Monday, April 16, 2012

The curse of strength

Every once in a while, I get reminded that what once may consider to be “common sense” is not all that common after all. Nowadays I am not any more surprised when finding out that not everybody shares my pint of view on things, but in certain aspect it still leaves me scratching my head and wondering how come.

One issue that repeats itself in this regard is the aspect of physical preparation and conditioning in martial arts training. It only seems normal (to me at least) that in the age of info dissemination we have today, the importance of having some solid foundation in physical training is certainly helpful and desirable, as it can only help your “specific” training, or in this case the chosen system of martial arts.

This domain in training is usually known as “attributes training” and covers a wide array of physical, physiological and psychological qualities, ranging from very general to very specific for a particular activity. For some reason, some of those attributes tend to be unanimously welcomed in any of the fighting methods (eg. speed, endurance, sense of timing), while some are even frowned upon in certain schools. One of those, for reasons beyond me is strength.

OK, this is not the goal
Granted, raw strength should never be used (in training that is) to compensate for the lack of proper technical skill and training, but I would really like to know why in some martial systems having a good foundation in strength is almost equal to cheating? I’d say it is childish to assume that somebody is a “muscle-head” just for being strong, and it usually means stronger than the one “calling names”. Sure, we’ve all met a mindless brute in our years of training, the archetypal guy who only comes to a class to bully other people and then say he doesn’t even need martial arts. Those types usually get their ego busted sooner or later, commonly by someone much smaller and physically weaker (again, I had the pleasure of being the “message courier” on a couple of occasions), but such people are not the subject of my rant here.

In some of the so-called gentle arts, and I include BJJ here, during practice (meaning live rolling and sparring, not drilling a predetermined technique) one side will sometimes manage to pull a technique that should normally end up in “100% sure” submission…but the other partner resists and even breaks out of the bad position. While some people will take it as part of the game, others will cry “foul!” and accuse the partner of muscling his way out of it.

First, in my experience, if a person is able to get out of your submission attempts it most frequently means the technique was not performed just right. However, even if the other guy was actually so strong to resist your armbar, leglock…hmmm, isn’t that something worth considering and including in your own training? Especially of that other guy is just as good as you technically, or even better. After all, everybody wants their sports car to be both good looking and powerful.

Best of both worlds :-)
The way I look at it, strength and speed are just as much elements of proper technique as any of its mechanical details, so they should be trained accordingly. After all, the old JKD saying “attributes are fuel for your techniques” rings as true as ever. Not to mention all the “side effects” of good physical preparation, like injury prevention, faster recovery, ability to train more and with higher intensity etc.

In the end, there might be a lesson to learn from gymnasts. On any decent level of gymnastic competition, it is pretty much unimaginable to see an athlete who is not at the same time an impeccable technician and as freakishly strong, as part of the same package.

The way to go
So, if you are practicing some martial style, even in the arts such as aikido, wing chun or any of the weapon based arts, do yourself a favor and include some solid physical exercising regimen into your overall training. Or at least, do the favor to those of us who do and stop complaining about your own failure to do so. 

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