Balance Training Drills

Balance is an essential quality for the warrior to develop.  It directly affects our ability to move with grace, coordination, agility, and power.  Yet direct balance training exercises seem to be a neglected area in many people’s training programs unless they are recovering from an injury or trying to fix a specific weakness.  Personally, I think they should be an integral part of training.

The following is an introduction to the balance drills I use to train myself as well as my martial arts students and fitness clients.  I hope you find them as useful as we do.

There are 3 Systems the Body Uses to Orient Itself in Space

1. Visual – Relying on sight is the second fastest and most efficient mechanism in our balance (unless we are in a dark room!).  Most people tend to rely on visual cues for balance, to the detriment of the other 2 systems.  The visual system relies on a physiological reflex called the Ocular Gyro Cephalic reflex which creates tension chains that reflexively cause the body to orient toward whatever the eyes see.

Balance Drill Leg back

2. Vestibular – This system relies on the fluid within the ears to sense balance.  As we move, the fluid sloshes around.  If we are not used to a particular pattern of movement, we may begin to feel dizzy. The brain works to process this information and integrate it with the information coming in from both the visual and proprioception systems.

Balance Drill Leg back hold

3. Proprioception – This our sense of position and movement of the limbs and the sense of muscular tension.  Proprioception utilizes information derived from sensory receptors in our muscles, tendons, and joints to inform us of changes in movement, position, and tension.  Proprioception is plugged directly into our nervous systems making it possibly the fastest and most efficient mechanism for balance, as long as we train it.

Balance Drill Tree

The balance drills shown in the video below will allow you to train all 3 systems concurrently.

For more information on balance and proprioception training, check out my book Warrior Fitness: Conditioning for Martial Art.

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How to Train for Chaos without Making Training Chaotic

This article was originally written for my friend Craig Gray’s blog, The Ocean & The Wave.  Make sure to check out his blog and give him some love!

The current rage in conditioning training, especially when talking about combat conditioning, is to completely change up the workout for each and every session. This has the advantage of keeping the training fresh and throwing the body into chaos each time so it never knows what hit it. The hardcore advocates of this type of conditioning stress that this environment will create a very broad and general fitness that prepares the trainee for almost every physical contingency, both known and unknowable. This enables one to prepare for the chaos and uncertainty of combat by training in an uncertain and chaotic environment.

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Seems to make a lot of sense on the surface, right?

However, one of the problems resident with this type of training is that random training yields random results. It’s difficult to measure progress when the parameters are constantly shifting.

In order for the body to produce an adaptation for improved performance in life, sport, or martial art, we must apply specific stimulus as per the SAID Principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand). This basically means that the body adapts with a specific type of fitness to any demand which is imposed on it. When the same exercise is performed for too long, the body adapts to the stresses of each set and the adaptations or returns get smaller and smaller. Once it has adapted to the stress, then it’s time to change or increase the stress or else we fall into that trap of diminishing returns.

Usually though it takes the body a period of 4-to-6 weeks to adapt and then it is advisable to begin changing exercises. This does not mean that we need to completely throw away everything we have been doing; far from it. An exercise or drill can be changed by increasing intensity, increasing volume, decreasing rest periods, or increasing complexity or sophistication.

What this suggests is that a properly organized training program with incremental progression of increasing complexity and sophistication may actually prepare the body better than a set of random skills strewn together with a nebulous outcome in mind.

Yet we still crave the chaos, right?

So why not have it both ways?

Let’s program chaos into our training to instill the element of surprise and shock to the body. But, and this is key, we will ONLY do it once a week. This is enough to add the benefits of chaos training without suffering the negative aspects. The rest of the time you must follow a properly programmed training regimen to ensure all the multifaceted fitness qualities required to keep you strong, agile, mobile, and hostile are being met.

How do we program the chaos?

One of my favorite ways to do this is by picking 5-6 different exercises and setting an interval timer for 5 rounds of 3 to 5 minutes (depending on your fitness level). Instead of setting a rep scheme, move from one exercise to the next in any order you like performing as many or as little reps of each exercise.

If you need active recovery during the round or simply can’t figure out what to do for a few seconds – do Jumping Jacks. The only caveat is that you must not stop for the duration of the round. Take a 1 minute break between rounds to recover your breathing, then go again.

Here’s an example Chaos Training Workout:

1. Kettlebell Swings or Snatches
2. Jab/Cross Combo on Wave Bag
3. Sit Thrus
4. Med Ball Slams
5. Sandbag Burpees

 

Strength in the Deviation

Usually being deviant is not looked upon as a positive character trait.  However, as we shall see, what makes for a poor character trait is in fact a desirable outcome for increasing performance and injury prevention!

In this article we will explore how building strength into a deviation of “correct” form can create a built in safety valve that will increase your resilience and resistance to injury.

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The problem with always working on “correct” form in any endeavor (for our purposes here: fitness, martial arts, and athletics) is that no matter how well you perform a movement skill, there is always a possibility of moving outside the parameters of the perfect range of motion.  You do not live in a bubble! Whether through fatigue, unfamiliar or uneven terrain, accidental misstep, mental distraction, or being acted upon by an outside force – collision in sport or an opponent in a combative engagement – your movement WILL go awry.

Strength in the Deviation

So now that we established that you will never always have perfect form, how do we insure that any deviation from proper mechanics does not cause injury?  Check out the videos below for examples on how to increase strength throughout a range of motion by building a safety valve into your movement.  Strength in the deviation will not only increase resilience and injury prevention, but performance as well knowing that you have complete confidence in your movement!

Strength in the Deviation – Accident Proof Ankles

Strength in the Deviation – Wrists of Steel

Strength in the Deviation – Sledgehammer Training

Ready to increase your deviant behavior??? :)

Martin Kampmann: Looking Beyond the Octagon

Danish mixed martial artist had a relatively successful career for the most part in the sport’s premium organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Although he hasn’t yet confirmed that he has retired from competing at the highest level of the sport, Kampmann has been absent from competing since his loss to fellow welterweight and UFC veteran Carlos Condit back in 2012, in Indiana.

Kampmann had a wealth of talent in many disciplines of MMA including wrestling, Muay Thai and boxing competing at amateur level in both the latter disciplines. He finally turned professional in 2003 where he started his MMA career with the European-based Cage Warriors, where he competed at middleweight and had a series of fights before being picked up by the UFC. He fought Crafton Wallace in 2006 in Las Vegas in his UFC debut where he beat him by rear naked choke.

However, after two back-to-back losses against Johnny Hendricks and then Carlos Condit, Kampmann decided to step aware from the octagon. It didn’t last long though as he was reported to have had trials with Team Alpha Male after the departure of Dwayne Ludwig. As gym owner and fighter Urijah Faber looked for a new head coach, Kampmann traveled to California for try-outs as the gym’s potential new coach.

Although nothing came to fruition, Kampmann has also had another constant in his life which has helped him transition away from the sport of MMA. Earlier this year, MMA Weekly reported that Kampmann had once again parted with $10,000 to buy his way into the world’s biggest poker tournament in Las Vegas. And the Danish native once again showed that he could mix it with the best. Prior to that, earlier this year, Kampmann managed to win $52,000 when he won the NV Poker Challenge.

Kampmann isn’t the first fighter to play at some of poker’s most prestigious tournaments, Georges St. Pierre has also played in various Vegas tournaments during his downtime. Many fighters see it as a way to relax when they aren’t fighting as well a vehicle to help build their brand. Online casino gaming’s popularity has grown exponentially since we first saw the emergence of such portals through Intercasino which spearheaded the trend in the latter parts of the 2oth century. Now there are thousands of online rooms, tournaments and television deals that propel poker into the mainstream. Fighters use tournaments such as this to keep their names in the media, keeping their brand relevant.

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It’s unclear whether Kampmann is going to announce his retirement anytime soon. But at least he knows that by keeping relevant in the world of poker, if he does decide to hang up his gloves, he has the potential to succeed in the cutthroat world of professional poker.

Follow his twitter account @MartinKampmann for regular updates on MMA and poker.

Martial Arts Training for Stability

Part 2 – Guest blog post by my friend, Jarell Lindsey from Lean Functional Muscle.  Part 1 is HERE.

Martial Arts Training for Stability

A mountain, snowcapped, reaching for the heavens but rooted down to Earth all the same. That is the image I visualize as the pinnacle of martial arts stability. This level of stability is something that marks mastery of the power in your craft. To be a martial artist, stability training is critical; to be a warrior, stability training is indispensable. Stability means being in a position of firmness; being able to combine that stability with mobility requires as much recovery as it does intensity.

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Intensity will be the most important factor in overall stability. Stability means “the strength to stand or endure”. You must have strength and endurance to have true stability, and the best way to obtain both is through intensity, like an ore refined under extreme heat. When it comes to endurance, mental and physical endurance are key. The greatest benefits of long distance running are in the mental benefits in endurance you’ll get from driving your body to the brink of its functionality. Nevertheless, I feel like interval cardio training is more advantageous for consistent cardio training as a martial artist.

Interval Training for Martial Arts

Interval cardio training allows you to train your spurts of intensity while increasing your recovery times overall. In a fight, there are often periods of ferocious exchanges followed by lulls to observe the opponent or recover; by training those intervals, you can get your heartbeat back near resting in a much quicker time than were you to solely train long distance. For instance, set your week up so that you perform 20-30 second sprints (it’ll be better to practice sprinting for time instead of sprinting for distance) throughout the week in sets, then perform a longer distance run toward the end of the week to test overall physical and mental endurance.

Remember that training your breathing is just as, if not more important for training your physical and mental endurance as cardio, so adopt a powerful breathing component into your training to help your stability and health.

You Must Train for Strength

Alas, strength seems to be a given to have when it comes to martial arts. People can say that a martial artist does not need strength, just technique, and they’d be enabling the weakness of people in the pursuit of a war art by doing so. Strength training is critical to being a martial artist; karatekas and the Shaolin have had their own weight training implements for centuries, so whoever promoted the idea that martial artists should not weight train was jaded. However, traditional martial arts have just as many methods to build strength using your bodyweight, so a lack of weight shouldn’t be an excuse.

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There are hordes of thoughts about the best method of strength training; what I will say is that your regimen should include something that builds your body from the inside out. For me, isometric exercises build strength from the tendons, ligaments, and nerves out to the muscles. I do training that isolates individual muscles for maximal muscle fatigue, and training that involves large muscle groups for fatigue of the central nervous system. As long as your training does not neglect internal principles of strength (like bodybuilding training that focuses solely on muscle without long-term development of the tendons), it can be a part of what gives you stability. Overall, intensity is key, so finding ways to progressively increase your intensity will progressively increase your stability. Coupled with mobility training that can prevent your powerful tendons from being overly rigid, your martial arts can reach an advanced level comparable to the legends of old.

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Martial Arts Training for Mobility

A guest blog post by my friend, Jarell Lindsey from Lean Functional Muscle.

Martial Arts Training for Mobility

The martial arts are diluted today. There are maxims and philosophies of how to dictate one’s life, and emphasis on the aspect of skill over strength, and not needing to be stronger than your opponent to claim victory. After all, there’s always someone stronger than you, right?

This is the most enabling psychology in the martial arts world today. The simple fact that someone out in the world is stronger than you is enough to fully discourage you from pursuing strength? Martial arts training is about more than that; traditional martial artists of yore weren’t only the most skillful at their arts; they were some of the most physically fit people you could ever encounter. If you look at the physiques of Sosai Oyama, Kanazawa Sensei, so on and so forth, these men had bodies made to fight. After all, TMA’s were designed to prepare fighters for war, not philosophy class.Jarell Post

How, then, does one begin such a pursuit for the physical fitness of the traditional martial arts warrior? Well there are two aspects that are fundamental to the physiology of every human: mobility and stability. Simple enough, let’s look at mobility here.

How Well Can You Move?

How well around can you move? No really, how efficiently can your body move as a unit? Perhaps you have a heavy squat, but can your butt reach the ground without the weight? In fact, most people have two vertebrae in their thoracic spines that all but fuse together, simply because we never make use of that full spinal mobility. If you want full physical preparation for any situation, ability to move your body in any given position should be a priority.

And the way to train mobility is not through intensity. I almost repeated that sentence for its importance; plyometric style programs may develop your explosive power, but is not the key to true mobility. In fact, I was taught that if you want to truly develop speed and control in a movement, practice it slowly. The difference is made with the tendons.

Intensity will be important for muscle training and stability, which I will cover in the next article, but variation and repetition has a precedence in mobility training. Tendons need high reps and consistency for proper development; the explosive movements, while helping the nerves in your muscle fire quicker, threaten the structural integrity of your tendons and ligaments. When practicing mobility slowly, the movements become ingrained into your body, and your connective tissues can develop alongside your nerves and muscles. Practicing those movements consistently over years is how gungfu is developed.

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But for full mobility, variation is needed. Practice the basic, necessary movements daily over time, but when you can, add a variation to the movement you perform. Perhaps practice your squat with a posterior pelvic tilt to open the hips more. Maybe practice bringing your scapula further forward when you punch. Add different variations to your movements, but the variations must have a goal and build upon the basics, not deviate from them.

Kata (Alone) Will Never Build Internal Power

Trying to develop Internal Power by training kata (alone) in martial art is a losing proposition.  Sure, you may inadvertently have minor success in creating some connection over the course of 20-30 years of training, but you will have no idea how you did it, no idea why it worked (minimally at best), and most importantly, no idea how to correctly transmit it to the next generation.  The only advice you will be able to offer your students and fellow seekers is to keep doing this (kata training) and somehow you *might* get the correct result.  This is insufficient and irresponsible, at best, on the part of the teacher.

Assuming that you want to stand out from the crowd as a powerful martial artist, and Internal Power/Aiki is your goal, then the scatter approach to trying (and for the most part, failing) to build IP through kata alone is a waste of a career.  I say this because there exist clearly defined, step-by-step processes that rewire the body for Internal Power specifically for martial arts.

Solo Training Precedes Kata Training

Power building models as solo training exercises have existed for hundreds (if not thousands) of years  throughout the martial arts from India to China to Japan.  Why anyone would try to reinvent the wheel by attempting to create their own hodgepodge of exercises or think that merely training kata would develop real Internal Power is a mystery to me.  The reality is that solo training exercises burn in specific ways of moving that are not normal which create a very stable, powerful structure capable of absorbing, re-translating, and projecting incoming force.

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Internal Power training is a type of General Physical Preparedness (GPP) for budo.  The goal of regular GPP for fitness, athletics, or martial arts is enhanced work capacity. This is the ability to run faster, jump higher, and hit harder. When work capacity increases, it allows the budding warrior to adapt more easily to increases in both mental and physical demands. In other words, it increases your capacity and level of readiness to absorb higher levels of specificity.

The solo training exercises for internal power training change the way outside forces act on the body.  The structure becomes dynamically stable so that applied force can either be distributed throughout the chain and dissipated or, at a higher level, simply reflected right back onto the opponent.  When force is reflected back this is what is known in Japanese as Yamabiko, or Mountain Echo.

Just to help further differentiate the two practices, solo training exercises for building internal power (there are other types of solo training exercises, obviously) are always made up of the following: standing, open/close, winding, spiraling, and breathing – all supported by Yin/Yang Theory (the union of opposites) and 6 directions (Heaven Earth Man).

Kata are for the purposes of patterning correct martial movement.

These solo training exercises are trained BEFORE kata to condition the body for powerful martial movement. They are not martial movement drills in and of themselves like sanshin no kata, kihon happo, and kata.

Kata – The Slow Boat to China

The reason it is so difficult to train IP via kata is that the vast majority of students get caught up in learning the movements of the kata correctly.  They get caught up in the application of technique and the idea of trying to make it work correctly.  What they don’t realize is that having a correctly trained body built by solo Internal Power exercises makes all the kata work much better and easier.

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If you have a choice – and you do, by the way – why not learn a step-by-step method of training Internal Power? Internal Power for Bujinkan Budo Seminar

Following a clearly defined path up the mountain is much faster and more effective than wandering around the base working on kata for 30 years and thinking you will somehow magically arrive at the summit.

Caution – While I did just say “more effective and faster” I by no means meant easier!!  Internal Power takes a lot of dedicated work.  Do not think it is a shortcut!

The Failure of Yogic Breathing

There are many different systems of breath work out there that focus on relaxed breathing and stress reduction that also talk about how to increase breath control and expand the practitioner’s lung capacity.  Unfortunately the majority of these systems fall short due to the fact that they tend to focus the bulk (or all) of their work on static posture breathing and breath retention exercises.  Usually the practitioner is either seated on the floor, on a chair, or lying down in a comfortable, meditative posture while the breath is regulated through a series of counts and breath is retained in gradually expanding holds.

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Before any of my Yogi friends get upset with me, let me clearly state that yes, this process works and I am a huge fan of Yoga’s Pranayama along with other systems of breath work.  There is nothing wrong with it!  Doing this type of exercise on a regular basis will increase lung capacity and control, to a degree.

So What is the Problem?

The problem with this type of exercise, as I see it, is that very rarely do we require all that enhanced lung power and capacity while sitting on our butts in a comfortable and relaxed position.  Unless you are only interested in showing off how long you can hold your breath at parties and stuff, this way of exercising has limited usefulness.

A much more practical way of exercising lung capacity and breath control is by working the body through a series of simple calisthenics.  By placing the body under stress via exercise while incrementally increasing the retention of the breath on both the inhale (easier) and the exhale (more advanced), we magnify the results.  In my experience, this has a much broader and far reaching effect on the body’s systems.  It is also vastly more practical in terms of real world usage for martial art, athletics, and overall strength & conditioning training.

So, how do we do it?

I’m glad you asked!  Let’s begin with one of the most natural movements in the world, a basic bodyweight squat.

If you are not familiar with a basic bodyweight squat, here is a super quick tutorial:

  1. Stand in a natural position with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart
  2. Keep the alignment of your spine as straight as possible from crown to tail bone.
  3. Squat down as low as possible while maintaining the alignment of your straight spine.
  4. Keep the weight mid-foot balance.
  5. Pause for a second at rock bottom.
  6. Lift from the crown of the head to “pull” the body back to standing.

Breathing Squats

We will do our breathing squats in the same fashion but with a couple modifications.  First remember that the purpose of these exercises is to train your breathing and expand your breath control and capacity.  They are not meant to “kill” your legs.  Although, depending on your level of conditioning, they might.

  1. Perform a basic bodyweight squat as detailed above.
  2. Just prior to beginning the squat, inhale deeply into the belly and comfortably hold the breath.  Your goal is to do the squats as relaxed as possible while maintaining the breath hold.
  3. Do 3 squats all while holding the breath on the inhale.
  4. After the 3rd squat, exhale and inhale.  Slowly inhale into the belly and exhale sharply to recover your breath.  When you are recovered, do 3 more.  Repeat.
  5. When you can comfortably do 3 squats while holding your breath (meaning you are not out of breath when you stop), then proceed to 5 squats on the breath hold.

Slowly increase the number of squats you can do on the breath hold.  When you can comfortably do 10 squats with the breath held on the inhale, start over again with 3 squats and hold the breath on the exhale.  You will find that holding the breath on the exhale is much more difficult.  The body is already out of breath and now you are adding stress in the form of exercise.  It is here that you will make the greatest gains in teaching the body how to use a limited supply of oxygen in the most efficient manner.  Make sure you proceed slowly and only add more repetitions when you can comfortably hold the breath on the exhale.

Remember – B.I.F (Breathing Is Fundamental)!

Evolve Your Breathing is a master class in learning how to breathe and respond under stress.  Don’t just breathe to survive – Thrive!!

Learn more here…

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Gyokko Ryu’s Internal Power Training

There is no doubt in my mind that Hatsumi Sensei possesses unusual power in his budo.  Anyone who has trained with him can tell you that!  But what is it and where does it come from?  More importantly, how can YOU develop it as well?

Soke’s martial movement displays many of the characteristics associated with Internal Power training: ghostly movement, immovability (static and dynamic), shockingly powerful strikes with little windup, adhesion caused by movement, kuzushi on contact, and others. [Read more…]

Logan Christopher’s The Indestructible Body Review

I have a confession to make…

I’m extremely jealous of Logan Christopher’s latest release, The Indestructible Body.  Considering my personal emphasis on mobility, flexibility, strength training, and injury-proofing for myself and my students (clients), this is the kind of program I would have love to have written!  The good news is that Logan has already done it, and done an outstanding job at putting the whole thing together.

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

The Indestructible Body program is divided up into 6 component parts.  It groups areas of the body into the broad categories of Indestructible Elbows, Wrists, and Fingers, Indestructible Feet and Ankles, Indestructible Hips and Knees, Indestructible Shoulders, Indestructible Spine and Neck, and the Indestructible Body Foundations.

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There are literally dozens of exercises for rehabbing old injuries and remaining injury free by injury-proofing the body.  When put together, the entire program will create a body-system wide reset that will have you feeling amazing and moving even better!

A Paradigm Shift

It’s time to shift your paradigm from a “normal” one to one of creating an Indestructible Body.  Age or injury (or both!) do not have to lead to weakness, immobility, and infirmity.  That’s simply the belief that most people choose to accept.  Logan does not.  I sure as hell do not.  I believe that we can, and should, spend the requisite time moving, exercising, working our body to create an incredible vehicle that not only carries us from birth to death but perhaps, just perhaps, extends that life a little farther out and sure as hell improves the overall quality of it.  All it takes is a few minutes several times a day, every day, to play, to move, to build a body that lasts.  A body that can DO things.  A body that is not constantly riddled with aches and pains.  A body that bounces back.  A body that becomes Indestructible.

If you are a martial artist, this program is for you!

If you are an athlete, this program is for you!

If you are a weekend warrior, this program is for you!

If you are military, law enforcement, or fire fighter, this program is for you!

If you workout regularly, this program is for you!

If you are a couch potato, this program is for you – you’ll thank me!

If you are a human being who wants an Indestructible Body, then this program is for you!!!

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For more information on Logan’s Indestructible Body program, please click HERE <<====