Let’s face it. I am an old fart heading into the downside of middle age. I will never be as good physically as I was when I was jumping out of airplanes for a living. I have a fused back and a bum leg. I am over weight and sort of (really) out of shape. However if it were not for the martial arts I probably would not be walking right now. Conditioning is important not only for martial arts training but for the quality of every day life.
In our society we, as a general population, are fat and soft. Many of us disdain physical activity unless it involves a six-pack, a bag of chips and a remote. This is a sorry state of affairs to be in. Currently my conditioning involves a light weight training routine three times a week, push ups and crunches, jujutsu three times a week, and a hold over from my Special Forces days: Ruckin’. To go Ruckin’ requires a rucksack, which is a small backpack loaded with 35-40 pounds, and speed walking. In the old days (OK I have been out of the military for twenty years) standard was to be able to do twelve miles in less than three hours. Right now I am not sure I could walk twelve miles much less to do it under three hours. But I am working on it.
There is a saying that old age and treachery defeats youth and skill. This is true to an extent. I wish I knew back in the day what I know now. Experience is a valuable commodity. A fool will learn no other way, according to Ben Franklin anyway. Being able to translate that experience into action is a key factor, especially in the martial arts.
The better physical shape you are in the more abuse you can absorb without folding. Unless we have experienced the opportunity to push ourselves beyond our perceived physical limit we have put an artificial limit on our capabilities. We must occasionally test our mettle just to see if we can hack it. I had an instructor once that would break his own nose or dislocate a finger just to see if he could still keep going despite his injuries. A little extreme to say the least but imagine facing him in a life or death struggle? Think he could keep going after being struck in the face? Count on it. I even know a fellow that severely broke his leg working construction. He missed one class. He would come to class and balance on his crutches while practicing kicks with his good leg. You really don’t want to tangle with someone with that kind of determination.
In previous training we would hold horse stance for an hour and do 2500 blocks and punches, or more. It is hard to condition for that type of training on a physical level but with the proper mind set of never quitting you can hold a horse stance for an hour or more. I believe that is called a “Shugyo” or “Gasshuku”, a special training. It does make a difference in your martial arts when you undergo that depth of training.
How many times do we become complacent in our training and start to slack off? How many times do we choose to not go to class because we are “tired” or “we just don’t feel well”? Someone once asked a master how to become a master. His reply was: “Practice, practice, practice. Every day you get up and practice”. It is this complacent attitude that will get us killed in a life or death struggle. Having your life pass before your eyes in the middle of a fight is not the time to re-dedicate your self to training.
I find myself becoming complacent at times. Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing a hundred push-ups or beating the makiwara. Sometimes I need a diversion but that does not mean I can’t do some sort of training. The martial arts cover a wide spectrum of subjects that can be done that will provide a break from the daily routine of training. One of the things I do for a diversion is to practice drawing my “utility” knife while watching T.V., sans the soda pop and chips. Since a knife is part of my martial system it is a valid thing to do. Is it important to be able to deploy my knife from a sitting position? Better believe it. Another diversion is to go to the desert and murder a variety of cans with my 9mm. Since firearms are a part of my martial system that is also valid martial arts training and I get to go on a picnic at the same time. So what if you don’t have a desert handy and you are not into knives and handguns? There are other things you can do to support your training and still get a diversion. How about a bicycle ride? Can that be considered martial arts training? Sure as long as you don’t use training wheels. How about going to the mall and people watching? Learning to read a variety of body types and personalities is a good skill for a martial artist. Going for a drive and practicing feeling the intent of the drivers around you can be considered martial training (especially in Utah where nearly everyone has a case of chronic broken finger/turn signal syndrome). It is also a life saving skill being able to read when that $#@*&^ idiot in front of you is going to cut you off.
Martial arts can be categorized into three basic areas: physical, mental, and spiritual. The physical aspect is the easiest to do, really. It is just a matter of getting out and doing it but it comprises only about 3-5% of the martial arts. The mental part is a little more difficult to dissect. Study, reading, thought, practice and analysis is a major part of the mental aspects. Learning to visualize and focus your intent and energy is another aspect of the mental portion of the martial arts. Energy follows thought. The spiritual aspect is probably the most difficult and it has nothing to do with religion. Well for some it might but it is more concerned with that thing that animates your body. Regardless it all begins with the physical aspect and that is directly related to physical conditioning, proper nutrition, stretching, and best of all – rest as a part of your training routine. Moderation in all things including moderation.