simple and effective. Either one is a good way to put an opponent on the ground in a hurry. Plus, the ability to change levels and penetrate quickly are invaluable skills for closing the distance.
Greco-Roman Wrestling – Because holds below the waist are illegal, Greco-Roman wrestlers are the best at clinch fighting. Learning to pummel for under-hook control might be enough to fight off an untrained person. If you can duck under or arm drag to a rear clinch, that’s even better.
Judo – In general, I don’t like turning my back to the opponent, and techniques need to be learned without a gi. But, Judo’s basic hip and shoulder throws are hard to beat. Learning to back step well is a good skill to have.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – The Gracie revolution demonstrated to everyone the importance of grappling methods. Even though the art has it’s roots in the ne waza of Judo, BJJ evolved on it’s own into a subtle and profound art. The most distinguishing characteristic is extensive use of the guard position and an ability to fight on your back. Submissions are not as easy as they look. I’m most concerned with just controlling an opponent and trying to sweep or stand up.
The attitude of the Okinawan originators of karate would have been to use whatever worked for them. There was a predisposition to believe that anything Chinese was better, and the Fujien province was most accessible to them. They did the best they could with the knowledge they had. Shouldn’t we do the same?