Ancillary Training in Martial Arts
The average human body consists of 206 bones and approximately 640 muscles of three different types: striated (sometimes called skeletal), the most numerous type, consisting of parallel bundles of fibers attached to the bones by connective tissue (tendons); smooth (sometimes called visceral), which is found in the body walls and cavities such as the stomach, blood vessels and intestines; and finally cardiac, which, as the name implies, is found only in heart. These muscles, together with their tendons and connective tissue, make up about 40 percent of body weight. It is estimated that the body contains approximately 60,000 yards of arteries, veins and small capillaries, and about 13,000,000 nerve cells. The average body also contains some ten gallons of water.
The muscles in the body are joined to bone, cartilage and connective tissue either directly or indirectly by tendons or other fibrous tissue; these tendons in themselves are strong enough in normal circumstances to withstand a stress of 8 tons per square inch. Muscles consume four or five times as much energy as they produce, and are therefore relatively inefficient unless trained. The main functions of the muscles are to support for the various internal organs. Any physical activity can certainly be enhanced by good muscular development, as well as hindered by poor muscular development.
Aerobic exercise as a vitally important factor in obtaining a good CRC (circular-respiratory capacity) – that is the ability of the heart and lungs to cope with the demands of the body when placed under sustained physical and mental stress. Generally called stamina, this factor governs not how frequently you can use a specific muscle group before muscle fatigue sets in, but when exercise or activity must cease through lack of breath.
In the initial stage of martial arts training, muscular endurance is more of a limiting factor than aerobic capacity. As technique is mastered, however, the overriding concern is to deliver effective strikes, blocks and kicks in a continual series, without sacrificing power, balance or correctness through a poorly developed circular-respiratory capacity. The martial art training then takes on a cyclical nature: as stamina increases, so do the strength and efficiency of the muscle groups utilized in the aerobic training. As the muscle strength increases, the aerobic capacity is enlarged, and so the process continues.
Now although it is perfectly possible to continue throughout one’s martial arts career practicing nothing but the techniques of martial arts, it has always been used to supplement the basic training. In our experience there are good reasons for including within the basic martial arts training –traditional or sport orientated – these ancillary exercises, which can directly benefit the martial artist’s technique.
The advanced martial arts student, therefore, will be well advised to develop an interest in a variety of exercise regimes which will facilitate martial arts development and at the same time allow the mind to concentrate on other task, thus bringing variety into the training schedule and avoiding any potential boredom and staleness.
Our suggestions for suitable exercises or sports to be considered as supplementary to martial arts training are those which promote overall body conditioning and improve cardio-vascular efficiency while at the same time promoting coordination, speed, balance and flexibility. Examples of these are sports such as tennis, squash, basketball, aerobics, etc. and those which tend to be more specific in their cardio-vascular response conditioning and strengthening, such as running and weight training.
In the case of running, begin with jogging and work up to running at a respectable pace. There is no need to run long distances- two to three miles will certainly be sufficient. Regular jogging helps to make the lungs work more efficiently and to increase the oxygen uptake, allowing more to reach the blood. The number of red cells also increases, allowing yet more oxygen to be extracted, which allows the heart to function more easily. The circulatory system will form new capillaries and help to open up under-developed arteries.
All this is fine, but do not fall into the trap of thinking more distance will mean more benefit. It wills indeed if you are interested in marathon runner. Martial arts, on the other hand, although demanding a good basic aerobic capacity and CRC, is not at all like long –distance running, as periods of relative quiet are interspersed with periods of very fast, powerful and anaerobic activity.
In fact, the most beneficial form of running for the martial artist is that known as alternate pace training. This type of exercise takes the form of a fairly long period (minimum 30 minutes) during which the athlete varies the pace of the running dramatically and frequently. An example would be as follows:
- Jogging at an even, easy pace for 5 minutes;
- A fast, smoothly-paced run for 3 minutes;
- A brisk walk for 3 minutes;
- Smooth , even paced running interspersed with short sprints (50 to 60 meters) for 5 minutes;
- Smooth, even-paced running with the occasional inclusion of 5 to 10 very fast strides for 3 minutes.
This could conclude with a short period of interval running where a set distance (100 meters plus) is to be run at top speed, with a set recovery time allowed between each sprint. This recovery time is individually determined and normally is reckoned to be the length of time it takes for pulse rate to return to a predetermined level. The recovery period should be spent jogging or walking briskly, and it should not be long enough to allow full recovery from the exercise. This will help the body learn to improve its oxygen uptake and speed up recovery from the oxygen debt incurred.
There is another form of training similar to the above. In this type of exercise selected is specific to the sports involved- in this case martial arts techniques, either against a bag or in sequence, are practiced at approximately 80 per cent of full power or speed for a set period. After this a short rest interval is taken, as described above, again not long enough to allow full recovery. The sequence is then repeated over the same time period and again short rest period is allowed. This carries on for a predetermined number of repetitions.
The principle here, once again, is that the body is put under stress and is not allowed full time to recover. This parallels the situation frequently found within martial arts training and competition. In these circumstances the body is forced to rely upon the energy within the muscles themselves and not upon energy drawn from oxygen- that is to say, anaerobic rather than aerobic.
All the above training methods are to promote the body’s efficient use of fast-twitch muscle fibers, those which consume the internal fuel carbohydrate and produce a waste called lactic acid but do not need oxygen in the process. These fast-twitch muscle fibers can produce high-speed movements over a short period of time, but the efficiency is soon impaired because of the build –up of lactic acid. The slow-twitch muscles in the body, on the other hand, use a mixture of fat and carbohydrate as an energy source but to need oxygen in the process. The waste product here, mostly carbon dioxide, is easier to handle than the lactic acid produced by the fast –twitch muscles.
These are the reason why slow-twitch muscles are of more use in endurance sports than the fast-twitch, which are soon exhausted. As the muscles in the body contain a proportion of both fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers, and as the ratio within each individual appears to be fixed- that is to say, it does not appear to be possible to increase the individual’s percentage of either fast or slow-twitch fibers- then it would make sense to ensure that the percentage in the individual is trained to its optimum.
There is a body of evidence which suggests that with suitable training it is possible to force the white fast-twitch fibers to assume the characteristics of the red slow-twitch. Fortunately (at least in the martial arts case, where it is this phenomenon which is required), it appears easier to train the red fibers to assume the characteristics of the white. The implication here is that the type of exercises regime undertaken should be carefully worked out to ensure that the correct fiber effect is obtained- that is to say, exercises for fast explosive sports, where the activity is generally of a short duration, should be preferred to the type of exercise more geared towards endurance sports such as long distance running or swimming, where the activity is stretched out over a long period of time.
All this is not to say that the exercises should not be aerobic. On the contrary, all the above have elements of aerobic training within them, and necessarily so. In fact, good aerobic capacity (basic endurance) is helpful in that it will delay the transition from aerobic to anaerobic activity, allowing the martial artists to ‘coast’ as it were on aerobic capacity until a sharp burst of anaerobic capacity is called for.
Sijo. Dr. Udayan Acharya &