Resolving the Tension Paradox for Martial Artists

In order to truly begin our quest for Integrated Strength, we must first resolve the tension paradox between conventional strength training and internal power…

“Don’t use muscle!”

“No power!”


“Move naturally!”

These are oft sung refrains in the hallowed halls of many of the softer traditional and internal martial arts.  Yet, do the instructors of these arts really mean to tell the students not to use muscle?  Considering it’s not possible to move without using muscle, just consult any anatomy textbook, I would venture to say no.  What they really mean is for the student to move with less tension.

Localized muscular tension, the inadvertent firing of muscles unnecessary or not useful to the action being performed, is the culprit that inhibits free, fluid martial movement and prevents the internal martial artist from accessing the deeper levels of relaxation and unified, whole body power.

This tension problem has led many teachers and students of these arts to eschew modern methods of strength training as incompatible at best, and perhaps even harmful, to their system’s way of movement and power generation.

Strength Training

In conventional strength training, you must utilize tension to forge the body into a solid unit.  This general tension helps to prevent injury and also increase strength through the principle of irradiation.  The more tension you are able to recruit, the stronger you are.

“Tension = Force. The tenser your muscles are, the more strength you display. It is that simple.”   – Pavel Tsatsouline, Power to the People

Yet tension and relaxation are both functions of the nervous system.  Martial artists seem to be under the impression that if one trains for muscular strength then that person will only ever be able to move with generalized tension and lack the ability to cultivate the relaxed sensitivity required for higher levels of internal power training.  But that’s far from true.  It’s all about HOW you train.  Since tension and relaxation are both opposite poles on the same spectrum, the body can be taught to utilize both appropriately depending upon the situation.

Warrior Fitness teaches many strategies to remove and alleviate excess tension from the muscles after strength training: compensatory movement, mobility, breathing exercises, vibration training, and more.

Another Disconnect

There’s also a disconnect where proponents of soft martial arts (Bujinkan, Aikido, Systema, etc) and internal power training say that their training is only concerned with connective tissue (tendon, ligament, fascia) and that somehow strength training only works muscle to the neglect of connective tissue.

Here’s my thoughts – muscle IS connective tissue.  Rather than adopt the traditional body-builder belief system of each individual muscle in isolation, instead look at the body as ONE muscle with hundreds of insertion points.  Adopting this belief system allows you to train the body together as one unit (as it was meant to be).

So, rather than classifying resistance training and IP training as separate modalities, perhaps they can be trained together.

How much different is a push test from a back squat anyway?
back squat

Both are putting the body under load.  Both require the load to be spread out across the system (biotensegrity). The main difference is the belief system behind the training.

Muscles do not know the difference between a bodyweight exercise, a barbell exercise, a kettlebell exercise, or a push test.  They only know “on” and “off” – tension and relax.  What you are training is actually your nervous system.  Therefore, ideally you should be able to use intent to turn on and turn off muscle groups depending on what you are trying to do.

This article is really just the beginning of resolving the tension paradox.  So if you have any questions up to this point, let me know now!

Theme for 2015 – Integrated Strength

New Years Day, 2015

Warrior Fitness HQ

Happy New Year, Warriors!

When I first began Warrior Fitness way back in 2008 the goal was simple – utilize my knowledge, training, and experience from several different disciplines under the broad heading of Strength & Conditioning to enhance the performance of martial arts.  I began by creating a unique series of functional training exercises that encompassed mobility, flexibility, strength, conditioning, balance, agility, coordination, and endurance. [Read more…]

Momentum Based Training

I’ll let you in on a little secret…

I can be a little lazy when it comes to cleaning up my house.  I like to leave dishes in the sink overnight.  I don’t mind dropping clothes on the floor as I remove them for the night.  Some days my kitchen table looks like a tornado hit it.  Yes.  I can be sloppy.  But once I get going picking up one or 2 things, I start cleaning more.  Suddenly the clothes are in the hamper, the dishes are washed and put away, the table is neat, my desk is orderly, heck even the bathrooms are clean.  How does all this magic happen???  Easy.  One thing at a time.  One small task completed leads into another and another and another until, before you know it, it’s all done.  My house is cleaned by momentum.  Once I get started, it all falls into place.

Sometimes the cleaning and straightening up leads into my becoming even more productive in other areas of my life.  It’s like the small success in one seemingly unrelated area leads to improvements in other areas.  For example, this morning as I cleaned the kitchen, did the laundry, and started cleaning the master bathroom, I suddenly started having more ideas for my website, new workouts for my clients, my training programs, etc.  As soon as I finished the cleaning I used the momentum I’d built up and channeled it into brainstorming and writing.  As a result I now have several new ideas for Warrior Fitness 2015!  You’ll begin to see the fruits of my labor in the coming weeks and months as I produce and share it with you.

But does it have to be about cleaning?

Well, no.  That’s just the example from my life, today.  It can be anything.  Do 1 push-up and it leads to 2, then to 20, then to 100.  Eat one more vegetable each day for a week and see the effect.  Take a short walk every day and breathe deeply.  Do small things and build momentum.  Train for 5 minutes and let it lead to more.  Make one class a month.  Then one a week.  Stand for 5 minutes, then for 10, then for 30.  The key to training is consistency.  Build it through small victories and allow the momentum to accumulate.  By this time next year, looking ahead to 2016, you will be amazed at all the progress you have made!  Do it now!


Santa Strength Workout

Santa Strength Christmas Workout 


For all the readers of the Warrior Blog and visitors to


I want to take this opportunity to say thank you for all your continuous and unflagging support of Warrior Fitness throughout the year.  Your feedback and participation through all your emails and comments both on the blog, Facebook, and in person at the gym and at my workshops and seminars has been essential and inspirational to me.  You ALL help me to keep going!

In order to give back to you, I have put together this holiday workout program just for you.  Yes, you.  This plan will keep you strong and fit over the Christmas holiday and give you a head start when you jump into the New Year!

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Download Santa Strength Santa Strength Program2<<=========

Santa stength

Top 9 Posts From 2014

It’s that time of the year again.  Time for the Top 10, er… 9, best blog posts of 2014!

This year saw 2 distinct themes emerge: a critical examination of what internal power really is and its relationship to martial arts training, specifically, but not limited to, Bujinkan Martial Arts training, and the importance of daily practice in fitness and martial training.  So it’s no surprise that these 2 themes are heavily reflected in the following Top 9 posts of 2014.  ENJOY!!


Top 9 posts…


1. Internal Power and Bujinkan Training

2.  Training in the Elements

3.  Never Take Ukemi Again

4.  The Un-Natural Athlete

5.  The Warrior’s Way

6.  Best Way to Program Your Training

7.  My Morning Routine

8.  Weakest Direction Theory is BS

9.  A Glimpse Into Internal Power Training – The Push Test

Bonus Post – Reflections on 42

Reflections on 42

Tomorrow, December 3, is my 42nd birthday.  And, as anyone who has read Douglas Adam’s classic trilogy, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy knows, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is 42.

Therefore, upon the occasion of my 42nd birthday I thought I might sit down and write out some reflections learned over the past 42 years.  They may not contain the answers to life, the universe, and everything, but they are a good start!



  1. Family first, always.
  2. Brothers can be best friends.
  3. Best friends can become brothers.
  4. Nothing is as wonderful, or truly terrifying, as holding your newborn child in your arms for the first time.
  5. Those feelings do not lessen as the children get older.
  6. Life does not happen to you, it happens FOR you.
  7. If you find yourself majoring in minor things, STOP.
  8. Never be bored.  There is too much to do, too much to learn, too much to experience, and life is too damn short.
  9. Always train, even when you don’t feel like it.
  10. Especially when you don’t feel like it – that’s when the biggest breakthrough appear!
  11. Don’t find excuses, find a way.
  12. Meditate, don’t medicate.
  13. There is still nothing like the first sip of freshly brewed coffee first thing in the morning.
  14. Have strong values and know what you stand for before you are ever challenged.
  15. Never compromise your values to please someone else, you will always regret it.
  16. Go to church.
  17. Pray – it helps.
  18. Have a daily health maintenance routine. Here is my Morning Routine.
  19. Workout at least 3 times per week.
  20. More is not always better.  Only better is better.
  21. Oftentimes the obstacle is the path.
  22. Life happens fast – pay attention!
  23. Be fiercely independent yet smart enough to accept help when needed.
  24. Master your craft.
  25. Read something motivational/inspirational/educational every day.
  26. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
  27. Train more than everyone else, it adds up quicker.
  28. There is a level slightly beyond excellence called outstanding – strive to be outstanding!
  29. Always listen to advice from people you respect, but make up your own mind.
  30. Use zero-based thinking.
  31. Always be kind to people, you never know when or how it will be returned.
  32. Protect others.
  33. Always buy the highest quality foods you can afford – your family’s health is too important not to.
  34. Put coconut oil in your coffee!
  35. Always maintain a childlike sense of wonder about the world, but never be childish.
  36. Remember that the only thing you can ever control is not what happens to you, but your reaction to it.
  37. Find your mission and dedicate your life to it.
  38. Never be afraid to look foolish.
  39. Do not sit around waiting for things to happen – take action to make things happen!
  40. Timing is never perfect so just do it!
  41. Know the wisdom of when to be patient.
  42. Understand that happiness is a choice you make ever day.

bday cake

Mega Warrior Birthday Sale Announcement <<==============

Research of Martial Arts (Book Review)

I love reading martial arts books.  Over the course of my career, I have probably read hundreds of them.  There are currently a dozen or more on my book shelf.  I had to get rid of some that I no longer read to make space for the ones I constantly go back and refer to over and over again.  Unfortunately, in recent years martial arts books have become boring and predictable.  They have little real content and lots of pictures of techniques that don’t really mean anything unless you are taught them in person.  I literally cannot remember the last martial arts book I read in the past few years that was worth talking about.  Until now… [Read more…]

Stronger Than Fear

Are you stronger than your fear?

Or do you stay in your comfort zone and allow fear to get the better of you?  You can tell every time when you start to push against the edge of your comfort zone – you begin to feel afraid.  Maybe you don’t call it fear.  Maybe it’s resistance.  Maybe it’s discomfort.  Maybe it’s just a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach that goes away if you you stop pushing forward.  Call it what ever you want.  I know what it is.  I call it by it’s true name – fear.

How do you become stronger than fear?  By feeling it, acknowledging it, and doing the thing you fear anyway.  As Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.”

Mark Twain Courage

One way to face fear and push past it is by enduring brutal physical training.  This type of training is NOT for the faint of heart.  However, when you go through it, face it, and come out on the other end, you are a stronger person – mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Here is a sample of one conditioning workout with an MMA fighter I am currently training:

Like Paul Freakin’ Bunyan!

I was recently asked how one should train their psyche for martial arts.  It seems like a weird question… Train your psyche??  Upon further reflection though, it’s actually a very astute question.

Psyche is defined as the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious.  So training it must be essential.  How then do we do it?

The basic meaning of the Greek word ψυχή (psūkhē) was “life” in the sense of “breath”, formed from the verb ψύχω (psukhō, “to blow”). Derived meanings included “spirit”, “soul”, “ghost”, and ultimately “self” in the sense of “conscious personality” or “psyche”.

Generally when martial artists talk about training the psyche, they speak in terms of mental toughness.  How your threshold of pain equals your threshold of performance and things like that.  Here’s another way to train the psyche that is a little bit different…

Train Your Psyche

When you practice your martial art, whether in solo training or with your training partners, picture yourself as a giant, like Paul Freakin’ Bunyan, standing taller than the tallest trees.  Have a feeling that your enormous stature confers a comparable sense of self confidence, super human strength, titan like power, and a strength of will that you can accomplish anything.  Balance it out with a supreme sense of benevolence like a warrior-protector.


Stand tall.  Breathe deeply.  Relax, yet remain full of energy and intent.  Assume a completely nonchalant facial expression like nothing in the world can perturb you.  In Japanese, this is Fudoshin – immovable heart.


Embody the characteristics you want to possess.  This changing of your physiology, focus, and belief  is the quickest way to change your state.  Then the question becomes, how long can you maintain it?  Practice well.

A Glimpse Into Internal Power Training – The Push Test

The push test is a very practical way of testing the quality of one’s solo training for internal power.  As explained in Weakest Direction Theory is BS, the body, when properly trained, acts as an omni-directional structure.  This allows the practitioner of internal power to neutralize any incoming force by diffusing it throughout the structure rather than having to surrender to it or resist against it.  Either you can do it or you can’t.  There’s no way to fake it. [Read more…]