Fitness and Agility for the Martial Artist
What is needed to be a good martial artist? Is it the ability to deliver a one punch knockout? A thorough knowledge of all techniques in your chosen art? How about a bad-ass Bruce Lee yell to strike fear into the hearts of any would be attackers? These may all be important factors, yet in my opinion, fitness, and in particular flexibility, agility and coordination, are the bench marks for a solid martial artist.
Martial artists need to be fit for purpose. Bodybuilders lift the heaviest weights possible so that they can tear the muscles in order for them to be built up bigger and stronger. While I admire this dedication to training, it has its limits for the martial artist, due to the fact that if they were to become massively stacked and ripped with muscles, their agility would suffer and they would no longer be fit for purpose. A certain amount of muscle mass is needed for the martial arts without a doubt, but this should be lean muscle so as to still be quick, nimble and agile.
As a result of this, time spent at the gym lifting heavy weights in order to build muscle has its limits in terms of martial arts. Other methods of training are preferable in my opinion. Kettlebell training delivers a full range of motion in its movements, building lean muscle and increasing cardiovascular endurance, while also stripping away body fat. Gymnastics also offer great training, again building lean muscle and reducing fat, while also building general fitness, flexibility, agility and coordination. This can be shown in the training of welterweight UFC champion Georges St Pierre, who regularly uses gymnastics as an addition to his mixed martial arts training.
Flexibility, as well as being useful in certain martial arts such as Taekwondo for kicking skill, can also help reduce the chances of injury for any athlete due to the muscles and surrounding tissue being more pliable. This allows greater movement in the body, reducing the chances of torn muscles and other such injuries. Yoga and pilates can be excellent for this, improving flexibility, as well as developing the core muscle groups needed for martial arts in addition to regulating the breathing.
Agility and coordination are perhaps the most important attributes for the martial artist in my opinion. If you are not agile, you are slow, making it easier to be attacked both in terms of practical self defence, and also traditional training. If you are not coordinated, you will find it difficult to employ power in your punches or kicks, due to the fact your body isn’t working as one unit. The punch will always come from the arm, not the hip and so power will be restricted. As already said, gymnastics are great for both agility and coordination as well as building functional muscle. Other exercises such as ladder runs can improve speed and agility, as well as cardiovascular fitness
Fitness is a personal thing. Some people wish to develop their muscles, getting them as big as possible such as in the case of bodybuilders. Others wish to focus more on cardiovascular training, paying little thought to weight training such as marathon runners. Martial artists should, in my opinion, focus on both. The well rounded martial artist should be agile and flexible with lean muscle in order to produce power when needed. As such, training in a multitude of arts can be useful. To supplement regular martial arts training, gymnastics could be done to focus on coordination and lean muscle gains or ladder run drills could be performed to focus on agility and cardiovascular endurance. This kind of training will lead to the more developed and well rounded martial artist.