Monday, August 13, 2012

Training to train

The differences between training in/for the sportive events of martial arts and for the self-defense applications are many, some real, some perceived. The opinions on the (dis)advantages of each are many and diverse, but there is one domain which could and should be much clearer and not all that much influenced by the personal attitudes.

At issue is the fitness aspect of training for combat. In sports, this one is pretty much no-brainer; at least the importance of including a proper physical preparation regimen into one’s training. That is, if the practitioner is aiming to accomplish any tangible result. Of course, what exactly is the proper way of doing it for each and every individual athlete is another matter, but nobody argues the significance of doing it. Be as it may, the main framework of that approach is rather clear – train for the demands of the competition!

Roadwork for boxing

But, how about those who train, at least decoratively, for self-defense (or for the street…whatever term you choose to use)? There seem to be two general camps here:
  1. Fitness training is very important, but used first and foremost as the mental-conditioning tool;
  2. Fitness is irrelevant, because street fights last anywhere from a couple of seconds to half a minute at most.

I have to be brutally honest here – no matter which stance you take, you are missing the point! OK, if I had to take one of those two, I’d go with the former…but let me explain my point of view.

Let’s start with the second group. Even if their view of the typical street fight was exact in this regard (of which I am not all that sure either), there are still a few fallacies that should be removed from the training process. First, you may think that the training time is better used to drill the techniques and scenarios, but the simple fact is that power, speed and agility are also inextricable elements of a technique, and those elements can definitely be improved through good fitness regimen. Second, if your training is supposed to mimic the actual event, then how long should a training session be?

The problem with the first group lies mostly with their choice of conditioning tools and exercises. If one’s main guideline is testing the mental toughness, the exercises used to achieve may not really have much carryover with the technical training. Also, the selection will be either random, or maybe depend on the personal likes and dislikes of the instructor (read – favoring the ones he can do and look good at it).

So, in preparing for street combat (here, I am talking strictly about civilian aspect. The professional field, i.e. army, is another story), what will demand most time and energy from you? Well, the simple answer is – training! You may never in you life time need to put your fighting skills to use in a real altercation, but if you are serious about it, then you will spend hundreds of hours in training anyway.

Not a bad choice - if you know how, why, when...

I first thought about it all a long ago, when someone first noted that “you won’t have the time to warm up before the street fight”. While that sounded right for the first few seconds, it very quickly occurred to me that the street confrontation (or at least it’s physical “resolution”) would not take 90 minutes, while my training session normally do. Hm…clearly I was warming up to prevent the injuries and optimize performance in training, not in the potential event. And that applies to all other segments of physical preparation as well.

Obviously, in order to make training productive, one needs to do certain things over and over again, which requires energy. If those things happen to require some level of speed and power in execution, then you also need some endurance to prevent the technical deterioration as the session goes on. Lo and behold – you need the full scale of well developed physical attributes to make your training count and to benefit most from each and every session you attend.

Good footwork - everybody needs it

Therefore, you would be well advised to undertake some fitness training as well, to accompany the skill work. Aiming to make that fitness component pertinent, start from looking at what are the physical demands of you training sessions. What is the work to rest ratio? Does it include a lot of short and powerful bursts, or more of a steady, moderate effort?

You get the picture. If you do not, there are some established routs you could take to progress, and most basic physical training manuals cover those. The bottom line is, be aware that to make your training as fruitful as possible, it will also require training. Of course, the fitness level demanded from a practitioner of self defense will not be the same as from an Olympic level athlete, but you should not allow yourself to be a rotting couch potato either. After all, all the “deadly, battle proven, street forged” techniques are not going to help you, if you do not have the fuel to run you engine. 

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