Martial Arts and Strength Training
Why is it many martial artists are against heavy strength training? I think I’ve heard every reason under the sun. “It makes me slow,” “It makes me tight or muscle bound,” “You don’t need strength with my art’s techniques,” “I stay too sore/injured,” “I only need to do bodyweight exercises,” “It doesn’t really improve your fighting strength,” “I’m not going to get hurt doing what all those crazy big weight lifters do.”
All of those are just excuses and hogwash. I am a martial artist so I think I can speak on this subject. And while the climate in modern martial arts has radically changed in its attitude towards strength training there is still a small part who totally objects to heavy training and a much larger part that argues unendingly about the best way to train and why my way is better than your way and why if you train the way you do it will most likely kill you instead of make you a better martial artist. Let’s throw out some facts here.
- There is no best way to train for strength as it regards to martial arts or pure strength for that matter. There is no best martial art to train in or best system training within a martial art. You can find greatness in the champions of very discipline and in their training as it regards to the art itself, their physcial training and their mental development.
- “Weight training makes you slow.”
- Really? Then why do the worlds fastest people; sprinters and track athletes, consistently make weight training part of their physical plan?
- “Weight training makes me muscle bound.”
- I know almost no body who legitiately has this problem. Most people would love to be able to put on enough muscle to think about it actually being able to restrict your movement. If your movement is restricted one of two things is happening. You’re refusing to stretch effectively and or do movements that promote flexibility in your training and you’re not practicing your arts within the range of motion you need to practice them in a relaxed fashion.
- “You don’t need strength with my art’s techniques.”
- This is a huge marketing ploy that was accepted into fact, but it is a total falicy. Your martial art may allow you to maximize the efficiency with which you use your bodily strength in its techniques, but no technique can be executed without strength. We accepted blindly that you could simply practice a learned set of techiques and that as long as you became proficient at them you don’t need to improve the phsycial base that you execute them from. This was NOT the original intention of the martial arts.
- “The old traditions did not lift weights.”
- That’s a load of bull. If you study the training of the real ancient arts you will understand that they did not necessarily use modern barbells or machines, but they most definitely performed progressive, resistance training. Designed not just to make you technically more proficient, but physcially more superior. Stronger and with more endurance.
- “I stay to sore/injured.”
- Point blank, you are doing something wrong. All training must be adapted to your personal ability and proclivity even within the arts themselves. Why do you think all the champion lifters and martial artists train differently? Because they have learned not to just follow tradition, but to know their own bodies well enough to know intuitively what works for them. Good form and patience along with realistic training protocol will also save you a lot of pain.
- “I only need to do bodyweight exercises.”
- You can get as strong as you want, just about, doing bodyweight exercises. You can build a ton of endurance, however you must progress into advanced types of bodyweight training and even then I still think weight training may be necessary for the development of ultimate strength. Pavel Tsatsoulane has a new book called The Naked Warrior that is excellent and is all about strength training with bodyweight exercises. (I mean low rep-high strength bodyweight exercises.) The system that Karl Gotch/Matt Furey advocate also contains this progression, but weight lifting can be an extension of those same natural body movements and can give you a type of strength that I believe is necessary for ultimate martial arts training. I’ll give a live example of this later.
- “It doesn’t really improve your fighting strength.”
- Okay, then let me or Tank Abbot punch you. If strength doesn’t matter and strength training doesn’t improve your fighting strength then neither he nor I, whom are both very strong through weight training, but are not fantastically, technically proficient punchers should be able to do much damage. Right?
- “I’m not training to be a weightlifter, I’m training to be a martial artist.”
- Somewhere along the way this thought as well as the way it is applied to other sports training became one of the dominate thoughts in the training of athletes. But let me ask you this… If you wanted to learn how to throw a punch the right way who would you go to? Probably a boxer. The person who is most technically proficient at throwing punches. Does it not also then follow that if you want to learn to get strong you should go to the person who is most technically proficient at building strength? Who do you suppose that is? Could it be the weightlifter? (When I say “weightlifter” I mean it as a generic term for those who practice realistic strength training, not one particular discipline and especially not bodybuilding in the modern style as it is training geared for look not strength.)
There is some truth to the last statement. Because training to be a strong martial artist is not the same as training to be a weightlifter. There are significantly more skill sets to be developed as well as attributes to be a complete martial artist. But why not learn from the best that there is in a particular discipline? If you studied Kung Fu and wanted to develop a particular skill set and knew that going to a different teacher who was technically superior at that skill set, wouldn’t you do that? So why not take the technical proficiency and intelligent hard core strength training and add it to the skills of your martial art?
Don’t let anyone tell you that the old martial artists didn’t believe in becoming a physically superior human as well as a technically superior fighter. The Shaolin have over 100 specific physical ability tests that they attempt to master as part of their training as well as their specific art skills. Ranging from running, bodyweight exercises, extremely hard low rep bodyweight exercises as well as extremely high rep exercises, lifting stones, barrel type waterpot and teapot type lifting, lifting cut stone implements similar to dumbbells and kettlebells, all representative of similar facets of modern hardcore strength training. We are as much rediscovering as inventing new pathways of strength.I said I’d give an example earlier. I think I’ll give two. The first is myself. I have deep interest in the martial arts, have studied several, and fought some. However, because of my heavy commitment to strength training in and of itself, competitively and my outlook toward being an all-around-athlete, I have decent, but not excessive technical skills. Nothing close to the greats as far as technical ability, but I generally do understand enough to take care of myself on a mat. Infact I have grappled some tough, very tough fighters and made quite a competitive match. Not because I had the technical ability that they had, but because their techniques are much harder to make work on a stronger opponent.The next is a teenager, Mike Reeder, who trained with me for a couple of years. We went to a martial arts seminar. During the seminar he was paired up with an older man who had siginificantly more martial arts experience (Mike had none), and was very good at bodyweight exercises even the hard ones and was basically exactly the same size as Mike. He was also a very nice gentleman. Now they matched up throughout the day quite a bit in different drills. One particular one stuck out in my mind. They did an off-balancing, shove each other around, kind of drill. Now Mike has no experience with this, but decent athletic ability and is extremely strong via heavy weightlifting. So they grab each other and go to pull each other off balance. Mike basically stood there and let the genleman try anything he wanted to try. He never even budged him. Then Mike proceeded to clamp down and drag him around basically anywhere he wanted to go. The level of maximal strength you can display will make a major difference in how your martial art’s techniques work. That’s why we’re training with heavy barbells, strongman exercises, bodyweight exercises and alternative conditioning methods to develop the total package.