Strength training for martial artists - Part 1

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

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