Monday, October 31, 2011

Torqueblade - martial fitness with an edge

I have been enjoying this particular type of exercising for some time now, so the next post will be a bit longer, for which reason I have divided it into "chapters" for easier reading. Be patient, as you should read it all. With the "warning" stated, here we go...

Myself with a pair of torqueblades


In the modern world the flourishing of the fitness industry is an indication of ambiguous occurrences. On one side, it shows that man has become aware of his detachment from the natural way of living, thus losing some of his inborn, God given abilities and the joy of movement; on the other hand, however, the short-lived popularity of most “fitness fads” and fast-changing trends[1] point to the inability to find the “right” method of exercising.

In my opinion, this problem stems from the initial approach to starting a program of physical activity, i.e. the very definition of what fitness is. Namely, most theoreticians and instructors start with an attempt to make things as scientific as possible, thus bombarding the potential client with numbers and statistics relating to any particular isolated physiological processes and their values. Not only does this intimidate the budding exerciser, but it also clouds the idea of what should be one’s priority in engaging the system of physical training.

Interestingly enough, in order resolve this conundrum, it suffices to take a look at the basic evolutionary meaning of fitness, as underlined by Charles Darwin – fitness is the ability of adaptation to the constantly changing demands of the environment. In the specific case of living in the world as we know it (on the daily basis at least), it means the capacity to move in any of three planes of motion, as dictated by the 3D space around us, and even more so to change the plane of motion while “on the go”.

When looked at this way, it becomes clear why so many fitness methods are doomed to failure. Having in mind the human fascination with technology (after all, machines are supposed to make life easier, right?), it is no wonder that so many of exercising regimes are revolving around the motions that actually mimic the functioning of machines – repetitive, single plane, one directional movements, which have no intrinsic meaning to possibly relate them to one’s daily life.

The last remark brings us to the notion of functional fitness. Although rather widely (over)used, the term is usually not attached to any specific reference, thereby making it meaningless.[2] If we look back to our definition of fitness in the first place, the word functional (as ascribed to fitness) will glean its meaning from that – the method of exercising that helps the body develop its ability of multi-plane movement. We see that in our approach, the phrase functional fitness has nothing to do with statistic data or aesthetic dictum of the commercial fitness magazines. Instead, it is directed at the personal feel of moving with confidence and joy, as well as the ability to perform the chosen activity on a higher level… And the “cosmetic” changes will follow as a side-effect.

New generation - retro blades
Origins of the Torqueblade

With the outlook of physical training as described in the previous section, Michael Holdsworth has distilled the years of experience in fitness, martial arts and his military service, to come up with a regime of exercise to address the aforementioned problems and needs, as well as the tool to maximize the effects of such a regime.

The torqueblade is an implement that has been deliberately constructed to feel awkward in one’s hands. That way it constantly engages the proprioceptive mechanisms and neural network, hence making the practitioner aware of the movement in all its phases, along with the spatial relationship of his or her body parts. Coupled with the specific motions in exercises, which may unfold in more than one plane at the same time, Holdsworth has come up with a true holistic system of exercise – one that delves with the body as a whole, instead of focusing on isolated muscle parts or joints, and then just hoping for the best regarding the integration of the results.

To explain the inspiration for the unusual shape of the torqueblade, we should have in mind Holdsworth’s military service in the British Royal Navy. Without going into detail suffice it to say that he was struck by the looks and functioning of some “ethnic” weapons and exercising gear, so he tries to merge the finer points of those. The over-sized front part of the blade and its “belly” come from the shape of Gurkha kukri knife; the elongated shaft or the “neck” of the blade was motivated by the form of the Indian clubs, used for physical training and education for centuries; finally, the “pistol” grip, i.e. its angled profile was influences by the kris dagger of the Malay people.

The blades used in training can be optionally modified with the addition of the companion blade, thus changing both the weight and balance of the tool and further challenging the body once advanced stages of fitness are reached.

The method

As any fitness method worth its salt, the typical TB session opens with some warm up. For this purpose, one can use some generally known exercises of this type (or some of the movement methods covered in the tribe totem exercises of the overarching Torquebrave way of active living), then followed with a more specific work, i.e. basic torqueblade exercises, but carried out without the blades. From there, one may proceed to the main body of the workout session, known as the regime.

All of the exercises performed in the torqueblade system of fitness can be divided into four categories:
  1. Milling – some basic calisthenics-type exercises, but done with the torqueblades. They are used as pulse-raising movements, as well as to introduce the body to the feeling of wielding the tools used and teach the basic body posture and safety measures (flex in the knees, fixed pelvis, correct path of the motion, to avoid self-hitting).
  2. Footwork – being that the milling exercises are done so that they use mostly the upper body, and in the stationary position, they are followed by exercises that stress the motion of the feet and legs. For this aim, the regime uses certain footwork types characteristic of Filipino Martial Arts, but with the wide range of possible applications and adaptations.
  3. Circling – the kind of exercises that obviously points to the influence of Indian clubs. These movements will add complexity to the foundation set by milling, thus involving the nervous system more. It is worth saying that this type of exercises really brings out the “core” workout effects, achieved by the way of moving blades that tend to pull the body out of balance, thus stimulating the fast twitching stabilizing muscles of the trunk.
  4. Full Body Exercises – as the name implies, these are done to address the coordination and conditioning of the entire body, with the addition of multi-plane motions.

In order to keep the workout session holistic in nature and make sure that the effects are felt evenly, these four types of exercises are laid out in an alternating/cyclical fashion, i.e. in the sequences of four (one of the each type), and going from simpler for execution, to more complex ones. With this approach, it is ensured that the practitioner is reaping the benefits of core exercises (whenever shoulders cross), functional motion (stepping and direction changes), as well as the general body conditioning (with outstretched arms and balancing movements). 

Benefits to martial artists

In the domain of martial arts based on work with impact and edged weapons (especially eskrima/arnis and similar systems), the models of fitness that would address the development of the specific attributes required to excel in those arts has been pretty much non-existent before torqueblades. However, now there is no more excuse for cutting your training short of its maximum potential. Owing to the shape and particular design of the equipment, you will develop strong grip, wrist alignment and flexibility, awareness of the edge orientation, dexterity, explosive footwork, while at the same time raising the overall fitness level.

Mike Holdsworth trained in several FMA styles, but most extensively with Roger Agbulos and Carlito Bonjoc, so his competence in that field is indisputable. To have a glimpse of the exercises, look at this video.


While the torqueblade exercising regime will provide the aerobic workout and the functional muscular development, its main effect is the vibrant sense of elation that one is almost certain to feel after completing the session. That way, it offers internal motivation to get back to doing it again, because it makes one fell good about the activity itself, instead of measuring the results through some images or numeric values imposed from without. In the long term, this shows to be much better and efficient approach, as its effects to practitioner’s health will be authentic and well-rounded, i.e. will include the emotional and psychological levels to match the improving physical and physiological ones.

From inside out, from function to form, from sedentary clerk, trapped within the confines of his or her nagging physique, to thriving human beings that fully enjoy the potentials of their God given bodies… Torqueblades will deliver!

[1] Including the failure of the grand majority of fitness methods to keep the exerciser interested, which in turn means failure to accomplish long-term results.
[2] Not unlike the term tactical in the military or survival gear market ;-)

1 comment:

Torqueblader said...

Dear Dragan,
Thank you very much for the write up. I appreciate your diligence and understanding expressed in the preceding article. You have done a better job than I in delivering the essential elements of the regime. Thank you brother. "edges out, stay sharp"