I would like to talk about fitness and conditioning as it relates to martial arts.
When it comes to martial arts, you can break the subject up into basically two camps, knowledge based or performance based. Knowledge based means you learn many techniques, you “know” more than the guy down the street. These schools sometimes brag about how many techniques they have in their system, or say things like we have 300 techniques for black belt!
Schools that are performance based have a very different approach. You will see that their curriculum is not that big. (curriculum meaning what you will be tested on, you often see more than what you are tested on but are not responsible for it.) Instead of bragging about how many techniques their black belt knows, they brag about how well their black belts can actually apply their techniques under pressure against many different people all who are fighting back.
Although its not the topic of this blog post, I want to delve further into this topic a bit…
If a person is military, police, an amateur or pro fighter, or just a regular person who’s primary interest in training is real world self defense, then their MAIN reason for training is to be FUNCTIONAL martial artists. It must work under pressure or they will rightly leave. The conditioning from training, the social aspects and all the rest come second, third, fourth etc… They don’t need or want 1,000 techniques.
Now someone else my not really be interested in actually using the art, or maybe they think, well of course if I ever have to use it I want it to work, but that’s not the main reason they train. I have in the past had students tell me they absolutely don’t care if they can really use the art in a fight, they just do it because its fun and they like the history and trappings. To me I cannot understand this at all, but to them its no problem. To those people dressing up in outfits, being in organizations, having lots of mind candy (techniques and variations) are whats important, the social aspect as well. And often we see within those dojo cultures, this brings out the worst and sickest parts of people. I know more than you, I know secrets you don’t know, they lord it over peoples heads. Of course they never put it to the test, so no one gets to see them get destroyed on the mat (or in real life).
Then we have the person who does want to be functional, but thinks the way to get there is with more techniques. They just do not know any better and are making a mistake in how they train.
So back to the topic. If you train in a knowledge based system, most of your training is in memorization, or playing with variation after variation. This will not tire out a normal person too much. The training doesn’t get too physically demanding. Therefore people at such schools often supplement their dojo study with going to the gym or running or doing some kind of extra workout to get in or stay in shape. I’m not really talking to those people in this post, though much applies.
I’m more addressing those in a performance based school in this post. You see it is impossible to get functional in 300 techniques by black belt, unless it takes 25 years to get to black belt! Black belt should be 3-6 years, there is no reason to make it take longer, its only black belt, its not the end, in fact its the beginning!
Let me explain how this works…
If you learn a new skill, at first you cannot do it, or at least cannot do it well; and this goes for any skill from whistling, snapping your fingers, hitting a golf ball or playing a chord on a guitar. What you have to do is practice it. To practice it takes time and time is a limited resource. So lets say you go to your school and your teacher wants you to know 30 techniques for your first test, most experts agree that you should only teach two or three techniques per class if function is your main goal otherwise the student will not have enough time to do a sufficient amount or reps to make any meaningful progress it is very popular to say it takes between 3-5,000 reps to ingrain a skill into muscle memory. Now are these the “real” numbers? I don’t know for sure, but I do know it takes many many reps. So lets go with the experts and say at least 3,000 reps.
In a one hour class after warm up you have about forty five minutes to train, lecture and demonstration along with questions eat up a good amount of that time. Maybe fifteen minutes or so, but lets just say ten minutes, so that leaves thirty five minutes to train, you only get half that time as your partner gets the other half, so you have about seventeen minutes to get your reps. Now lets take a technique like a guard pass, it may take ten seconds for a student to pass the guard in training especially when “learning it”. Another five to reset (if they are moving fast ) so fifteen seconds minimum to do one rep and reset so four reps per minute. That means in your seventeen minutes you (if you keep the pace nonstop) can get about sixty eight reps of the guard pass per class, to make that muscle memory at this pace, you will need about forty four classes to get to the bottom number and about seventy three classes to get to the top number! Most people go to class twice per week so that means we are looking at a minimum number of five and a half months for the bottom number and about nine months for the top number!
Now to be honest most students will never get that many reps in a class, like tonight in our grappling class the students averaged about twenty to twenty five reps per technique. There is always stopping and asking questions, always talking among themselves (often not even about the technique) forgetting, spacing out, getting water, going to the bathroom etc… But lets get back to our perfect world of sixty eight reps per class. Like I mentioned, usually you teach two or three techniques per night, so lets say three, that means we are only getting about twenty three reps per night per technique. That means it will take about sixteen months or a year and four months to arrive at the bottom number and about twenty seven months or two years and three months of training to get to the top number!!!
Now this is only learning how to do the technique, it does not include the reps of drills to get skill in using the technique or sparring which is essential to being able to apply the technique in a real fight! Imagine the years in will take! So now lets look at three hundred techniques for black belt again… I know some people who have passed black belt in such systems with that many techniques in two and three years! WHAT??? We should all see clearly how there is NO WAY one can get skilled in a reasonable amount of time when you have a system with too many techniques per grade.
As an aside we can look at some systems that don’t even spend many reps on the basic technique but instead keep showing variation after variation. Only practicing each a few times. These people never spar or drill and make sure their partners act like dead rag dolls so their terrible technique and mistakes don’t show (to their fellow students, it is clear as daylight to others though)…
So I think I made a good case that if you are performance based, you must work on a handful of techniques at a time until you get some skill. It may not be glamorous or even fun, but it is the cold reality…
Now when you factor in sparring and drilling, hitting bags and pads and keeping a good pace trying to get those rep counts up, I am sure you can imagine that it is pretty physically and mentally draining. Now lets take an average man or woman that sleeps eight hours works an eight hour day, two hours commute to and from work and hour for getting ready for work and breakfast, and hour lunch and an hour dinner, that is twenty one hours of their day already. Add an hour class and an hour commute to and from class and that’s twenty three hours and they have one hour left for everything else they want to do. These numbers of course may be very different depending on the person, but the point should be clear, time is limited.
So now these people have a day off from training at the dojo so they have a couple more hours free and they think well I better hit the gym so I do better at training. So they lift weights or whatever. First thing I say is what are you? Are you a martial artist or a weight lifter? You can’t serve two masters. Pick one or suck at both! If you have extra time you should use it to practice your art. Whats more important benching twenty more pounds and having bigger titties and still getting your ass kicked on the mat because your still not good at your art? Or practicing your art that can one day save your life, gaining skill and being a machine on the mat?
The choice is yours.
Someone asked Bruce Lee, how can I get better at my kicks? (looking for an exercise to help) he said, KICK! Can’t say it better than that…
So as we see there is a time deficit when doing training outside of your class time and if your goal is to get good, it should be spent on practicing your art, not cutting into your art. The other aspect is if you train hard at the dojo, you will be making huge inroads into your recovery. If you are not sore and tired on your days off from the Dojo, you are not training hard enough period! Someone asked the great Fitness coach and BJJ Black Belt Steve Maxwell what an average person who trains in BJJ should do on off days for fitness and he said basically besides mobility and stretching NOTHING! Because BJJ will be enough. He went on to say that of course if its a fighter or competitor that will change, but the point is resounding…
If you do feel like you can fit in supplemental training then it must be functional and tactical training designed to actually help and not hinder your martial arts training. Big muscles, no range of motion, no mobility poor cardio etc. Just make you suck at martial arts! What good is all your size and strength when you can’t run up a flight of stairs or spar for more than 10 seconds or climb a rope or touch your toes or get up and down off the floor easily? And what about the injuries? Sore everything, tears, arthritis etc. Unless that is your sport of choice and you are willing to take on those disadvantages for the sake of success in that sport then its stupid. Like I said you cannot serve two masters. What are you? A martial artist? Proper training for martial artists should be a health first system, health and pain free movement, then mobility and range of motion, stamina and muscle strength to move your own body in all manner of ways, the more you train the better you feel.
If you are not a competitor in bodybuilding running power lifting etc. And you train like they do just to have big muscles or a six pack or to be strong in front of the guys at the gym, they you are simply ruled by vanity and ego. A martial artist has to see through that.
What are you?
You cannot serve two masters…