The value of conditioning
Let’s be honest. I’m an old fart heading toward the downside of middle age. I will never be as good physically as when I jumped out of planes for a living. I have a fused back and a broken leg. I’m overweight and (really) out of shape. However, if it weren’t for martial arts, he probably wouldn’t be walking right now. Conditioning is important not only for martial arts training, but also for the quality of daily life.
In our society, we, as a general population, are fat and soft. Many of us disdain physical activity unless it involves a six-pack, a bag of chips, and a remote control. It is an unfortunate situation to be in. Currently, my conditioning involves a routine of light weight training three times a week, push-ups and sit-ups, jujutsu three times a week, and a suspension from my Special Forces days: Ruckin ‘. Going to Ruckin ‘requires a backpack, which is a small backpack loaded with 35-40 pounds, and walking fast. In the old days (okay, I’ve been out of the military for twenty years), the norm was to be able to do twelve miles in less than three hours. Right now I’m not sure I can walk twelve miles, much less to do it in less than three hours. But I am working on it.
There is a saying that old age and betrayal defeat youth and skill. This is true up to a point. I wish I knew in the past what I know now. Experience is a valuable asset. A fool will not learn otherwise, according to Ben Franklin. Being able to translate that experience into action is a key factor, especially in martial arts.
The better fit you are, the more abuse you can absorb without bending over. Unless we have experienced the opportunity to push ourselves beyond our perceived physical limit, we have placed an artificial limit on our capabilities. Every now and then we have to test our mettle just to see if we can hack it. I once had an instructor break his nose or dislocate his finger just to see if he could keep going despite his injuries. A bit extreme to say the least, but can you imagine facing it in a life and death fight? Do you think I could move on after getting hit in the face? Count on that. I even know a guy who badly broke his leg working in construction. Missed a class. He would come to class and balance on his crutches while practicing kicking with his good leg. You really don’t want to get tangled up with someone with that kind of determination.
In the previous workout, we held the horse stance for an hour and did 2,500 blocks and strikes, or more. It’s hard to condition yourself for that kind of training on a physical level, but with the proper never-give-up mindset, you can hold a horse stance for an hour or more. I think that’s called “Shugyo” or “Gasshuku”, a special training. It makes a difference in your martial arts when you undergo that depth of training.
How many times do we become complacent in our training and start to relax? How many times do we choose not to go to class because we are “tired” or “we just don’t feel good”? Someone once asked a teacher how to become a teacher. His response was: “Practice, practice, practice. Every day you get up and practice.” It is this complacent attitude that will get us killed in a life and death struggle. Having your life flash before your eyes in the middle of a fight is not the time to re-dedicate yourself to training.
Sometimes I find myself becoming complacent. Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing a hundred push-ups or hitting the makiwara. Sometimes I need a distraction, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do some kind of training. Martial arts cover a wide spectrum of subjects that can be performed that will provide a break from the daily training routine. One of the things I do to distract myself is to practice pulling out my “utility” knife while watching TV, without soda or potato chips. Since a knife is part of my martial system, it is valid. Is it important to be able to deploy my knife from a seated position? Better believe it. Another fun is going to the desert and murdering a variety of cans with my 9mm. Since firearms are part of my martial system, that is also valid martial arts training and I can go on a picnic at the same time. So what if you don’t have a desert on hand and you don’t like knives and guns? There are other things you can do to support your workout and still have fun. How about a bike ride? Can that be considered a martial arts training? Sure, as long as you don’t use training wheels. How about going to the mall and people watching? Learning to read a variety of body types and personalities is a good skill for a martial artist. Going for a ride and practicing feeling the drivers around you can be considered martial training (especially in Utah, where almost everyone has a case of chronic turn signal / broken finger syndrome). It’s also a life-saving skill to be able to read when that $ # @ * & ^ idiot in front of you is going to interrupt you.
Martial arts can be classified into three basic areas: physical, mental, and spiritual. The physical aspect is the easiest to do, really. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it, but it only included about 3-5% of martial arts. The mental part is a bit more difficult to dissect. Studying, reading, thinking, practicing and analyzing is an important part of the mental aspects. Learning to visualize and focus your intention and energy is another aspect of the mental part of martial arts. Energy follows thought. The spiritual aspect is probably the most difficult and has nothing to do with religion. Well, for some it could, but it is more concerned with that which perks up your body. Regardless, it all starts with physical appearance and it is directly related to physical conditioning, proper nutrition, stretching and, best of all, rest as part of your training routine. Moderation in everything, including moderation.