How to be a better martial artist? An insight from Stephen:
If you ask any great Martial artist, Fighter or Sensei how they got to where they are in their chosen discipline(s) they will all tell you the same thing… Practise and Drilling, daily, repeated, endless practise.
Part of this practise is obviously attending lessons. This is where you learn the techniques of your chosen fighting style which you MUST practise diligently inside and outside of the dojo in order to hone them and build muscle memory sufficiently that you can actually rely on them.
An infrequently drilled technique is like a badly maintained car.
You may get away with driving a rusty old banger to the shops and back on a Sunday (i.e. running half heartedly through the movements at half speed with a friendly and accommodating partner in the dojo), but take that same car out onto the motorway or even into a race (i.e. serious sparring or a real fight) and the wheels soon fall off leaving you bruised and humiliated with no one to blame but yourself.
But one often neglected aspect of fighting is actually training your body to perform the movements that make up the technique. You can memorise as many “moves” as you want but if your body is not physically able to deliver them with speed, power and precision, or even contort into the required positions, then you will never be able to utilise the technique under pressure in a fight or sparring match.
This is the reason Kick boxers spend hours kicking and elbowing pads to build the required muscle strength and stability to deliver their strikes and Boxers, on top of their sparring and bag work, practise slipping, bobbing and weaving punches for hours.
For most of us this level of training is simply unfeasible due to work and family commitments but I have added a list of useful exercises below which will help to supercharge your techniques by developing functional strength in key areas.
Bodyweight Squats – You should basically do this exercise everywhere and as often as you can.
These build leg and glute strength for kicking, balance and general movement and has the added benefit of increasing your ability to explode upwards out of a Bob and Weave or low position for an Uppercut or Bodyshot.
The Basic Squat can be used to increase the strength of your glutes and stabiliser muscles to prepare you for more advanced exercises.
Once you can do these with good form you should move onto the Advanced and Jump Squat variations that are more applicable to MMA fighting and sparring.
Basic Technique Tips https://youtu.be/FAu6b-KcK0U
Advanced “In Stance” https://youtu.be/xLNPmqzyDH8
Jump Squat (do these unweighted to start with) https://youtu.be/cA5BZ5WewgI
Finally, for the brave among you, you can move on to weighted Jump Squats with a Bulgarian Weighted Bag as shown in the video. As with all exercises good form is more important than heavy weights.
Horse riding stance – This is a really old school exercise but slotting it in for ten minutes during the day (I’d advise you to break this up into ten 1 minute sessions throughout the day at first and build up to two 5 minute sessions over time as these will really tax your thighs) when you would otherwise be sitting down to watch TV can do wonders for your sparring, kicks and overall movement. Especially good for people who want to train MMA style takedowns and grappling as it acclimatises your body to moving powerfully and maintaining balance in a low grappling stance.
Resistance cable or band work for the Atom, Elbow Blocks and Elbow strikes – Personally I try to fit this in at least once a week. The high elbow circular movements required to properly use the atom guard are not movements your body will be accustomed to as they rely mostly on smaller support muscles. To ensure that these movements are fast enough to block full speed punches you will need to work these movement at least as hard as you do your punches and other strikes.
Developing these muscles against resistance not only facilitates this but it also helps you to evolve these movements from simple blocks to punch destroying crushes designed to damage your opponents hands everytime they try and land a strike on your head or face.
It’s hard to find free footage of exercises for this purpose so I’ve linked to some I filmed for a private session a while back to help you get started.
Link – the exercises start at the 5 minute mark https://youtu.be/C9khj5TS6bE
Resistance cable or band work for knees – Again there are few occasions in normal life where your body is called on to perform the motions necessary to deliver a truly effective knee so this tends to be a weak area in most people’s game.
However knees are far and away the most direct, powerful and devastating strike to the body that a person can throw. On top of this knees are faster, can be delivered at close range, do not effect your balance as much as kicks (no spinning or pivoting to build momentum needed), have a direct line to sensitive targets like your opponents groin with no guard in the way and there is no danger of them being caught by your opponent (often they won’t even see them).
Obviously practising these strikes on Thai pads with a partner is the best way to improve them. However another beneficial way to develop the necessary muscle strength and movement is to solo train against resistance as in the video below (again I filmed this some time ago).
Kettlebell training – Kettlebell training is easily the best all round full body workout for any type of martial arts. It helps to increase your endurance, power, speed and core strength all at the same time.
Kettlebells are relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment and you can find tips and exercise routines for them on YouTube fairly easily.
My own preferred Kettlebell routine is as follows:
20 Double Handed Swings
15 Goblet Squats
16 Single Handed Swings (8 each hand)
10 Goblet Squats
You repeat this series 5 times or until failure (whichever comes first) at the end of which you will have done:
100 Double Handed Swings
125 Goblet Squats
80 Single Handed Swings (8 each hand)
The benefit of this routine is you manage to do a load of reps in a short period of time and you are able to complete far more reps than you normally would be able to because you are resting your arms and shoulders during the squat portion of the set (technically these are called super sets).
Have a look at the Bushin seniors experience with Kettlebell training here (https://www.bushin.co.uk/swinging-out-the-kettlebells).
Or to get some expert help with your training check out Steve Wright yourself http://ikff.net/steve-wright/.
Remember to warm up before and cool down after these exercises as they are by nature very strenuous. You may experience muscle soreness for a few days afterwards as your body acclimatises to them.
If you have any injuries or medical conditions you should discuss these with a medical professional before adding these to your normal exercise regime.