Sunday, April 22, 2012

If you want peace, prepare for war

If you want peace, prepare for war- Si vis pacem, para bellum

This may seem a bit dramatic since we are only talking about martial arts, not international relations, but the core principle relates directly to our practice and the direction of our training.   If we are visibly weak, others will prey on us.  If we show that we are serious opponents and not easy marks, predators will keep away and look for an easier path.  I feel that peace in life can be easily achieved by the sheer physical presence of a true martial artist.  People are less likely to start problems or harass a fighter because the signs are usually very clear of their skill and abilities.  Some of these are seen in external signals like the confident walk,  strength in the eyes, calmness in most situations, a willpower of steel when dealing with various situations.  These are often mental attributes showing, but we can accelerate and make them stronger through proper physical preparation for combat.  Many people practice martial arts and don't show these signs, and I feel that increased physical training will bring them out, due to the fact that increasing health and wellness allows our true selves to show externally.  And for this article we are starting from the general agreement that martial arts are purely about fighting, and the excellent mental and spiritual benefits are a side effect, albeit a very valuable one.

I will address my personal thoughts and ideas about combat training here, how to structure a solid program for practice and how to measure the gains and refine the skills and abilities developed here.
The most important things a fighter needs are stamina, speed and power.  Only when you have all 3 can you properly refine your technique.  Many people would disagree with this, but not world champion fighters like Miguel Arrozal, my former roommate and boxing coach.  Being fast, strong and have the ability to outlast your opponent give you so many more options when it comes to fighting, rather that hoping that you might have a bit of information or knowledge that the other guy doesn't and praying that it works this time.  And those 3 areas of development also allow a higher level of refinement and perfection for any technique in any martial art.

So the first and most important aspect is stamina.  My coaches in wrestling trained us with the motto "You might lose to a more skilled wrestler, but you will NEVER lose because you run out of gas"  Physical stamina can be built in many ways, but the most effective are running and walking.  Personally I have trouble running, I shattered my left leg and broke my back several years ago, so running is often painful.  I do continue to run, but not as much as I did before, and I compensate by walking at least 10 miles a day.  This might seem crazy, but I walk to work and back, to practice and teaching as well.  I own a vehicle, but walking is so much more productive and healthy, plus I don't have to worry about the rising cost of gas anymore!  Running for 30 mins a day is a solid goal for a martial artist, in addition to their training, but I mean running, not jogging or fast walking.  Running will improve your heart, clear your mind and has a host of other benefits as well.  I recommend running before practice, to pre-exhaust the legs and help deplete the nervous energy we all have so our  practice can have greater focus.  Your gains in running can be shown in covering the same distance in a shorter amount of time or in being able to cover a longer distance at the same pace.  Both are valuable and should be experimented with by the fighter.
Speed is a combination of physical quickness and efficient movements.  If you use simple, straight movements in your applications, they will naturally be quicker than large, fancy attacks.  In my school we emphasize the 8 directional stepping to teach quick foot movement and dodging to the feet.  The body becomes quicker with muscle development, not training for size or power but through many repetitions of simple movements.  The more simple an action is, the faster it becomes.  The hands can be trained to become faster through shadow boxing or light weight training during martial arts practice.  This is a one great way to build speed- attach light weights to your wrists and ankles, many sporting goods stores have wrap around weights just for this purpose.    Speed can also be increased through developing sharper focus and relaxation, often the side effects of meditation or mental development.  All of these methods can be implemented into any martial arts program simply and easily and they yield excellent benefits when trained for any period of time.  We can see our speed increase through training when our applications become so simple and automatic that we don't have to think to apply them.  That is the most important speed attribute.  Often when a student commits to imporving his speed, he startles himself with how much faster he is moving and that is a great thing!  You know your body better than anyone and if you develop such an amount of speed that even you are surprised, you are on the right track!

Power is one of the easiest attributes to understand, but many people misunderstand how power is developed in martial arts and how to apply it in fighting.  A powerful fighter often looks nothing like Mr. Olympia and lacks the giant muscles of many actors in Hollywood.  Instead they are solidly developed and their body moves as one unit.  Traditional weight training is an excellent addition to training, but should not be the primary focus as many weightlifting movements are focused on single muscle groups and that works contrary to the goals of a martial artist.  Kettlebells are an amazing addition to training as they are multi-muscle in nature and also help to strengthen the joints and stabilizing muscle groups around them.  But most good martial arts schools have a wide array of bodyweight only movements that develop functional strength.  Some of these are using iso-tension in forms, twisting the body and stretching it to force tendon and muscle rebuilding in the body, and heavy weapon training.  And many schools add exercises like squats, push-ups, and pull-ups to assist in power training.  All of these are fantastic additions and add a lot of power to movements.  Our power development is measured through striking and kicking objects and applications.  As our power develops, we use less motion and achieve a greater result in our applications,  We have to use more caution when free sparring and what was a light strike before now knocks your partner down or hits much deeper than before.

Now many of the more experienced martial artists that read this might be thinking "No shit Sherlock, you aren't saying anything new".  That is true, but I am emphasizing things that you might not be doing now and things that could help your training if you only put a little more focus on.  And many new students of our arts might not know this and can benefit greatly from introducing some of these methods into their practice.  Remember,  there have been many skilled teachers and traditional fighters who have been beaten severely solely because the challenger was stronger, faster and could out-last the more experienced pracitioner.  This proves that as long as we want to be serious martial artists, we should always push ourselves to develop these aspects of our bodies to enhance the knowledge and skills we already have.  I have also been vague on purpose with these exercises since I am not a doctor and don't want to push a student to do something they are not capable of doing without injuring themselves.  I encourage everyone to research these ideas for themselves and develop their own personal programs for combat preparation.

If a solid program is developed and implemented for developing the things mentioned here, I think that we all can reap the personal benefits that come from combat preparedness.  I know there is a deeper sense of calm and I am able to be more confident and have greater self esteem in aggresive situations, which is often the deciding factor in how it turns out. I hope everyone can take something from this and use it to benefit their lives.

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This is a blog devoted to the Chinese Internal martial arts. Our school is located in Vancouver, WA and currently accepting students for group classes, and limited private sessions.