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Is extreme physical training necessary for martial arts?

Posted Jun 25 2010 12:00am

How much physical training is enough to become a proficient martial artist? I am always astounded by the amount and intensity of physical training that some people do. Is it necessary to do several hours of week of intense physical training such as push ups, abs training, bag punching, weight lifting, running etc? I ask the question because I don't do a fraction of what others appear to be doing!

The majority of my training is directly related to martial arts and most of this is done during actual classes. I have 5.5 hours of classes a week and probably do around 1 to 2 further hours a week at home - but this is mainly kihon or kata practice or working through some ippons or practising with my bo or sword. I only do a few minutes on the cross-trainer, some stretching, a few weights and sit ups as part of a warm up.

I find the warm ups we do in class can be quite vigorous. Half an hour of kihon or kata practice in class gets me in a sweat and makes me feel I've had a good work out. But is this enough? I consider myself to be fit, though not maximally fit. I think my muscles are reasonably well toned and strong but, again, not maximally so. Do I need to be maximally fit and strong to be a good martial artist? I'm not looking to be a champion in competition.

I think fitness is important in martial arts and it is tested through the gradings - particularly the higher kyu and dan gradings. But is extreme fitness important? It strikes me that the more intensively and frequently that one trains in physical fitness the more likely one is to acquire chronic and disabling injuries. How does that help you to be a better martial artist?

Funakoshi did not think that extreme exercise was necessary and that just through the practice of karate one would gradually improve fitness and strength. He advocated practising karate in small chunks, little and often seemed to be his desired target. For Funakoshi karate was the ultimate form of self defence. He thought the main advantages of karate as a means of self-defence were: "no weapons are necessary, the old or sick, or women, are able to apply it; and one can protect himself effectively even with little natural strength" (quote from Karate-Do Kyohan p.13).

So why is there now a tendency towards more extreme physical training? Is it that people who indulge in this type of training are just passionate about achieving extreme physical fitness and that this is independent (though related) to their passion for martial arts? Or is this level of fitness really desirable for martial arts?

What do you think? Is 'optimal' fitness sufficient or should we all be striving for extreme fitness?

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