If you ask many martial arts practitioners how they feel after a training session most of them will describe a sense of well-being, relaxation and other positive factors. The biochemistry behind this well-being is relative simple; the adrenaline initially released in the blood stream due to a stressful situation helps releasing dopamine at the end of the training which makes us feel good.
In my long experience in training and teaching martial arts I repeatedly noticed a standardised outcome from all of my training sessions; I decided to call this the “reset effect”. My way of describing it is: “it doesn’t matter in what mood I enter a class, I will always come out feeling good, physically slightly tired, with a well-being feeling of having completed a great and complete workout”.
In fact I end up in a good, positive and relaxed mood which helps me to look forward to the activities which will follow in that evening: dinner, relax, family time or eventually going out and meet other people. I have been training martial arts 2-4 times per week for 30+ years, which is a very long time.
As training is usually after work or, on Sunday, after a relaxed day, it’s quite usually to arrive at training in a variety of moods:
- Happy or euphoric because I just closed a good deal or achieved something good
- Irritated because of an argument with a client, supplier or the boss
- Stressed because of a dead line
- Shocked (just once but I still remember it) because I was told my company was going into liquidation
- Anxious about an upcoming important event like a university exam or a job interview
- Sleepy because of lack of sleep or just woken up from an afternoon nap
Usually the fact itself I am entering the training room is already partially smoothing down the previously described feelings. Then I warm up for about half hour and the fact that I have to concentrate on the exercises it helps me detaching even more from these feelings. Then the 60-90 minutes training, which requires full concentration, truly helps resetting my whole mood. So the next few times you train martial arts try paying attention at how you feel at the end of each training session and check whether it has for the same “reset effect” on you.
In order to be a good martial artist you must aim at excelling in a number of different skills and having at the same time:
The last but definitely not least one in the list, Speed, is to be considered of extreme importance because it affects most of your performance when practicing any martial art and the techniques you are performing in a combat situation. Certain applications of internal martial arts that are practiced for healing, meditation and relaxation purposes are usually performed really slowly and obviously have not connection with the content of this post.
Speed affects the kinetic energy you produce by a quadratic factor: if you double your speed the kinetic energy grows by 4. Therefore if you are interested in increasing the damage produced by your punches or kicks you should train for increased speed. Higher speed can come from higher physical fitness by also by learning how to best coordinating all muscles involved in a technique so they all push with precise timing in a well coordinated direction.
By increasing your speed you are not only ensuring that you can hit your target faster and producing more damage; the technique arrives to its destination in a shorter time therefore it’s ready to go back to its original position much faster, making it ready for the next strike.
Being able to perform a technique or combination at a high speed will allow you to surprise even a very well prepared and skilled opponent. If you could move one arm or leg 10 or 20 times faster that the average martial artist you would not need very complicated combinations and attacking from many different angles; you could just attack your opponent with that single strike and score, every time.
Training for speed should be a mental as well as physical exercise; muscles are trained to become stronger and therefore release more power but, at the same time, speed should be thought as the main goal when training for it. For instance keeping your muscles relaxed while training and program yourself to tense just the right ones that are involved in a specific movement will offer maximum efficiency for the muscles involved and minimum dissipation of energy in unnecessary movements.
A training scheme I suggest when coaching somebody with the intent of improving their speed is usually represented by the following list of activities:
- Relax physically and mentally
- Think and see the movement you are about to perform
- Concentrate just on the muscles strictly involved in the movement
- Consciously relax the remain part of the body
- Try to tense the muscles in the most explosive movement you can possibly imagine
- Repeat a few times until it becomes second nature
I am a big fan of speed and, while it can be a function of your fitness, speed can be trained and deliver amazing results. When can you start?
Although martial arts are not team activities there are many elements of cohesion that motivate martial arts practice more that any other sport. Let analyse why this is true:
- Practicing a martial art is a long time investment in your health and well being: the time to proficiency is often long enough to establish good habits in your life, those that last for a long time. If and when you stop training for a while you’ll miss it, both physically, mentally and emotionally.
- Most martial arts teach a broad variety of techniques that keep you busy for many years just to master them all. In this you see a natural progression and having continuously new things to learn it makes it very interesting. Many masters state that perfection can be aimed but never achieved, therefore even after many years of training you are running after perfection while you keep adapting your knowledge and techniques to you ageing body.
- As are you naturally going to meet people that are better than you it will be natural to have a sense of challenge to improve day after day, session after session. In general the progression is easy to monitor and to measure therefore it is relatively easy to compare results against effort.
- The achievement of a certain level of proficiency, lesson after lesson will release endorphins that naturally make you feel good. At the end of each training session, with the natural tiredness you’ll have a feeling of well being that is quite addictive.
- Although martial arts manifest in many different ways and levels of intensity the overall training will ensure the practitioner to be a well round, balanced athlete with a decent level of fitness, stamina, strength, flexibility and coordination.
- Although martial arts are usually practiced in pairs and groups, some of the training can be rehearsed solo: that allows the practitioner to keep training, at least on some of the exercises, when she is on her own.
- Martial arts practice involves a reasonably complete workout rather than concentrating on a single part of the body. Different styles will put more emphasis on different areas of the body while practicing a balanced mix of exercises.
- Martial arts are a great stress relief: the aggression accumulated during work or while at school can be easily channelled and released in a controlled manner toward the practice of your techniques. It’s likely that after training the amount of aggression you had before starting is reduced or completely gone and you feel calmer and more in control.
- Martial arts training ensures that your whole attention will be directed toward your training, with minimal distraction. Even when your feel at an adequate level of proficiency and most moves come naturally without the need of thinking too carefully, your partner / opponent is there to punch you, to kick you or to throw you. Self preservation will naturally motivates you to put full attention in what you are doing.
- The sense of challenge and cooperation that can be found in many martial arts club I have experienced can foster friendship and social entertainment outside the training hall (dojo, kwon, dojang…).