Ageing and training

For the first 15 years of my martial arts training I had a teacher who was always training as part of the class.  While many sport coaches are usually on the side barking orders he was actively showing, demonstrating and practicing his techniques with us.

Unsurprisingly when I started running my own classes I could not think of a different way of teaching and, more than 25 years later, I am still training while teaching and teaching while training.  Until about 4 years ago I could probably count on one hand, within a whole year, the number of lessons I missed or I simply coached without being part of the class. More recently, partially due to a number of training incidents which damaged my back, toes, shoulders, ribs and arm I started to slack a bit, train lighter or a bit less intensively to a point where a standard training session would be kind of challenging.

Early last year I was taking it easy as I was still recovering from a broken rib which happened in October 2015 and, during a training session, I ripped a tendon in my left arm which required a surgical procedure to be put back in working order.  I noticed then that I allowed my fitness level to slip too much below a minimum expected level and this was triggering a number of niggling issues.

At that point I decided to increase the frequency and regularity of my training while reducing the times I allow myself to simply run a lesson to no more than once per month.  I also select very carefully my training partners to minimise the risk of training due to excess of force or lack of control.  Fast forward about 6 months of very regular and consistent training and I feel, once more, at the top of my game.  I decided to concentrate on fast and technical training, which I most enjoy, and leave the sheer full contact stuff to people who are 10, 20 and 30+.

I simply had to acknowledge that if I have students in my weight category or heavier and they are training for full contact fights I should not try to spar with them full contact as I can get hurt.  Apart from that I can still train regularly and consistently with a broad range of athletes at various levels of skill and fitness and keep in good shape while enjoying myself and being able to keep my technique at a high level and being worth the black belt I am wearing.

Contact training for self defence

This post is discussing the importance of contact training in martial arts, particularly in view of their effectiveness in self defence situations.

A few months back I welcomed a new student in my club: he stated to be nearly at Dan level in his club back home.  He practiced a style of Korean martial art, derived from Tae Know Do and purely orientated to self defence. While he felt confident training with anybody he showed immediately to be struggling when people at intermediate level started attacking him with proper combinations of punches and kicks.  His techniques and fitness preparation is good and his main limitation is the lack of practice with aggressive attackers swinging punches at him.  Without speculating on his abilities or however diminishing them I feel that if faced by somebody with really bad intentions his style and preparation might have let him down.

I met and heard many people that sell their style as self defence and justify the lack of contact in their training stating that “our techniques are too dangerous to be applied for real”: fact is if you never practice a technique for real it will not work when you have to use it.

Do you know any boxer?  Have you ever heard of a boxer being beaten up in the street? Boxing is considered pretty basic and very physical by most purists of martial arts and the repertoire of techniques it offers is limited to 4 punches.  At the same time each techniques is pushed to its perfection and strong attention is paid to fitness and preparation; a boxer will hit hard and precisely to the point, finishing off a fight in a very short time.  Boxing is by definition a contact sport, full contact, and there isn’t such a thing as a soft boxing fight.

The main purpose of contact training, whatever limitations are imposed by the rules observed, is to have a fight that resembles a realistic situation, not dissimilar to what you would find on the street.  A self defence situation would surely have no rules, being everything but fair; if you have experience in sparring with a realistic level of contact it likely you are going to get out of there pretty well.

One of the most important aspects of fighting is in the mind; your mind will respond to a very basic stimulus, fight or flight, which goes back to when our ancestors were encountering fierce animals.  Faced with a danger the subconscious has to take a split second decision: shall I run (best form of self defence) or stay and fight?  In any case adrenaline will be released and you will be more alerted, either with improved running performance or ready for the fight.  Heart beat will increase and however fit you might be you might feel short of breath after an effort that usually would not affect you at all.

Contact training, however performed in a controlled environment helps reducing the stress induced by adrenaline rush.  If you are sparring regularly and therefore are often faced with individuals that have the only intention to punch you, kick you or whatever else, your mind will be get used to it and respond in a more rational and controlled way.

Related posts are: How Realistic is Your Training? and Martial arts for self defence: are they useful?