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 Will Never Build Internal Power

Trying to develop Internal Power by training kata 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.

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 the correct 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 <<====

 

Warriorship in the Modern World

These days it seems like everyone fancies themselves a warrior.  The word has become so overused in our society that the essence of it has become lost.  It seems that anyone engaged in any type of struggle, be it physical or not, has co-opted the word for their own personal bandwagon.

Originally, the word had just one interpretation – one who wages war.  This is a very strict and narrow definition, but probably the most accurate.  In this sense then, a warrior is a professional military or police man who carries a weapon and puts their life on the line day after day to protect our freedom and way of life.  In addition to putting their own lives on the line for us, professional warriors do one other thing that completely separates them from the rest of the population.  They are sometimes required in the course of their role as protectors and defenders to take a life.  This is a great responsibility that weighs on them heavily and one that only they are allowed to bear.  It is one critical distinction that many people who want to play warrior do not consider or perhaps even understand.

 Let’s Extrapolate A Bit…

If we extrapolate this idea of a warrior as professional soldier a little further, we can than begin to look at those who make a lifetime study and practice of the warrior arts.  These are the martial arts which are derived from the ancient warrior traditions of the world.  They come from India, China, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Russia, and others.  These traditions all have one thing in common – they were used hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago in real battle to save someone’s life.  Their wisdom, training methods, and skills were then passed on down the generations to those of us who practice them today.

As for me, I have never been in the military.  But I have spent over 30 years training in the warrior arts of Japan, China, and Russia.  I developed a system of physical training called, Warrior Fitness, based on my experience in the warrior arts.

However, in spite of this, I must state that I believe a true warrior is much, much more than a person striving for physical perfection in the gym – yes, no matter how hard or intense they are training.

More to This Warrior Thing

There is much more to being a warrior than merely struggling for something or training crazy hard in the gym.  A true warrior must have be a protector and defender of life.  This might be my own personal bias, but I believe a warrior has a greater responsibility, one of both self and others.  My perception has been colored, for the better, I think, by my teacher, Jack Hoban, author of The Ethical Warrior Life, and his mentor, Dr. Robert L. Humphrey.

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These 2 men are both true warriors whom I admire greatly.  Jack served as a U.S. Marine Corps officer and is a master level instructor in the Bujinkan martial arts.  Dr. Humphrey was a boxer and Marine Corps officer who survived the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.  There is much, much more to both of their stories, but for now, we can sum up the essence of what it means to be a warrior like so:

“The Warrior Creed”

Wherever I go,
Everyone is a little bit safer because I am there.
Wherever I am,
Anyone in need has a friend.
When I return home,
Everyone is happy I am there.
It’s a better life! 

-Dr. Robert L. Humphrey

Everyone who calls themselves a warrior believes that they should possess greater strength, greater power, and greater skill; should they not also possess greater compassion for others and a greater sense of responsibility for helping others as well? 

For those who have the strength and the skill, but no accountability, they cannot be called warriors – they are merely thugs.

This Simple Practice RESETS Your Body

Let’s face it.  Some days we just need to hit the RESET button.  Whether due to stress, an accumulation of injuries, fatigue, or illness we need to find a way to RESET the body in order to allow its own natural healing function to take over.

Luckily, there is a very simple process whereby we can RESET ourselves and acquire a deep level of whole body relaxation.  It can be accomplished through the Yiquan training method of Wuji standing, otherwise known as Health Standing.

Wuji translates to “without poles” or “pre-heaven” meaning that yin and yang have not yet been determined.  It is a pure untapped potential and possibility.  It is from this untapped potential that we will begin to form a relaxed, connected body primed for internal power training.

Before we get into the particulars of the exercise, you need to know how to stand. [Read more…]

We Were Once Warriors…

We Were Once Warriors…

For centuries the warrior has been the archetypical model of physical fitness and power.  This is due to the extreme nature of their training and overwhelming odds that they must have had to go through waging war in the ancient world.

The multifaceted development of skills required for the warrior’s brand of life and death combat is second to none.

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Warriors needed to be able to carry heavy loads over long distances on uneven terrain, wield heavy weapons while wearing armor, wrestle and engage in other forms of hand-to-hand combat, fight for hours or perhaps even days on end in mud, sweat, and blood, all while continuing to display power, coordination, agility, and speed.  This was not a game with a medal or trophy at stake, but their lives and the lives of their comrades in arms, not to mention the entire village or tribe who were relying on them for protection.  All of this placed immense demands on the warrior physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Today’s Training from Yesterday’s Triumph

The skills we know today as fitness, or strength and conditioning, depending on whether your term is all inclusive or a specific subset, all evolved over time from man’s need and ability to wage war.  In fact, one of the earliest examples of sport in the western world is from ancient Greece; we now call it the Olympics.  These early games were created as a way for warriors to channel their aggressive and competitive natures, while simultaneously allowing them to hone their battle skills, in times of peace.

So we can see from this quick look back in time that originally almost all athletics and sport competitions were based on the martial skills of the warrior and utilized as a way to sustain and practice those skills.

Now, working backward this time, is there a way to reverse engineer a warrior’s training regimen and use it to improve the components of martial skill, conditioning, AND athletic performance?  Absolutely!!

Try This Warrior Workout on for Size

1)  Heavy Sandbag Carry (Zercher carry, bear hug carry, over head carry) – 3 x 300 ft.

2A) Pike Push-ups on Fists – 4 x 10

2B) Mixed Grip Pull-ups (change grip each set) – 4 x SM

2C)  Loaded Airborne Squats (load up with clubbell, Kettlebell, dumbbell, or sandbag) – 4 x 5/5

3)  H2H Touch & Go Kettlebell Swings x 100

If you train in MMA…

NOW go punch, kick, knee, and elbow a heavy bag or have a partner hold focus mitts for 3 rounds x 3-5 minutes each!  How is your performance?

Or, if you’re really daring and want to test your mettle, now is the time to go spar with a completely fresh opponent for 3 rounds of 3-5 minutes!  How has your performance changed?

If you train in Bujinkan or other form of combatives…

Do the same as above but utilizing the basic techniques of your particular style.  For Bujinkan peeps that means try out all the Kihon Happo on a fresh uke!

Build your own Martial Power <<====

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Nothing in Isolation!

Funny story..

Yesterday at the gym where I work we got in a brand new triceps machine.  The latest concept is that it has 3 different settings in order to better target (isolate) the 3 individual heads of the triceps muscle.  I shuddered at the the very thought as I looked upon the foul machine with disdain…

Tricep-ExtensionThen someone called me over to look at it and give it a try.  My initial instinct was to run away, but I acquiesced, pretended to be interested, and tried it out.  Well, true to its advertising it certainly isolated the triceps very well.  And, I am extremely happy to report that the whole experience of isolating one muscle group, and now parts of a muscle, is extremely foreign to my body.  I had to stop myself from shivering as I extricated myself from its vile grasp!!

Never Do This!

Just in case you have not received the message, allow me to be very clear here, I do NOT recommend using machines to exercise, EVER!  They restrict your body’s true range of motion to one dimension and completely obviate any need for stabilizer, postural, or core muscles to activate at all.  Combine that with the fact that nothing in martial art, sport, or real life ever happens in isolation or in one dimension and you start to see how dis-integrating your body via machine-based training is a recipe for disaster!  If you prefer to look like a Frankenstein body built out of disparate parts that have zero ability to function as a cohesive unit, then by all means enjoy your machine-based training.  Otherwise, stick with me and you will perform with integrated whole-body strength with fluidity and grace.

How to Actually Train Triceps

Now, let’s assume that you want to actually train your triceps in the right way, as part of an integrated whole that coordinates with, and is supported by, the rest of the body.

So what exercises do I suggest?  Here is a short list…

  • Push-ups (close push-ups, handstand push-ups, one-arm push-ups, pike push-ups, arrow push-ups)
  • Pull-ups (Yes, pull-ups work the triceps – amazing, right?!)
  • Overhead Presses (kettlbell, dumbbell, barbell, sandbag, etc..)
  • Dips (add weight if too easy!)
  • Bridges
  • L-Sit holds

Want to develop your triceps in concert with the rest of the body?  How many of the above exercises do you do on a regular basis?  Get after it!  Get strong – stay strong!!

Join the Warrior’s Inner Sanctum HERE <<====

 

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Why You Must Train Your Grip Strength

I have very few specific memories of my Great Grandfather, who was in his 90’s when he passed away.  One of those memories is how strong and crushing his grip was for such an old man.  I remember shaking his hand and being brought to my knees with a bone-crushing grip as he smiled at me and said hello.  He was a small, wiry old Italian man who was deceptively strong!

One story that my parents have related to me so many times that is has become a “memory” of him happened when I was a newborn baby.  We were living up in rural Connecticut and apparently there was a huge rock, a boulder, planted right smack in the middle of the front yard.  My father was planning to hire some workers to come dig it out, but Great Grandfather wouldn’t hear of it.  One day, while my Dad was at work, he grabbed a shovel and dug the whole thing out himself!

It is said that the strength of the hands determines the strength of the body.  The power and strength of the body is expressed through the hands.

Not Strong Enough…

An oft repeated conversation I have at the gym with some of the heavy lifters is how they must train their grip strength.  Usually the conversation starts with someone asking for a spare pair of straps because the heavier dead-lifts are causing their grip to fail.

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They explain to me that they CAN lift more, it’s just that they can’t hold onto the bar.  Whereupon I reply that no they CANNOT lift more until they strengthen their grip.  If your grip is the weak-point in the lift you don’t simply substitute the tensional integrity of your own muscle and connective tissue for a strap.  This doesn’t make you stronger, it makes you weaker.  The only remedy is for you to strengthen your grip!!

Types of Grip Strength

 

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