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The Value of Conditioning
Let’s face it. I’m an old fart heading into my late 50s. I will never be as good physically as when I jumped planes for a living. I have a fused back and a bum leg. I’m overweight and sort of (really) out of shape. However, without martial arts, I 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 despise physical activity unless it involves a six-pack, a bag of chips and a remote control. It is a deplorable situation. Currently, my conditioning involves a light workout routine three times a week, push-ups and sit-ups, jujutsu three times a week, and looking forward to my days in Special Forces: Ruckin’. Going ruckin’ requires a backpack, which is a small backpack loaded with 35-40 pounds, and brisk walking. In the old days (OK, I’ve been out of the military for twenty years), the norm was to be able to cover twelve miles in less than three hours. Right now, I’m not sure I could walk twelve miles less to do it in less than three hours. But I’m working on it.
There is a saying that old age and betrayal win out over youth and skill. It is true to some extent. I wish I knew then what I know now. Experience is a precious commodity. A fool won’t learn otherwise, according to Ben Franklin anyway. Being able to translate that experience into action is key, especially in martial arts.
The more physically fit you are, the more abuse you can absorb without bending. Unless we’ve had the opportunity to push ourselves beyond our perceived physical limit, we’ve put an artificial limit on our abilities. Sometimes we have to test our mettle just to see if we can hack it. I had an instructor once who broke his nose or dislocated a finger just to see if he could still carry on despite his injuries. A little extreme, to say the least, but can you imagine facing him in a fight for life or death? Do you think he could continue after being punched in the face? Count on it. I even know a guy who badly broke his leg working in construction. He missed a class. He would come to class and balance on his crutches while practicing kicks with his good leg. You really don’t want to tangle with someone with that kind of determination.
In previous workouts, we held the horse stance for an hour and did 2500 or more blocks and punches. It’s hard to condition for this type of training on a physical level, but with the right mindset to never give up, you can hold a horse stance for an hour or more. I believe it’s called a “Shugyo” or “Gasshuku”, a special training. It makes a difference in your martial arts when you go through such thorough training.
How often do we become complacent in our training and start to slack off? How many times do we choose not to go to class because we’re “tired” or “just don’t feel good”? Someone once asked a master how to become a master. 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 struggle for life or death. Having your life in front of your eyes in the middle of a fight is not the time to dedicate yourself to training again.
I find myself getting complacent sometimes. Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing a hundred push-ups or beating the makiwara. Sometimes I need a diversion, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do some kind of training. Martial arts covers a wide range of subjects that can be practiced and will provide a break from the daily routine of training. One of the things I do for diversion is to practice drawing my “utility” knife while watching TV, minus the soda and chips. Since a knife is part of my martial system, it’s a worthwhile thing to do. Is it important to be able to deploy my knife while seated? Better believe it. Another diversion is to go out into the desert and murder a variety of cans with my 9mm. Since guns are part of my martial system, it’s also worthwhile martial arts training and I can go on a picnic at the same time. What if you don’t have a desert handy and don’t like knives and handguns? There are other things you can do to support your formation while still getting a diversion. How about a bike ride? Can this be considered martial arts training? Of course 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. Driving around and practicing sensing the intent of drivers around you can be considered martial training (especially in Utah where almost everyone has a case of chronic broken/winker finger syndrome) . It’s also a life-saving skill to be able to read when that idiot $#@*&^ in front of you is going to cut you off.
Martial arts can be categorized 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 that’s only about 3-5% of martial arts. The mental part is a little more difficult to dissect. Studying, reading, thinking, practicing and analyzing are 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 might be, but it’s more about that thing that drives your body. Either way, it all starts with the physical aspect and it ties directly into conditioning, proper nutrition, stretching and best of all, resting as part of your workout routine. Moderation in all things, including moderation.
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