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Fitness For Self-Defense And Martial Arts

fighting fitnessI recently commented on “LinkedIn” about my views on the role of fitness and conditioning in martial arts and self-defense training.  Here’s the gist of my position on the matter.

I’ve been teaching self-defense for about 40 years. Fitness and conditioning is a key component in my approach to self-defense and martial arts training. Here are some points that come to mind when discussing martial arts or combative fitness:

Self-Defense = Health

When you get down to it, self-defense is all about health (period); either improving it or protecting it. I don’t believe that you can optimize your potential as a martial artist without a serious commitment to health and fitness.

It never ceased to amaze me to see out of shape, overweight cops spend their time and money to attend “street survival seminars” dedicated to on-the-job safety and survival.

I couldn’t help but notice many of them scoot outside for a cigarette, spend their lunch break chowing down on a greasy burger with fries and a soft drink, and then hit the hotel lounge in the evening to celebrate with several cocktails. (For the record, I’m not picking on cops. I happened to be one at the time. Many of them train hard and are in phenomenal shape.)

Self-Defense is about health; either you’re improving it or protecting it. Preferably both.

Start With Strength

There are different aspects of fitness but, in my opinion, strength is the foundation that all martial artists should use as a starting point. In addition to the obvious benefits in a self-defense situation, strength training makes the body more resilient to the “wear and tear” of martial arts training.

Pounding away on a 100 lb. heavy bag, blitzing focus pads and ESPECIALLY thrusting punches and kicks out into thin air can take a tremendous toll on the body if your muscles, joints and connective tissues aren’t strong enough to withstand the stress.

I know far too many martial artists my age who have had to undergo hip, back, shoulder and knee surgery because their body wasn’t strong enough to withstand the grind of training.

You Can’t Out Train A Bad Diet

If you’re training and fat, you’re eating wrong. The diet issue is as controversial a topic as politics and religion.

It never ceases to amaze me how vehemently people will defend their position on how to eat and attack those with opposing views.

I have my own views on what constitutes a healthy diet but I’m not going to get into it here. I have been studying nutrition for years and it seems that every book or resource has a different slant on the subject.

The most common sense advice I’ve read on the subject was from nutritional journalist Michael Pollan, who wrote:

Eat Real Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.

Train Movement Patterns, Not Muscle Groups

What muscle do you use in a street fight? Silly question isn’t it?

Forget about training biceps, triceps, quads and hamstrings…

Train movements and as a result ALL of the muscles required to move and stabilize the body and optimize performance. “Survival Movement Patterns” include: fighting, running, swimming, lifting, climbing, jumping and falling.

Muscles and body parts must be connected and coordinated. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It’s the same thing with your body and your athletic/combative performance.

Include BOTH Slow And Explosive Exercises

Slow movements are usually safer when developing maximum strength, but explosive movements such as swings and snatches with a kettlebell will build power and explosiveness that will transfer over to your martial arts performance.

Find Your Minimum Effective Dose

Seek maximum results in minimum time and number of exercises… Author Tim Ferris calls this the “Minimum Effective Dose.”

If you’re spending all of your time in the weight room, or running triathlons, that doesn’t leave much left for self-defense skills development.

Whether you train in the martial arts or specifically for self-defense, the reality is “a fight is an athletic event.” Your strength, endurance, flexibility and overall conditioning will come into play whether you’re fighting in a tournament, or busting your way out of a violent encounter.

And then again, there’s also the argument of: Why worry about defending yourself from a violent attack that statistically is unlikely to happen, only to fall victim to a life altering illness or disease that could have been prevented by taking better care of yourself?

What are your thoughts on the impact of health and fitness on your martial arts or self-defense training? Please feel free to comment.

About Randy LaHaie

I’m the founder of “Protective Strategies,” a training and consulting company providing self-defense and combative fitness solutions to law enforcement, high-risk professionals and private citizens since 1994. I am a retired police officer, court-declared expert in use-of-force and critical incident performance, and a life-long student of self-defense and combative fitness. “My Thing” is to help people incorporate functional and minimalist workout strategies to improve their health, fitness and personal safety.

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  • So true…. After watching numerous shows on prisons…. you can obviously see that convicted felons have dedicated exercise regimens…. (We have to take it upon ourselves to be more dedicated then them) Being in shape is one thing, having the functionality in your regimen to enhance your overall skill is highly recommended as well…. You should tackle your training like a professional athlete would in order to maximize your potentional as a martial artist who is into realistically defending yourself and your loved ones… The very people that you talk about are the same people who only drill or train at those weekend events… Ahhh Weekend Warriors… George

    • Excellent points George… Thanks for taking time to comment. Good luck with your blog and keep in touch.

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