Thursday, March 3, 2011

Forge a better sword (Fitness for fighting)

The Yagyu were the Tokugawa shoguns’ personal instructors in swordsmanship. Arguably the best sword fighters (see also close quarter combat specialists) of their time. 
The motto of there school was; Katsujinken Satsujinken
“The sword which kills is the sword which gives life.”
Or  more explicitly translated  in English as “The sword which cuts down evil is the sword which preserves life.”

Tanren is the process during the forging of a sword in which the blade is hammered and folded, reducing the carbon content and eliminating impurities to create a strong foundation for the remaining steps of forging.

If you are a professional, if you are paid to protect the innocent, you are society’s sword.  You cut down evil to preserve life.  If you take on that responsibility, you owe it to your self and the people that place themselves in your care to regularly go through a tanren process.  To routinely hammer yourself to remove impurities and create a strong foundation

A painting of the blacksmith Weyland (Norse mythology)

I like to use a poker analogy.  You have to play the hand you are dealt.  Meaning your martial art has to work for you no matter your age, gender, size or fitness level.  But you should always strive to improve your hand.

Your martial art skill should not depend on you being more fit than your opponent.  Also big muscles don’t mean you are a skilled fighter, or that those muscles are good for anything besides looking sexy.

That’s a picture of my buddy Stephen.  I’ve been encouraging him to come back to the Dojo (he was a Shodan in Aikido and trained in Japan for two years) for the last 5 odd years.  He has sexy big muscles.  We have yet to see if those muscles are good for anything besides getting laid. (Really I’m just checking to see if he ever reads my blog J )

My point is if martial art is not a hobby for you.  If combative skill is a requisite of your job (or your survival) you owe it to your self to be the best you, you can be. 

Martial art shouldn’t be reliant on fitness but it sure can be enhanced by it.  If we use tanren as a metaphor for regular fitness training with the intent purpose of improving martial performance in combat then regular workouts become a process of hammering yourself to eliminate impurities to create a strong foundation for the remaining steps of your martial arts training.

I feel that all Dojo time should be used on martial art training.  Far too many instructors cover their lack of skill or knowledge by filling class time with “conditioning drills”.  Many people are lead to believe that the more intense the training is, the better it is.  Having survived an intense situation creates an emotional buy in to the training.  Sadly this intensity over quality is used to create by ins to training that lacks practical application and is marketed at that 18-24 demographic that will survive despite their training not because of it.  Or to possers and wannabes who want a magic solution to their fears (or fantasies)

I can get conditioning drills at yoga booty ballet boot camp.  But it won’t make me a better fighter

Someone can develop the greatest martial art specific work out program in the world and it won’t do a lick of good if you don’t do it.  So, inversely the best work out is one you enjoy doing, and will actually do.

I advocate Dojo time for skill building.  I encourage regular fitness training with the intent purpose of improving martial performance in combat as a supplement to your Dojo training. 

The first step in developing a supplemental fitness program that you will actually do has to be time management.

Time Management
Make a chart:
  • 7 columns Sunday- Saturday across the top
  • As many rows as you need one for each hour from when you wake to when you go to sleep
  • Block out the must do’s
  •             Work
  •             School
  •             Anything that has to be done and it has to be done at a certain time

Now look at the one hour blocks that are open.  If there are none you are going to have to wake up an hour earlier.  I realize that’s not easy, but being a professional warrior is not an easy path.

Ok so let’s break the topic of performance based fitness into three subtopics
Martial art specific

Three different workouts twice a week (48-72 hours rest between the same workout is repeated) means a six day a week commitment.

I know we can all find an hour a day to train.  The key is to get the most bang for you buck.

If you can dedicate an hour for training you want to use that hour to train.  If you have to drive 20 minutes to the gym and 20 minutes back that only leaves 20 minutes to train.

That is why I am a huge fan of body weight training.

Body weight training:
Is free
Can be done anywhere
Can be done any time
And develops practical strength (Go muscles not show muscles)

Here is a link to a site with tons of great workouts you can try

From that site this is one of my favorites and a great place to start if you are not already strength training.
The Pyramid

If you take a look at one of the pyramids, you will notice that it is numbered on both sides. It goes from 1-5 on one side, with the number 6 on the top, and then 5-1 on the other side. Each number represents a step in the pyramid. Your goal is to climb the pyramid all the way up, and all the way back down. So you can consider each step a "set" of your workout.
At the bottom, you will find "pullups x 1, pushups x 2, situps x 3". What this means is that at each "set" or step of the pyramid, you perform 1 pullup for every step you are on, 2 pushups for each step, and 3 situps for each step.

You start at the bottom of the pyramid, at number one. For each set, you multiply each set number by 1 and that tells you how many pullups to do. You multiply it by 2 to get your pushups, and multiply by 3 for situps. You keep progressing until you get to the top of the pyramid, or your maximum effort at muscle failure. At step six you perform 6 pullups/ 12 pushups/18 situps. Now, you start working your way back down the other side and continue on step 5 on the way back down. So, you'll do 5 pullups/10 pushups/15 situps. Keep going until you work all the way back down to one. Listed below is a number summary of the pyramid:
Go Up the Pyramid:
(or half pyramid workout)

- Set/Step 1: 1 pullups/2 pushups/3 situps
- Set/Step 2: 2 pullups/4 pushups/6 situps
- Set/Step 3: 3 pullups/6 pushups/9 situps (Your first few set are basically a warmup)
- Set/Step 4: 4 pullups/8 pushups/12 situps
- Set/Step 5: 5 pullups/10 pushups/15 situps
- Set/Step 6: 6 pullups/12 pushups/18 situps (Here is where you may fail/max out)

Go Down the Pyramid:
(or reverse order pyramid)

- Set/Step 5: 5 pullups/10 pushups/15 situps
- Set/Step 4: 4 pullups/8 pushups/12 situps
- Set/Step 3: 3 pullups/6 pushups/9 situps (Finish cool down)
- Set/Step 2: 2 pullups/4 pushups/6 situps
- Set/Step 1: 1 pullups/2 pushups/3 situps

For cardio jumping rope and running are also free, and available anytime any where

Martial art specific training is where you need to be creative.  Find training methods for improving your performance of your art.  The book “Best Judo” has some great suggestions for this, so does “Judo training methods”.  For striking all of Mas Oyama’s books have great training drills.  Gyaku Homma's books have fantastic weapons training drills.  Take their fundamentals and work out a program specifically for you.

"Subjecting yourself to vigorous training is more for the sake of forging a resolute
spirit that can vanquish the self than it is for developing a strong body."
~Mas Oyama~

The key point with any of this training is to find a time, place and activity that works best for you to improve your combat performance.  AND STICK TO IT!

If you would like help developing your own program you can click
Or call 763-300-3456

Forge a better sword, cut down evil and preserve life.


  1. Military exercise site is cool.

    Ross Enamait ( some fantastic, low-cost resources on training (and a bunch of free stuff) on his site. Very useful for martial artists, especially those without access to large scale commercial gyms.

  2. Yup Ross is an awesome source for great training drills especially fighting specific training

  3. Thanks for putting up this post (although I know it wasn't specifically for me haha). Tonnes of references/resources here.

  4. That's become our motto- train smarter to fight harder. For info on Fitness for the Fighting Arts consultation and workshops on activity-specific injury prevention and performance enhancement, drop us a line:

  5. Thanks for your information, it was really very helpfull..
    does it work