A student recently asked me about “hardcore” classes. I have various thoughts on this but the one at the forefront concerns perception. A person’s perceptions are truth to them, so one mans “hardcore” may be very different to another’s.
When talking training, hardcore can be defined as, “unswervingly committed, uncompromising and dedicated”. Most, though, think of it as extreme, pushing to the limits type training. This, again, comes down to personal perception. Hardcore to an overweight couch potato might be a walk around the block, to another it might be a thousand knuckle pushups in broken glass. For the purpose of this article “hardcore” will refer to what people perceive as extreme training.
Personally, I don’t think that regular classes should be hardcore. Many also refer to classes as lessons, and they should be just that. Your regularly attended martial arts class should be there for you to learn something. Its purpose should not be to completely break you down physically and mentally. This is not to say that it should not be challenging, but any student of a reasonable fitness level should be able to, literally, take part in the class. A physically and mentally drained student is too concerned with not passing out than on concentrating on the finer points of a lesson. If a student is too broken to function or to absorb what the Instructor is saying because he is too drained, then the lesson is a failure – the student will leave having attended a class, but learnt nothing.
A regular class, of course, will require a student to meet certain fitness and conditioning standards in order to perform the lesson, but the Instructor must remember that the main aim of a regular class is to teach and for the student to learn.
The focus of a particular lesson may be fitness, flexibility, technique practice or a myriad of other subjects. The student must remember, though, that class time is not fitness training, flexibility training or practice time. All of those aspects should be carried out outside of regular class time. A student must take what they have learned in a lesson and apply it in their out of class training. A degree of fitness, flexibility and practice may be done in a class but this is not enough for any martial artist worth his salt. A fly in the wind, recreational “martial artist” may rely on his one or two classes per week as his sole form of physical activity, but anyone with more interest realizes that this is nowhere near sufficient. Fitness, flexibility and practicing should also be done out of regular class time. Whether at home or in separate sessions dedicated to these aspects is up to the individual. These extra, dedicated sessions are where physical improvement is made through more intense and specific training. For many it is made easy. Martial arts clubs often offer additional classes that a student may attend, designed specifically to address these extra training needs. There are classes designed specifically for martial arts fitness, flexibility, etc. These extra classes are a good place to start for the student who wants gains in different areas of his training.
I’m sure at one stage or another both Instructors and students have heard, “that was an easy class this evening” with a saddened tone in the voice from somebody leaving the class. It should be remembered that the purpose is not necessarily to make a class difficult. The purpose is to get a point across, and some points are physically easier to get across than others. Some classes may be “harder” than others depending on what the focus of the lesson is.
As time goes by, students who are diligent with their attendance of lessons and practice sufficiently out of class better prepare and condition their bodies for intense physical training. Senior students will often have separate classes from juniors. These classes will often be a lot more physically demanding, but because of the buildup of physical and mental conditioning over time it just seems normal to them. To the outsider and junior perspective this may seem to be “hardcore”, but to the senior student it is probably just another day at the office. Again, it’s about perspective. The senior student has gained enough experience to know the importance of additional training to his class regime, and therefore more challenging regular classes can be carried out while still keeping the “lesson” intact.
Beginners and junior students with low fitness levels are easily scared off by a class that leaves them unable to walk for a month. The point is to gain students and build them to the point and level you expect from them, not to prove what a tough trainer you are and destroy them completely on their first day out.
Fitness and flexibility training, as well as technique practice cannot be ignored. An instructor must set a clear guideline of what is expected of the student and the student must set these as part of his goals. The Instructor must regularly test the student to make sure that the student is carrying out what he is supposed to. If the student is unable to keep up, then most likely he is not doing what he is meant to in order to progress.
When looking for long term, healthy gains don’t think that you can take the short road there. As has been said, “Hardcore” is in the eye of the beholder. It is possible for every person to reach that level. Once that level is reached, you won’t even realize that you have reached it. In martial arts it’s not always about training hard, it’s about training consistently. With consistent training the body is built up and conditioned over time. As the body is conditioned it is able to deal with more and so, naturally, the intensity of training can be lifted. What many perceive as “hardcore” training doesn’t seem so tough to those who have taken the slightly longer road. It is part of a natural progression over time. For a stable, consistent student “hardcore training” is just “training”. From the outside and for a beginner attempting it, it may seem brutal, but really it is not. A fat slob can’t decide to run a marathon on his first day off the couch.
Going to brutal fitness and full-blown fighting sessions is going to get a student nowhere. The only things this can cause are burnout and injuries, especially for students unaccustomed or unconditioned to this type of training. Often, “hardcore” can be translated as “stupid”.