Health, Fitness, and Martial Arts

I don’t regularly run fitness and conditioning segments when I teach a Kali Silat martial arts session, just a light limbering up and warm up.

Not because I don’t value strength training and cardio conditioning, but because I think those are matters that supersede martial arts training.  It’s a personal issue that I expect every individual to treat as a matter of life, not as a class you take, or a pastime.  As a martial arts Instructor I have other things to cover with you, not personal nutritional diagnosis, meal planning, and fitness training.

Your personal health and fitness are not the instructor’s responsibility, it is yours. 

Fitness Motivation: No Excuses!

(Photo credit: UrbaneWomenMag)

 Rather than spend time on a martial arts classes, I’d recommend spending time learning to cook and eat nutritiously. Go to a regular gym or do it at home, but do strength and cardio daily, on your own, for yourself, not for a belt or certificate.

Also, often there may be a mix of types of student in the classes.  Yoshimi Osawa, 10th dan Judo master, believes there’s 3 types of practitioners: recreational, technical, and competitor.  Here’s how he defines the types of practitioners: Recreational – practices for enjoyment, Technical – studies, practices and teaches their whole life, Competitor – is only able to compete for a limited time.  In a general martial arts class you probably have the three types.  Therefore, it’s unfair to the recreational practitioner to have them go through the mandatory rigors the competitive practitioner must go through to achieve their goals.

Bear in mind, the glory of the competitive martial artist is short lived. Think of the lines “My candle burns at both ends, it will not last the night, but ahh, my foes and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light!”  The lifelong practitioners may be the recreational and technical ones! I for one would prefer longevity and good functional health over momentary success.

I’ve been with a group that trained everybody as if they were a competitive athlete.  I was in my early 50’s and most other practitioners were 20-25-30 years younger than me.  I couldn’t keep up with them.  The intense strength and conditioning aimed at a 20 year old’s capabilities became an obstacle to my growth and development.  The wear and tear the younger ones could recover faster from were for me more significant injuries, and not even directly related to the art.

For myself, I do cardio and strength training on an almost daily basis not for the sake of athletic competition, but for the sake of healthy living.  I try to maintain a decent weight for myself, a higher than average level of flexibility, stamina, and relative strength for a man my age.  When I was 20 and in the Marines, I had much higher standards, but I was living as a military man ready to engage in the ultimate competition, life and death combat at a moment’s notice.

Which brings me to another point: obese, fat, Karate masters.

Picture of an Obese Teenager (146kg/322lb) wit...

Picture of an Obese Teenager (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many are obese for no good reason like injury, or medical issues, but just due to lack of health consciousness and fitness.  Being 100 lbs. overweight is unhealthy no matter how you slice it.  And “eating a lot” is not an illness, it’s just gluttony, and not a martial virtue.

Being the physically demanding, hard contact activity that it is, you can look at the very heavy martial arts master and think “if I hit you and then just ran around a little, you’d kill yourself, by having a heart attack running after me!”

Obesity signals lack of stamina and endurance, lack of flexibility, slower reflexes, limited range of movement.  Martial art training makes demands of these qualities.

For the long time student, certainly the “master,” unless he’s a Sumo practitioner, only a reasonable degree of overweight should be acceptable.

From a beginning student, lack of fitness is understandable; part of what they should get from the training is knowledge and discipline.  Discipline they can apply to a whole range of life experiences and issues, like nutrition and fitness.   Maybe I’m old fashioned, but that’s what I’d expect from extended martial arts training.

There’s a matter of credibility involved in claiming mastery of a physically demanding activity such as martial arts.   A persistently overweight person will not be able to achieve higher levels of martial arts performance.  A persistently overweight “master” cannot himself perform at peak condition.

A few pounds overweight for a non Olympic athlete is OK (my opinion, not a medical declaration). Most people that go to a martial arts place for an hour or so about 3 times a week .  That’s not enough time for serious strength and fitness training, and martial arts training.  Put in personal time for health and fitness and get martial arts knowledge and skills from your martial arts class time.

Right now, I’m off to the gym, for my personal health and fitness sake…

Video – Kali Silat at Black Lightning Martial Arts

Another Kali Silat self defense video clip from Rick Vargas & Joe Cueva

for more information contact:

Where are the good students?

For me, the college experience was not a continuum from high school.  Feeling the pressure to select what I knew would be a lifelong field of study or career path, but feeling like I did not have a wider picture of what to choose from, I gave up high school and joined the Marines.  That was when you could join without a High School Diploma.

Within a couple of months of graduating boot camp I took my GED test and passed, only to find I couldn’t get my diploma untill my graduating class in school had also graduated, so I waited a couple of years and got it.

Years later, when I left the Marines, I knew what I wanted as a lifelong course of study and career path.

I knew I wasn’t the most naturally gifted in that field, but I was determined to learn, and excel.  That was the key to my success in my job and life. Modesty aside, I was a good student.

Sometimes it was intimidating, matching up to naturally talented folks who’s work seemed effortless, whilst I studied, corrected, redid and sometimes redid some more.  But this was it for me.  This was MY choice, not anyone else’s for me, or mine just by default.  And it was good, I would succeed.  When really challenged, the “naturals” often fell away.

In martial arts, many parents “put” their kids into it, in the process of fishing for an activity to occupy them and even help develop some positive virtues for them.  Not all of them succeed.  Many kids resent it as being pushed into something they’re not interested in and fall away quickly.  Other kids may be in a school that affirms them with belts, patches, and awards, that are empty of the real values of determination and effort.  These all become part of the “I took Karate once” crowd I meet.

There are children and young people who early on choose the martial path, recognizing an opportunity to distinguish themselves through acquiring knowledge and effort to excel.  These kids will make the most of the least resource.  Fifty some years ago in my day there wasn’t a dojo in every corner.  You got a book here, a magazine there, saw a move somewhere, went and got a buddy and worked on it.  Parents usually didn’t know much about it and might even try to discourage you from doing that since it looked violent!

If a dojo did open in your area, and you had  o money of course, you cried and begged parents and then went and begged the instructor.  If you were lucky they might let you come learn in return for taking out garbage, sweeping and mopping, putting things away, and being a body for others to practice with.  But you wanted it, and did it, in spite of the teachers sometimes trying to weed you out rather than immediately sign you up.  But you stay, because you are determined to learn and excel, and you will strive and put forth the effort.  These are good students.

Grownups are interesting.  They often go to a dojo by choice and for a variety of reasons.  Depending on age group, they may be intimidated by the challenge of being in a class and trying to match up physically and skill wise with someone 20, 25, or 30 years younger.   Here, the instructor needs to have knowledge and experience in how to “teach” the older adult.  No, their joints, ligaments, muscles, will not perform the same as the younger and more vital student.  The adult came by choice and that’s the good part, they are good students.  But to demand the cookie cutter standard from all age groups is a mistake and another reason why adults get discouraged may drop out of these classes.  There should be age groupings for adults as well.

Adults, a study found, also drop out because early on in their training, they sense that they’re not getting “real world” self defense training.  They are learning exotic physicality, with some pretext of self defense to it, but the adult life experience and consciousness should be respected as knowing what’s necessary and what’s effective.

For example, why do we bother teaching the old style and practically useless defense of someone standing in attention in front of you, with you standing at attention also, and the attacker reaches out and grabs your limp wrist, to which you respond by executing an exotic maneuver called a wrist lock.

Self Defense

Self Defense (Photo credit: Pioneer Library System) Self Defense (Photo credit: Pioneer Library System)

Nobody grabs you like that in the real world, yet many hours will be spent on that move, you will be graded and awarded belts on that move.  You may actually eventually learn it well.  However, it is unlikely anyone will ever grab you like that on the street.

There is room for “artful” self defense, after all the word art is part of our field of study.  I just don’t think that these days it’s the first thing that should be shown to students.

Good students come with determination, drive to succeed, an open but cautious mind, and willingly.  They’ll see things through to completion.  They will work on their majors and their minors.  They will study and struggle.  They are not there for their parent’s sake, or an empty token of an award.  Theirs will not be and “I did that once” comment at a cocktail party, it is an ongoing part of their wholeness.

The good students will also become the good teachers.