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Martial Arts Conditioning and Fighting - Part 2

by Nicholas C. Yang, May 14, 2008
Nicholas Yang demonstrating wrist/arm conditioning

Nicholas Yang demonstrating wrist/arm conditioning

Traditional martial arts is not supposed to be glamorous, and conditioning is not a very glamorous process, being a very repetitive and monotonous type of exercise requiring many years of training. It is, however, a very inherent part to traditional training that is often overlooked by many practitioners today. The general public often confuses flashy jump kicks and clanging weapons with what martial arts is really about. There is a heavy component in martial morality and discipline that should be inseparable to the training. Recalling the definition of Kung-Fu (“energy” and “time”), we know that Kung-Fu never had the meaning of fighting or killing associated with it; essentially, Kung-Fu means “hard work,” something that takes a lot of energy and time to accomplish. Most Chinese martial arts styles were developed as methods of self-defense, not to show off or best other people. The media has done much to promote and propagate martial arts in the world, but it sometimes portrays distorted perspectives of it. Most people are accustomed to seeing fancy flying kicks, twirling swords, or swinging staffs when they think of martial arts, especially when martial arts is depicted in the entertainment industry. What many do not realize is that there is a distinct difference between performance martial arts and practical, effective martial arts. One of those differences is that you do not need the same amount of conditioning in a performance that you would need for a fight.

Before acting on an opponent, study your opponent's moves and mannerisms, and then judge whether the fight is worth pursuing. Every fighter comes to the table with their own background and experience. Sun Tzu's Art of War says to “know yourself and know your opponent” in order to win a battle. This means that you should get to know as much as you can about your opponent while revealing as little as you can about yourself to win. It is possible that you might have no chance of winning, in which case you should probably flee, instead of foolishly trying to face an adversary you cannot overcome. On the other hand, it is possible that your opponent stands no chance against you, in which case you must check your ethical code and ask yourself what reasons you have to overtake a weaker opponent.

Dr. Yang weapons sparring

Dr. Yang weapons sparring

If both of you are equally matched, then there are many other factors that apply in order to win, such as bravery, endurance, concentration, natural reaction, and muscle memory. Having high spirit is also important because it contributes to good rooting, structured body movements, alertness, and awareness of surroundings. Additionally, the fighter with the higher spirit will have more confidence and be able to intimidate their opponent more. You may find sometimes that it is possible to stop a fight before it even starts simply by having a higher spirit than your opponent. A smart fighter will also have intelligent fighting strategies, being able to quickly adapt to the dynamic, changing situations of a fight. You should be able to subconsciously evaluate how a fight progresses and analyze the best options presented to you. For example, if you break your arm in the middle of a fight, it is probably in your best interests to stop the fight somehow, possibly by surrendering or fleeing. Another example would be if your opponent suddenly gains a weapon, either one that was concealed or one taken from the surrounding environment. Depending on the weapon, it may not be worth continuing the fight. There is no glory in dying from ignoring the dangers of a weapon, whether it be a gun, knife, or other. A fighting situation can also change if people you care about are threatened or taken hostage. Again, an intelligent fighter must be quick to think and react to such dilemmas and hopefully choose the best course of action. Because of the diverse combinations of strategies and skills that you and your opponent may have, it can be difficult to tell who will reign victorious in an encounter.

There are many practitioners who often seek to become fighters for competitions, fighting in a ring. Fighting in a ring is significantly different than street fighting. In a ring, there are usually competition rules that help to protect fighters from getting seriously injured. It's a bit paradoxical. Fighting is meant to hurt your opponent, but in a competition, you are not really allowed to do that. My recommendation to fighters who train to compete is to remember that competitions are simply a training tool or training method. They help you get accustomed to being in a type of fighting situation, but they do not substitute for an actual fight. Be aware of the rules that protect you in a ring that won't protect you in a fight outside of the ring. For example, be aware of whether your groin and eyes are exposed and be sure that you at least have the reaction to block an attack to such areas, even if competition rules forbid such strikes. Just because you can win a fight in the ring, it does not mean you can win a fight outside of it. Don't ever forget that fighting in a ring is not fighting on the street.

I encourage you to never forget the background and history behind training martial arts. Never initiate a fight using your skills; only act for defensive purposes when you are absolutely forced to do so. A part of intelligent fighting and strategy is knowing consequences. Just because you win a fight this week, it does not mean you will win again next week when your opponent shows up with 5 of his friends, all eager to hurt you, your friends, and your family. Even if you win the fight again that week, the situation might press on for weeks more, or possibly months, years, and generations. More and more people may also become involved. There is no point in starting such a war. Sometimes ask yourself what the intentions are behind your training. Are you looking to simply fight, to know self-defense, to gain fame and glory, to compete, to hurt others, or to train your own self-discipline and way of life? Today's society will lock up and sometimes execute those that hurt others. It is not always in our best interests to become involved in violent situations. We cannot single-handedly oppose the world and the society we live in, especially if we are to be a part of this world and this society. The best fight is “no fight.” If possible, always search for the “no fight” resolution.

Read Part 1 of Martial Arts Conditioning and Fighting.

Nicholas C. Yang (楊志豪碩士) began training martial arts as a child under the tutelage of his father Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming at Yang's Martial Arts Association (YMAA) in Boston, Massachusetts. He has competed in several international and national traditional Kungfu tournaments, including tournaments sponsored by the U.S. Wushu Kungfu Federation, U.S. Kuoshu Federation, U.S. Wushu Union, International Chinese Martial Arts Championship, World Tai Chi Federation, and Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine. He has won several medals and awards for forms events in both barehand and weapons categories.


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COMMENTS

Yes, your article clearly state essential training factors that determine the outcome of a fight, but training speed and power, or even technique without engaging a challenging training partner will show its shortcomings. Too many “traditional” styles merely promote the training of these elements without full engagement with a person, practicing them merely a shadow exercise (simulating them in the air). To be able to really fight, it is crucial to train under the conditions of fighting, under adrenaline, under stress and with an uncooperative partner.
Anonymous – May 15, 2008, 12:05 pm
I completely agree with your comment. I should have included a paragraph about that. Experience against an opponent or many opponents certainly is a part of the more advanced stages of your training. Your imagination can only do so much when you "punch air." The rest of your training must be solidified with an actual training partner or opponent. Remember, though, that training experience in the school is different than experience in a real fighting situation. Since we can't very well go around seeking out real fighting situations in bars or on the street just to get the fighting experience, finding an "uncooperative partner," as you put it, really is imperative to the success of your training.
ncy – May 15, 2008, 8:33 pm
I agree with your article and its very well written. However, I was hoping to see some information on hard conditioning such as what we do in Muay Thai, including recomendations to stay healthy in doing so and how to maximize the effectiveness of the conditioning. In Muay Thai we spend alot of time conditioning our shin bones and knees and elbows on the heavy bag and hand held thai pads. I also incorporate some iron palm bag training for building strong knuckles and conditioning the elbows and knees. Perhaps this should be the topic of new article?!?
Tidan – May 23, 2008, 9:27 pm
Hi, thank you for your comment. I think that would be a great topic for a new article, focusing on selected hard conditioning techniques and how to properly train them while minimizing injuries. I touched briefly on hard conditioning in more of a general overview in Part 1 of this article, but I did not go into the nitty-gritty details of training methods.

The main point I'd like to emphasize is that hard conditioning can be detrimental to your health if done incorrectly. Your body is made to be conditioned gradually over long periods of time, and you must also allow it time to recover and heal itself. With the limited knowledge of herbal and internal medicine these days (amongst practitioners), it is slightly less convenient to always have to seek out a doctor when ailments may arise. Hard conditioning is also a very "Yang" oriented type of exercise; it significantly increases the body's positive Yang energy. Do not forget to bring your body's energy back into balance, whether it be too Yin from a sickness or injury, or too Yang from a hard workout.

An example is people who train a lot of conditioning on their hands without healing them often damage many nerves and Qi flow in their palms and fingers. There are 6 Qi channels that flow through your fingers corresponding to your body's organs. They are outlets for regulating your internal organs' energy. Disrupting the flow becomes damaging to your body's energy and internal organs, which will manifest itself physically one day. While the muscles may build up and become stronger while you are young, problems like arthritis will most likely arise in old age. Again, knowledge of properly applying and taking herbs, eating certain foods, and practicing Qigong are often quite beneficial. It is not healthy to keep your body in a state of just Yang or just Yin, because either way, your body will be on fire and internal damage will manifest itself in the form of chronic pain and injuries, especially as you age. Learn as much as you can about your body's energy chart if you can. Your body's energy balance will constantly be changing, too, as you become older physically.
ncy – June 2, 2008, 12:23 pm
Why doesn't Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming include Western weight training in his martial arts program?

I have wondered about this for a long time, and I would appreciate it if someone would enlighten me.


Sincerely,

Marcus
Marcus – July 18, 2008, 1:33 pm
Hi Marcus, thank you for commenting. There are many approaches to weight-training exercises, both Eastern and Western. Dr. Yang's background is in more Eastern and traditional types of martial arts conditioning methods. He did not train Western weight training, so he does not teach it. Instead, YMAA teaches things such as brick-catching, wearing weights, or training with heavy weapons, which are all essentially forms of weight training. The exercises at YMAA tend to focus on a balance between training both speed and power at the same time.

However, Dr. Yang has been very open to students adopting the principles and methods of other disciplines, including Kettlebell Lifting and body-building types of exercises from lifting weights. The important thing that Dr. Yang always emphasizes though, is to not neglect training speed exercises in addition to any type of weight-lifting or body-building. Lifting heavy weights is good for strength, but it does not train speed. Having merely strong muscles is not beneficial to moving the body in a quick and nimble manner. Both speed and power are crucial in a real fighting situation.
ncy – July 22, 2008, 12:42 pm
Great article. Perhaps this is another article, but could you talk more about what you mean by "having high spirit" and perhaps specifically how it is developed in those who are learning but not yet advanced in their skills. Thanks.
Richard – August 18, 2008, 12:17 pm
Hi Richard, thank you for the comment. That is definitely another great idea for a future article. We often talk about high spirit but do not delve too deeply into the details of what is involved behind it and how to achieve it, especially for beginners. But one reason for doing so is, spirit is something that usually comes naturally with your training, and success in spirit is mostly up to the practitioners themselves. Actually, there is much of our training that is best learned through a self-learning process. An analogy might be, would you feel good with an A+ if somebody gave you all the answers to an exam, or if you figured out all the answers by yourself? Or another popular example, would you feel more satisfied climbing a mountain by foot over the course of 1 week or get taken up there by a helicopter in a matter of hours? Self-learning usually takes more effort and time, but it trains heavily on our perseverance, will, patience, and endurance. One method certain has much more substance and value than the other. It's the process we learn from, not the results. To briefly summarize, high spirit involves having strongly developed confidence, focus, and determination; however, much of that depends heavily on what the practitioner's goals are.
ncy – August 19, 2008, 12:36 pm



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