What is the problem?
I do jujutsu and this is a martial art
that uses angle and position to gain
advantage and control an attacker's joints.
The system strives to use the minimal amount of force necessary
so that larger opponents can be dealt with. As such, it really has no
component that is intrinsic to the training. Let me amke this clear: the aim is to
be clever about how people's bodies don't work to defeat them.
Some martial arts (such as boxing) rely on very high levels of conditioning
as part of their training. You will not find an out of shape boxer (nor
will you find many using it when they are 70.)
Take something like kung
is the generic name of several chinese martial arts.
Generally they have formal exercises called forms (these are
extended solo drills). These contains lots of awkward movements,
extremely low stances
and a variety of other things that make doing them well very difficult.
When you think
of 'funky oriental martial art' you are thinking most likely of some
of kung fu. Don't get me wrong, some systems really rock and
the people that
do them are top-notch, but I'm addressing how they put their
conditioning into their
systems. A lot of the movements in the forms are just conditioning
of it as one-stop-shopping.
So why does jujutsu need some sort of
conditioning? First and foremost: to protect you against injury.
Strong limbs get injured a lot less. Most of the techniques in the system
do not require much power to do, but may require extremely high motor skills
to receive. Since you cannot really learn a grappling system without
experiencing it, the truth is that never receiving a complete technique in the system,
no matter how hard you practice otherwise, probably means you will never quite own
Also, a major part of
grappling is getting the right body alignment to generate power in all
weird positions as well as being able to smoothly switch methods of
force. There just aren't many good ways to train that.
A correctly aimed conditioning program should make learning a system
there have been times that I have not had a partner. Now, you can't do jujutsu
alone because you need to grapple with another person. All that happens
is you get
really bad habits that will get you thumped when you get back into
So, in those times, I set about trying to get solo exercises that would
aid me, and make
it so I would be in shape with no bad habits when I could find someone
Another reason is to recover from injury. I
have an artificial hip.
I found myself in the unenviable position of not merely being out of
but being handicapped.
Taiso was perfect, being extremely scalable
and low impact. I was able to start at the barebones fairly soon after
surgery and work up
to sessions worthy of an extreme athlete. While I admit that I am
special (so my mother didn't
lie after all!) in that most martial artists don't have to contend with
I really think that this alone would justify getting to know it. I have
physical therapists compliment me on the excellence of my
rehabilitation. I follow their
guidelines to a 't' but always try to put it in the framework outlined
By the way, I did taiso for years and didn't think of
putting more than a bit of it
into our class workouts. I only canvassed for more bodies after
I started a recovery program from hip surgery
and wanted some company (I admit it, I am selfish and it sure is easier
to do it regularly if
you have a few buddies there). I found out that what I thought was
pretty much run of the mill
was unknown. This has gotten such an enthusiastic reception all the way
around, I figured
I should write some of it down.
That is a really good question. There are
several issues with just doing this. Here is
a definition to get it all started.
Functional strength is the ability to use the total body
structures to meet specific demands placed on it.
What is behind this is the so-called Principle of Specificity,
that is to say
that the body will adapt only to those stresses placed on it. Said
differently (and this
is a mantra with some trainers) you only improve what you practice.
Functional training attempts to use the body
as a unit and stimulate the nervous system
to treat certain movements as atomic, i.e. to get used to
firing them from start
to finish. A lot of this thinking actually comes from rehabilitation,
where it is
pretty clear if a person lacks the ability to perfom a function such as
training is aimed a movements, not groups of muscles.
Functional strength, while aided by
is far from synonmous with it. Lifting weights
trains one type of strength (raw strength) in one plane of motion and
it does it very well. This is simply too optimized for a long-term
martial arts training program but can't be beat for getting stronger. Use it wisely.
There are two groups of people who train
with weights this section address. Powerlifters,
the people who train to lift huge amounts of weight, and body
train to reshape their bodies. I'll call these collectively lifters.
It is the powerlifters who make arguments about
strength training. Why not? That is their business.
OK, for you purists out there, yes I know the difference between a
a powerlifter. Weightlifting is an Olympic sport with two
movements, the snatch –
in which the weight is lifted above the head in a single movement – and
the clean and jerk – in which the first phase of the movement, the
brings the weight to the shoulders in one 'clean' movement before it is
or 'jerked' overhead. Powerlifting is another event that tests
squat, deadlift and bench press. I am trying to make a difference
that lift weights to do something competitive with them vs. people who
using the results of weight training. The former I collectively call
while the latter I collectively call body sculptors – you won't see a
weight in a body sculpting competition. I should point out the
usually don't look all that different from other athletes in their
weight class. They
are certainly huskier, but
body sculptors do look appreciably different.
|Halil Mutlu winning a gold medal in the 2004 Athens
A world class weightlifter.
|Stan McQuay A world class body builder.
By the way, body sculptors only look
the way they do on the day of a competition, since a lot of 'showing'
balancing growth of new muscle (which also grows fat that hides muscle)
and dieting (which
loses muscle) down to a low enough body fat percentage (typically 6% -
8%) for the
muscles to be seen. It is not unusual for body sculptors to undertake
alarming dieting practices and such in the days before a meet.
Usually body sculptors will do a sequence of sodium loading/carb
depletion followed by a couple of days of carb loading with
diruetics. The idea is to cause the muscles to suck up a great deal of
carbohydrates and bloat, which makes thme look larger as well as
thinning the skin with dehydration. I know a couple of topnotch
competitive body sculptors and they all claim that the pre-show diet is
the hardest part of training.
A mistiming of a few hours will destroy the cosmetic effect. I'm
telling you this because if you think you will train in a gym and look
like a body sculptor on show day, you are sadly mistaken. Stan McQuay,
pictured above, is one of the very few genetically gifted
body sculptors who doesn't undertake extreme measures, simply reducing
his bodyfat during competition season. He is, of course, quite unique
in this respect.
Powerlifters tend to completely pooh-pooh
functional strength and state (quite rightly) that
strength is strength. This is mostly because statements about "functional strneght" are incomplete.
To use the term "functional training" you must supply the context. It must be functional
for a specific purpose and the more specific the better, e.g.
getting your floor fighter faster. This is why we have several types of strength is
ineffect giving a classification of functional modes.
Now on the flip side of this, I've seen guys who obsess about
bench pressing high loads, but lack the core strength to maintain form in a
pushup. The short answer to powerlifters is:
Powerlifting is functional training for something other than martial
arts -- in this case powerlifting itself.
The origins of these statements is ongoing chats with my powerlifting buddies who would say something
along the lines that "if you really want to get strong, come with me and do deadlifts". What I am trying to
do is counter this by pointing out jujutsu does a lot more than deadlift. Don't get me wrong, if you are
weak or have some imbalance of just want to be strong (if you are over 40, start powerlifting!) then definitely
There is nothing in powerlifting per se that will prevent you
fast or smooth, but most people I've met don't have professional
training. So before you take advice from someone on lifting, be sure they
know what they are talking about. Pretty much every guy at the gym thinks
he is an expert in bench press. That said, here are some pointed reasons
why powerlifting alone is insufficient:
Now for the body sculptors and why that is definitely a no-no. One
sculptor once went so far as to intimate that the goal was to look as
much like an erect phallus as
possible; odd thought that for female lifters.
They spend a lot of time doing isolation exercises to just get bulkier
and more defined.
If powerlifters train muscle groups,
body sculptors train muscles.
There are a bewildering number of these exercises and, being a gym rat,
I've seen body sculptors spending
as much as 3 - 4 hours working on some set of muscles. So in the time
it takes me to do my workout, run a martial arts class and clean up
afterwards they are still in there doing yet another of their
shoulder or pec sets.
There is nothing wrong with that, but here is the gripe: Many folks who
take up lifting do so without
clear cut purpose and end up sort of mixing up powerlifting and body
sculpting. They waste a lot
of time doing neither. Fuzzy goals give fuzzy results. They end up with
preposterous strength imbalances
that can be very hard to overcome. More to the point:
- Restricted range of motion The
range of motion must be severeley restricted if high loads
are to be lifted. This has to be the case to do this safely. There is a
reason there are only a
small handful of competitive lifting events. Moving loads in three
dimensions with a variety of
trajectories is not trained in any capacity. Said differently, of the
three possible planes of anatomical movement, powerlifting can only
train the sagital plane.
- Wrong conscription of fibers If
you lift a heavy weight, your muscle fibers kick in
as ST, FTA and FTB (look in the general
section for more about this).
We would like to have all the fibers conscript at once and this
requires some specific neural training
- Constant improvement as a mantra. No. It is goofy to think
that you will be able to
add 15 - 20 lbs. of muscle a year indefinitely. This is just simple
but a lot of powerlifters don't consider it. The good ones take care to
cycle their routines and
have built in (aka "strategic") deconditioning, but these are the
minority in a gym.
For what it is worth, nobody has figured out why you cannot just pack
on muscle year after year.
So for example, adding a pound a week to your bench press would mean
that starting at 20 years of age and going until
you are 65 would have you adding 2,340 lbs. At some point you hit a
wall and can't get past it. However,
a carefully controlled study for adding muscle showed that there is no
difference in how much muscle
someone who is in their 20's can add vs. how much a person in their
60's can add. Both control groups
added the same amount of muscle over 12 weeks when using the same
training routine. Much of the wasting
that is seen in the elderly probably relates to inactivity levels as
much as anything else. Stay active
as you age.
If you think that you want
to bulk up then you should
consider cycling it in to your training. Be sure to stick with
like the deadlift, squat and clean and jerk and by all means find a
local club with good instruction if you get serious. Many of the lifts
are extremely technical (seriously!!) and just grabbing some large pile of iron is a
really bad idea.
Of course, some of people try to overcome natural
limitations by extrordinary
measures, such as drugs and hormones, which can't be condemned highly
enough. Food for thought,
a lot of people with asthma have to take steroids (such as Prednisone)
as part of their treatment. Even under the
care of a trained physician, I run into a fair amount who suffer joint
death, called avascular necrosis
and have to get artificial joints. You cannot do any heavy lifting with
joints (although I've got one and can do taiso just fine and
this was one of the
big motivations for the way this is structured.) Don't do drugs.
Period. In any case if you hop on the constant growth bandwagon
you will eventually do what many a
weightlifters does and that is either burnout or find you have so many
joint issues (arthritis,
for instance) that your poundages have to drop. Then you have nothing.
We want something to
maintain certain skills.
My approach has been to think of conditioning as
maintaining certain skills for my
martial arts. These skills or types of strength are:
- Isolation exercises make you slow.
Every muscle that fires, called the agonist, has an opposing
called an antagonist. If there are not trained together and the
antagonist is quite
a bit weaker then it must fire longer to oppose the agonist. This is
just like having
a worn brake shoe on your car, you have to hit the brakes sooner to
While proper training avoids
this, the odd fascination most people have with big pecs, biceps and
quads mean that these
are practically all that are trained.
- Isolation exercises make you weak.
When a muscle is in use (called in this
case a prime mover) it needs to have
muscles that act as stabilizers. If the stabilizers are weak then the
body will not allow
the prime mover to contract at full power less there be an injury. This
more than anything else explains why someone can, say, curl some
high weight on a machine but has trouble carrying their groceries.
- Isolation exercises can train your
muscle to misfire. The most famous
example of this is the leg curl machine. The hamstring is made to
straighten the hip when bent, although it also can bend the knee, being
one of the few muscles
that can act on two joints. This machine mis-trains the
hamstring to do leg curls which can lead to a higher incidence of
rips. Sure, it makes the hamstrings get bigger, but you'd better not be
on using them for much of anything else.
- It is a bald-faced lie that using weight machines is safer than using free weights. They allow
you to use really crappy form and body mechanics with no idea what is wrong.
The reason gyms have them is because the gym can hire completely unskilled workers at minimum
wage. All that most gym employees do is sweep around the equipment and clean it off.
Patrons use the machines which are supposedly safe. However, since the perception is that the
machine is safe, they misuse them, sometimes massively. One of the most grisly shoulder dislocations I ever saw was from someone
who was trying to use a pec fly machine with 60 lbs. on it! Since he was having trouble moving the weights,
he tried to use his abs in a massive situp to start the motion and his left shoulder came clean out of the socket (the
ball was by his ear. He went into shock as the hapless gym staff tried to ice it! Fortunately someone had
the good sense to call an ambulance.) I doubt seriously he could have done that with free weights.
Working on these various types of strength is should drive your goals
for a workout.
The concept is that if you
have the basic motions down, then you can specialize them to a purpose.
are the basic movements you need to train. These naturally organize in
that are given here:
- Raw strength = How much you can move. This
includes how easily you can move yourself
- Speed = Ability to move you (or a load) fast.
- Agility = Ability to switch from one movement to
another. note this includes moving the whole body. You cannot be agile
if you cannot move yourself.
- Flexibility = Ability to move within full range
of motion with power
- Endurance - Ability to keep yourself (possibly with a small
extra load) in motion for an extended period of time. Swimming, running
are great examples, as are high rep squats.
- Explosive = Ability to set yourself or an
external load in motion quickly, includes plyometrics, sprints and such
- Isometric = Ability to hold a position with
maximal contraction either with or without an external load.
All of these should be done with a torso twist
too, as well as unilaterally or bilaterally.
Finally, you can move yourself or an external load (this covers what is
called closed and open chain movements in training, by the way.) This
thinking of movement training is ripped off of gymnastics where it
has been shown
to be extremely useful. These were chosen because they are the basis
for most martial
arts techniques. To reprise my thinking, actual techniques require some
gross motor movement
that is done in a variety of settings and orientations and require
specific fine movements to finish. As it were, once the big movement is
done, techniques effectively happen from the elbows
or knees down. A lot (time-wise) of a traditional martial arts class
revolves around tutoring
these small movements, but there is no way that the large movements can
be trained independently. This eats up a lot of time and often it is
often not clear which part of a technique is what.
- Shoulder flexion/extension: Standing
upright, raise your arm straight overhead/lower it
- Overhead pushing/pulling: handstand pushup,
- Chest pulling/pushing: pulling something to
something away from your chest
- Pushing or pulling with the legs. squating
motions (includes jumping and swings) are pushes and deadlift type
motions are pulls.
Roughly, pushes are done mostly by the glutes, pulls by the hamstrings.
- Trunk flexion/extension: touch your toes/stand back up or tuck
into a ball and extend
An example of this is the
standard hip throw in most jujutsu
systems. Students struggle with this because usually involves a
large squatting motion and they focus on this to the exclusion of all
else. The technique though is chiefly sending power through the grapple
and body placement. Having students do swings and double pistols makes
teaching hip throws a great deal simpler since they understand the
movement itself is quite distinct from the technique.
If we can get the
big movements fluid, powerful and well practiced, we can concentrate
on the hard (and fun) parts of the techniques. What's more, practicing
movements can be done alone without screwing up techniques, as I
alluded to elsewhere. Don't forget we grapple, so you might not be
standing when you
must perform a technique. If we had different goals, we would have
different movements. For example,
we don't really kick much, so there are no motions for raising the legs
The last set of
definitions I want to add is to clarify our usage from other usages.
Standard usage is that an isolation exercise targets
exactly on muscle group, e.g.,
a seated bicep curl. A compound exercise
is one that uses more than one muscle group, e.g. a squat. Pretty much very taiso exercise is compound. We
refer to taiso exercises as simple that
is to say, consisting of one of the basic set (swing, side press,
push-up, pull-up, etc.) or complex which is some
combination of these simple exercises. A
complex exercise would be the swing + side press + windmill
combination, consisting of three simple exercises.
So what sorts of components do we need to control
to train our movements with the
appropriate skills? In no particular order, since they are all key I
list the following:
to hit a plateau and stay there, since this is an adjunct to training.
I stress that
skills are just that, not attributes. Being able to bench press a
bulldozer is great, but if
you take a month off from training, that will go away. Therefore, you
must decide what
skills you want to have available at
all times and have a plan for keeping them
where you want them.
The measure of a good workout is
not that you are sore, but that you know you worked and how well you
feel you performed.
- Aleatoric training. The basic idea is
to have a compendium of simple exercises that can be knitted together
into complex exercises on the fly. This permits an aleatoric component
All together now, say 'a-lee-uh-TOR-ic', meaning that some
are left to chance, unlike chaotic which means all elements are. No
workout should really
ever be repeated. Since I'm a geezer, this means I always look like I
planned it that way...
- Low weights. Movements with weights
are to be done with much lighter poundages than
standard weightlifting. I am very strong and use 50 lb. dumbbells, and
a beginner should use
25 lb. or maybe even 20 lbs. Paramount importance is given to being
able to move the weight
in three dimensions with control.
- Speed. The lifting rhythm for weights
is very different from powerlifting, since firing muscles
quickly automatically causes all fibers to conscript. You will be
moving much more rapidly
than you are used to and through a much larger range of motion.
- Avoid training to failure. Since the
emphasis is on compound exercises,
you should never do an exercise to
failure. The next set will re-use those muscles again, so if it is at
failure, you can bet
it will fail. This is unacceptable when, for instance, a full body
inversion is being done.
If you cannot complete your reps, stop and try later. Only aim for
- Use low repetitions in sets.
We often do just 10 or so for a given
exercise. Remember that
the exercises are automatically compound and we switch tasks often.
Don't let the
number of reps fool you! The cumulative effect can be staggering.
- Bodyweight exercises are integral.
There is also usage of lots of bodyweight.
This is done because agility is based on the ability
to move oneself. If you can't do a pushup, you probably can't do
groundwork since you cannot really
move yourself. Caveat just doing your own bodyweight isn't
enough, since you have to move things,
so the aim here is to get experience moving you and other
things all at the same time.
- All exercises are to be as complex
as possible. This mimics working with people
in training. Great exercises are those that use bodyweight and
dumbbells or partners (or all three).
- Cycle aerobic and anaerobic modes.
It's true that you will not need much
aerobic capacity in training, but what gets a lot of people is
switching from one mode
of operation to the other. Train this too, so your body is able to do
it easier. (Actually, this ups what is called your metabolic
fitness which is the ability of the body to provide
energy consistently to the muscle. It is metabolic fitness more than
cardiovascular fitness that is the major limiting factor to high
performance. The most recent work in training endurance athletes has
switched from just having them do their sport for longer times to
mixing in sprints and rests to up their metabolic fitness levels --
essentially what we do in taiso.
This causes you to grow more mitochondira, but I digress...)
- Task-switching is resting. Endurance
is increased by task-switching.
Since focusing on a set of muscles then using that same set at a lower
level forces the
body to recover faster, this permits you to effectively increase your
endurance of FT fibers.
Keep things zipping along nicely and switch tasks every
30 - 60 seconds. If you actually make a tally you are apt to find you
have done literally
hundreds of exercises from various angles for a body part.
- Tax your nervous system. One roadblock
for athletes is not muscular exhaustion,
but overtaxing the central nervous system.
That is to say, that for a compound motion, while the body has the
nerves in place to theoretically
perform the action, coordinating this is another matter. Think of it as
having too small of a
switchboard. Conscripting muscles the way we do it will force your
nervous system to get better
at using more fibers. Moreover, the aleatoric nature of the training
means that you will
be a lot more coordinated naturally when new and
bizarre movements are encountered.
A lot of weightlifters who have done this note that their poundages
actually appreciably jumped when they started taiso.
- Plyometric work is integral. Either
doing this with the dumbbells (most people only do
plyometric drills for their legs, not their upper bodies or abdominals)
or bodyweight. Most martial arts are explosive, so train that way.
If you are not familiar with this training, it runs
as follows. When
you load a muscle (think
of doing a squat; at the bottom of the motion the muscle is loaded with
your weight), the
fibers are a lot like rubber bands that have been made taut. Now, with
a rubber band, you can recover that
energy by releasing it. In the body, the fibers can release it by
moving or if not allowed to move, by getting hotter. If you immediately
contract the muscle as soon as it is loaded, then you get that energy
back before it dissipates as
heat, plus whatever power the muscle can generate. This is why
basketball players bounce before doing
a high shot. We actually use this when we strike or throw, so getting
your body used to this with
all motions is a grand idea. Plyometric training for track is now
standard because it has
been shown to be so successful.
- Partners are the perfect training equipment.
Two partner drills are included as well, where one person gets practice
their core muscles as the other does an exercise. There are few better
ways to get all
of your core utilized than having someone climb over you. This is core
training with a vengeance.
- Be a cheapskate. Really fancy
equipment does a lot of the work for you usually,
so I tend to avoid it. Exercise machines do have their place though,
either to rehab an
injury in a safe way or to compensate for a strength
Exercises. As I stated above, there are only so many motions.
Work within that framework as a basis for training and hit every
motion. You can do them with a twist, unilaterally (e.g. one-legged
deadlifts, one-handed pullups), bilaterally (two-legged deadlifts,
standard pushups), as well as body weight and weighted exercises.
Finally these can also be done as open or closed chain exercises too. (Open
chain is a fancy way of stating if the limb where the load is
moves or is fixed. A handstand pushup is closed chain since the hands
stay planted, but an overhead dumbbell press is open chain. ) A goodly
compendium of movements constitutes a workout. You are limited only by
your inventiveness here.
As an aside, by using smaller weights you get a
feel for how
to move with control and power against a manageable resistance.
A cornerstone of our art is yielding to an overwhelming
force and redirecting it (this is the ju is jujutsu).
If you experience a
force that is higher than what you experience in taiso you are
in over your head and
should switch tactics.