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The martial arts/fitness connection
Posted on Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 8:48 am
by IDMA Editor

Realistically, a martial artist cannot call himself a fighter unless he is physically fit. I don’t care how competent he thinks he is technically! The origins of martial arts are lost in antiquity, but it is a consensus of opinion that primitive man, out of a sense of self-preservation, originated martial arts. Daruma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, left India about 1,400 years ago and travelled to China to present lectures on Buddhism. Eventually he ended up at the Shao-lin temple. To help the monks carry out their exhausting, daily physical tasks, Daruma began to teach them martial arts movements; hoping it would raise their fitness levels. This marked the first connection between martial arts and fitness training.

Martial arts training modes

Even in its purest form, martial arts such as karate and kung fu, offer their practitioners the benefits of increased agility, speed, power, co-ordination, balance and the ability to fluctuate between their aerobic and anaerobic training zones. For example, many karate katas are performed in an explosive manner that could send the karateka’s heart rate into his anaerobic zone in mere seconds.

During the performance of such kata, the karateka may find himself functioning at about 85 to 95 per cent of his maximum heart rate, especially when he is applying strong kime (focus). However, if the karateka wanted to use the same kata to condition his aerobic system, he could perform the kata continuously, without kime, for about 40 minutes. Undoubtedly, within his art the karateka can develop a certain level of physical fitness; but this brings me to the question—“Does a sprinter only practice sprinting?”

Living in the real world

The sad, but true fact is that if a martial artist wants to be considered as a real fighter, and not an armchair expert, he has to engage in extra physical conditioning. Science has shown that a martial artist can become even deadlier, if he supplements his training with a well structured fitness programme that includes specific plyometric, speed and reaction-time drills, and of course a certain amount of strength and endurance training.

It’s absurd that a martial artist, who is sporting a pot belly, should think of himself as a real warrior. He probably won’t be able to chamber his knee for his mae geri (front kick), because that belly may be in the way. In addition, if he wants to be considered a true ambassador for his art, his physical appearance should reflect a well trained physique. Bruce Lee is a classic example.

Why not enjoy the best of both worlds? Be flawless in your execution of technique, and be superb in your physical conditioning. Keep training.

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