of the key things a soldier learns is to maintain his equipment. Without thoroughly maintained equipment a soldier will not be able to fight at his capability. If his equipment fails him in a dire situation there is a good chance he will not come out of it alive. A martial artist’s equipment is his body and limbs and therefore careful consideration should be given to keeping these in top form.
Physical conditioning comes in two forms in the martial arts: Fitness and Forging
- Fitness: This includes strength, stamina and flexibility (to name but a few).
Many take this integral part of martial arts training too lightly. It’s not enough to go to class twice a week and think that it is enough to be well rounded in this regard. The main focus of classes should not be on fitness! It should be on getting instruction, correction and learning of new techniques. There is no time in general classes to get enough fitness training in (unless you attend marathon long training sessions).
Time should be taken each day to focus on getting into peak physical form. Some sort of cardiovascular workout should be done some days and strength training on others – all the while stretching to remain flexible in the muscles and joints.
How does this help you? Besides being extremely good for your health in general, it allows you to have the edge over your adversary should a situation arise.
If you come up against a person with technique that matches your own, you will be grateful for putting in the extra effort. Against a similarly matched opponent you may have to outlast (stamina) them and have that little bit of extra strength to overpower them and the versatility (from flexibility) to strike with a technique from any angle
I have heard it said many times that strength does not matter in martial arts. I disagree! A weakling may be able to perform a technique, but this doesn’t mean he will be able to utilize it effectively in a real violent situation. Martial artists get hit too – if you have no strength no matter how your technique looks you are going down. What’s the use of being the so-called “superior” fighter if you go down at the first powder puff punch to land on you?
Likewise I have heard it said that, “the fight will only last about five seconds”, only to find that two minutes later it’s still going and the experienced martial artist is beat because he can longer lift his limbs or breathe.
There are also many who say that they won’t kick high because it doesn’t work, so there is no need in stretching the legs – only to be knocked out by a head kick.
- Forging: This includes internal and external hardening of the body/limbs.
This too is taken for granted by most martial arts practitioners. Again, these forging techniques may be shown or done in class on the odd occasion but it is far from enough to make you durable enough to give and take real punishment.
Both internal (bone) and external (surface) conditioning should be carried out daily.
The purpose of forging internally is to harden and strengthen the bones. The common areas to forge this way are: all parts of the hands (especially knuckles – my favorite), all parts of the feet, shins and forearms.
Why do we do this? So we are able to strike and block at full force without damaging or breaking our limbs. A good side effect is that if your bones are harder and denser than your assailants you have better chance of breaking or destroying his bones.
External conditioning is generally considered to be hardening of the skin over certain striking tools i.e. forming a callous. This provides a cushion for your bones underneath and thus enables you to hit your target harder – kind of like wearing a mitt. I take external conditioning to include making certain vulnerable muscles more durable to punishment. Common muscles to forge: thighs, hamstrings, abdomen, pectorals, biceps, and triceps. This makes your muscles more resilient to attack from an enemy and will allow you to keep fighting in cases where another person may have sustained a “dead” muscle.
Many a person underestimates the benefit of forging – only to regret it later when sitting with their hand in a cast – or in the case of a person being hit by a well-conditioned fist – a shattered cheekbone.
In summary: physical conditioning is extremely important in the martial arts. Both fitness and forging! You must be well rounded in all of the above-mentioned points. Strength alone is not enough, stamina alone is not enough, flexibility alone is not enough and hardening alone is not enough. All must work together like a sweet symphony. This will make you a real force to be reckoned with.