SOUTH AFRICA, 1998: I’m facing off against my Swaziland-born opponent, in Taekwondo National Trials. My opponent has 17 years of training behind him.

An hour before our fight began I was in the changing room talking to one of the participants who’d just finished fighting him.

He complained, “Wow, that guy bulldozed me… every time he kicked me, it felt as if my kidneys were going to fall out. I hear you’re facing him next, in the Final?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I see he’s an offensive fighter. In fact, I’ve never seen him defend, so if I keep up an offensive game throughout the fight, he might not be able to pull off a decent defence, right?”

“Sure, sounds straight forward enough – if you can get in there first and force him to defend!” my defeated companion responded, unsurely. “But be careful, he’s very strong!”

It’s the first round and my opponent walks into my front kick which is not the kind of kick I’ve used much in competitions, as I’ve always found it hard to “sell” to more experienced opponents.

Ordinarily, this would be a KO but my opponent continues, though he seems shaken. We both look surprised; me because I’d expected to take him out, and he, because this sort of thing clearly never happens to him.martial arts mam

I keep the pressure up, scoring 2 more points and bringing the score to 4-0 in my favour after the first round.

In the second and third round, I’m finding it somewhat alarming, that he’s not only recovered from the first round, but he starts getting in some offensive moves of his own, and we end up cancelling each other’s techniques.

Neither of us is scoring at this point.

Towards the end of the third and final round, I am leading by 4 points to 0, and I’m thinking, “I’m going home as a National Champion.”

I take a few steps back to create some space between myself and my opponent. There’s some 4 to 5 metres between us now. I glance at the big digital clock next to the scoreboard, counting down the round’s closing seconds.

Next thing I see is my opponent’s heel descending towards my face and boom – I’m in a knock-down!

Blood streams down my face – my nose is broken!

The referee stops the fight to check on me. I’m shaken and surprised (I’ve never been kicked in the face before), but still I rise – quick and ready to fight.

My opponent takes advantage of my momentary lapse and swiftly piles up 3 more points with alternating roundhouse kicks and wins the fight.

I lost the tournament that I was so close to winning because I broke a golden rule: Never take your eyes off your opponent, no matter how good you think you are.
If my opponent hadn’t been as strong as he was, he wouldn’t have been able to receive all the punishment that he did in the first round, and still stand, let alone take advantage of a momentary lapse in concentration on my part.

My opponent received a psychological boost at this point. He realised I could be taken down and got a second wind, to do exactly that.

This was one of those fights that made me look really deep into my own training…

I’d been doing gym training for some years by that point, which is part of the reason why most of my opponents had crumbled before me. I had the strength and power advantage.

Of course, if you fight long enough, you’re bound to encounter someone who’s stronger, faster, or more skilful that you.

After the tournament I had to face some tough questions such as:muscle fibers

  1. Was I getting the best results out of my weight training sessions and, if not, what could I do to improve them?
  2. How could I learn more about – and improve my strength training system for Martial Arts?

    These types of questions set me on a quest to learn more about strength and conditioning.

Occasionally I chat to grapplers at my local gym.muscle fibers upper

Last week I noticed that they have started with body-weight training only. When I asked about the change in their training, they said that the strength and hypertrophy training was making them too stiff and they were battling with the skill aspect of their training.

Bodybuilding type of hypertrophy training has no place in Martial Art specific weight training and following such method will bulk you up.

If strength training is making you stiff then one of the things that you can look at is reducing the frequency of strength training sessions e.g. instead of 3 strength training sessions per week reduce to 2 sessions per week.

Body weight training also has its place and therefore should not be excluded, which is why a proper training program that addresses all the aspects a Martial Artist requires for better performance is needed.

For the Martial Artist interested in getting the best out of their training program from beginner to advance, keep an eye on MAM – C, which will be launching within the next 3 months.

This portal will have Martial Arts, specific strength and conditioning training programs, info and advice from a number of experts in their respective fields – from Strength and Conditioning Coaches to Physios, to Bio’s, to Dieticians and so on

Is strength training for Martial Artists actually required?

The decades-old argument within Martial Arts community is whether Martial Artists need more strength (as well as strength resistance training) or if strength training makes us slower and bulkier – meaning that skill and body weight training are all that we need for better Martial Arts performance?

Let’s have a look at some principles that will help answer this question.

The commonly shared biomotor ability in all Martial Arts is Power.

Power is the ability to perform a movement in the shortest possible time – this ability translates to knocking your opponent out in a single strike or, in Grappling Arts, to perform an explosive throw.

Common sense says that we need more power for better striking and throwing performance, but to increase power we need to maximise two biomotor abilities: maximum strength and maximum speed.

This begs the following question: How much strength is needed for a Martial Artist and how is it measured?

The importance of relative and maximum strength for Martial Artists

Maximum strength is the ability to apply maximum levels of force regardless of time constraints.

Relative strength is the proportion between maximum strength and body weight. The higher your relative strength is, all the better your fighting performance will be.

It is correct as stated. Strength is force in Newton or kg.m/s2. So is Weight.

The recommended maximum strength for Martial Arts is from 1.5 – 2.5 times their body weight.

Keeping the recommended range in mind, it is enough to say that body weight training on its own is not enough to increase your maximum strength thus get optimal power results.

The 1.5 – 2.5 times body weight resistance is a wide range that includes most Martial Arts and although we should strive towards the higher end of this scale, that does not mean that we should sacrifice our skill training and other biomotor abilities purely for strength increase.

Strength determining factors:

nervous system diagram

Most Martial Artists are concerned with maintaining functional muscle size within their weight category while maintaining or increasing their strength.

How do you increase strength while maintaining muscle size ?

The answer is in Central Nerves System (CNS) training.

For years the increase in muscle size (hypertrophy)  was taken as the main strength determining factor, which is now known to be just one factor in strength gain.

The main factors responsible for strength gains are neural adaptations to strength training, which entails intramuscular and intremuscular adaptations.

(Fibre) Intramuscular –the ability to recruit as many motor units with-in a single muscle to perform an explosive movement.muscle fiber

Intremuscular – the ability to coordinate multiple muscle groups to perform a movement. An example of multiple muscle coordination, coordinating the glutes, quadriceps, hamstring, hip flexors, transverse abdominis and back extensors to perform a Squat.

Hypertrophy – increase in muscle size.

It is important to mention that beginners (training experience 6 – 12 months) who do weight resistance training are likely to have some muscle size increase.

This is due to anatomical adaptations to weight training.The intermediate and advanced weight resistance practitioners are less likely to have any muscle size increase. In fact intermediate and advance, weight training practitioners should not gain any muscle mass if their program is well structured.

For the Martial Artist interested in getting the best out of their training program from beginner to advance, keep an eye on MAM – C, which will be launching within the next 3 months we will be launching MAM – C.

Sumo squat

This portal will have Martial Arts, specific strength and conditioning training, info and advice from a number of experts in their respective fields – from Strength and Conditioning Coaches to Physios to Bio’s to Dieticians and so on.

As this year kicks off, I would like to make a special mention for one of the people who inspires me. His name is Carl, a 53-year-old going on 21.

carl photo 9


My client, Carl, leads with his actions… before the event that led to his disability, he was 5 times Comrades Marathon medalist.

In 1999, there was a horrific accident

Carl is in the middle, Comrades Marathon 2003

at his work which caused him to have cyanide poisoning while attempting to save a workman of his. As a result of the poisoning, his Central Nervous System was affected, therefore affecting his ability to walk/run, change direction and balance.

He has also developed Dystonia affecting the left side of his body. As a result, the muscles on his left side have atrophied and his joints have lost mobility.

His left foot was abnormally turning inwards and toes pointing in, this made movement very difficult.

Carl did not let this stop him. As a true athlete, he continued with Marathons and training no matter what life threw at him… Three years after the accident he was back running the Comrades. Sadly, 2 years ago, Carl had to

carl photo 13 1
Carl at finishing line, Two Oceans Marathon 2009

give up running as his left foot progressively lost mobility and stability.

When Carl started training with me in April of 2016, we had two primary objectives. One, to work on his motor skills and two, to bring back mobility and stability of his left ankle.

Carl’s tenacity for life, to persevere and do better than yesterday, to move, to achieve constantly astounded and impressed me.

Within 5 months of training with me, Carl’s left ankle was almost back to normal. He could run again! He immediately started preparing for a major race. And on Sunday the 27th of November 2016, he ran a 32 km race. Carl fell 6 times but with determination, he got up each time and finished the race in 4 hours and 9 minutes.

Running 32km. is something to brag about no matter who you are.

This is an astonishing achievement! Well done Carl!

I asked Carl “What makes you wake up in the morning, what makes you an achiever? “… “Life!” he said.

Carl is an extraordinary individual. His mental, emotional and physical ability to stay sharp, to overcome and achieve results that can appear insurmountable to most people… what can I say… he is an incredible inspiration!

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    Alexander Herr Ski Jumping World Champion 2001 and 2006. German Champion, Olympic Bronze Medalist in 2004
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