Going the Distance

There was a short conversation last night about what sorts of training are useful for tournament combat. There is a growing trend of combatants hitting the gym and this is an excellent trend and we should all be doing this. However I feel that too many people are not using this time wisely.

Working on strength is a good thing but it is often over emphasised and done poorly. I will write more about this soon because what I would like to talk about here is endurance issues.

Being the strongest person on the field is not that useful (and in my experience often leads to poor technique). A good level of strength is important but it will not help you if you gas out after a few rounds or halfway through your bout. What is important is a level of endurance and the ability to recover quickly.

Now for some science.

This is going to be the very light version. If you want more details then please ask me or do some research.

Remember that nearly every part of you is trainable. While genetics give some people a head start, most skills and abilities are developed over time and with constant work and effort. The body and mind will adapt to the demands placed on them. So if you keep doing a particular sword cut you will get better at it just as if you keep doing a particular lift the muscles responsible will get stronger. This is referred to as Adaptation.

Another important thing to understand is that all training is specific and we refer to this as Specificity. Adaptations brought about by any particular mode of training are highly specific to the physiological demands of that particular training mode. So if you want to get better at throwing a wrap, then practicing a pendulum will not help you that much. Or if you need to develop your leg strength then you need to work on exercises that target these muscle groups (squat, lunge, dead lifts) as all the bench presses in the world will not build the legs. This is why not many things beat being in armour for preparing you for being in armour…

The last principle I would like to mention is the idea of Progressive Overload. The principle is that it is necessary to expose your muscles or energy systems to a level of stress beyond the point to which they have become accustomed. So to get constant improvements you need to constantly work harder, lift more etc.

The big thing I do not want to talk about here is the mental aspect of physical training. Training the mind to do what you need to do is critical. It has been said that “the mind is primary” and it is critical. This is something we can talk about in another post.

OK we now know about the concepts of Adaptation, Specificity and Overload. Good. We need a bit more science.

Energy Systems.

Again I am keeping this at a very basic level. Things are a bit more complex than I describe here but this should give you the basic idea of the principles involved.

In order to move, we need energy. Just as a car requires fuel that it burns to create energy our bodies use a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP. Energy for muscles to work is released when ATP is broken down. There is a store of ATP in all muscles; however this is only enough to last for about one second of activity. ATP must then be constantly resynthesised for further energy needs.

There are three systems that are responsible for the resynthesise of ATP. All three of these systems resynthesise ATP in a different manner and are dependent on the duration, power and speed required for the muscle to work.

The first of the three systems is the Phosphate System. This uses the available ATP in the muscles and Creatine Phosphate. Basically this allows a very high output of energy over a very short period of time. Think a 100 metre sprint or a single Olympic lift. The Phosphate System will provide energy for up to ten seconds.

The Second system is the Lactate System. This is used when the activity is of high intensity and short duration. The issue with the Lactate System is that it produces Lactic Acid. As the levels of lactic acid accumulate muscular fatigue will result with a loss in performance. The Anaerobic Threshold is the point where the lactic acid build up produces significant deterioration in performance, fatigue, loss of form, spiking heart rate, dizziness, nausea, dry mouth. All the fun!

In an unfit person this threshold can be reached in about 30 seconds of work at between 60%-70% of age predicted heart rate. In a fitter person this can be about 60 seconds or work between 70% and 80% of max heart rate. So a fitter person can operate longer and harder before the lactic acid build up begins to affect them.

The third energy system is the Aerobic System. The aerobic system is the long term low intensity energy s system. It can produce energy over a long period of time but not at a high intensity. Think here of long distance runners and cyclists.

Generally as you first start to move the phosphate system is in action. This runs out after about 10 seconds and the lactate system kicks in. After about one to two minutes this in turn runs out and your body switches to the aerobic system and you can go for a while albeit at a slower pace. Again this is a gross oversimplification (because all three energy systems are in operation but at different rates) but I want you to get the general idea.

Trainign for Combat Endurance

Ok – that was a lot to take in. Hopefully you are still with me. So we want to train with the idea of Specificity. We need to think about the type of activity were engage in during out tournaments. Most bouts do not last for more than around 60 seconds. Yes there is often a bit of initial carefully moving to test the defence or gain a good moment to strike, but our bouts do not last for very long. We are mostly using the Lactate System for your energy needs so it follow that this is the energy system we should be focusing on improving in our training.

Lactic anaerobic training sucks. There is no way around this. It will not be pleasant. Time to suck it up and get one with it. The form of training required here consists of short strenuous bouts of activity spaced between low intensity recovery periods. Remember the idea of specificity? We need to not only replicate the physical demands of a tournament bout; we would also need to push above these levels in order to force the body into Adaptation.

So the main training protocols here are High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which alternates from short bursts of high intensity anaerobic training followed by even shorter recovery and less intense recovery periods.

Examples of HIIT would be Tabata and Fartlek. Tabata training is normally done with 20 seconds all out effort followed by 10 seconds active rest (you slow down rather than stop) for eight rounds. The work period should be at your absolute maximum effort. If you feel OK after a Tabata session you have not done it right. This may be the worst four minutes of your life.

Fartlek is similar except the work periods are randomised and over a longer period. So a possible session would be a jog for 60 seconds, followed by a hard run for 30 seconds, followed by a jog for 30 seconds, followed by all-out sprint for 10 seconds, followed by a walk for 30 seconds. This would then be repeated for a total of 20-30 minutes.

We also need to go back to the idea of Specificity. The training effect here is muscle specific so you need to do a routine that has the maximum of full body movement. We use elliptical machines as they are readily available and easy to use. You could also do HIIT style stuff in armour. Using either a pell or a training partner go all out for 20 seconds, slow down for 10 and then go again…

Now the nasty bit. As you get fitter in this regard you will have to step up the intensity of your workouts. As your body adapts you will need to progressively up the work load. However if you are at a level that is satisfactory (and almost none of us are) then maintaining that level still requires some work but not the same level that building it does.

The last thing I would like to mention and this is very important. Please make sure you have a reasonable level of general fitness before doing lots of HIIT sessions. These should be hard work and will place a lot of strain on your cardio vascular system.

Right that was a rather long post. I hope some of you find it useful. Fitness and training is much more complex than this but we need to start somewhere.







And now for some standards

There are a lot of general benchmarks on what can be described as fitness. I am not that keen on getting to too much detail, as I like the idea that fitness can be defined as ‘being able to do what you want to do’. Ok this definition has its issues, particularly if your thing is sitting on the couch but it is a straight forward standard when it is almost impossible to define.

One easy bench mark is the Army Physical Fitness Assessment. This is the minimum standards for recuit entry. For males this is 45 sit ups, 15 pushups and a shuttle run/beep test at 7.5 (about 1,120 meters in 6.5 minutes). For females this is the same except the pushup requirement is 8. I would suggest that this would be a reasonable level for most people. I would also suggest that this would be a minimum level for those serious about tournament combat.

The next useful benchmark would be the Armys Basic Fitness Assessment (BFA). Thanks to Liam for sending me the link. The BFA is an excellent benchmark as it is scaled to age and gender. This is probably the scale I would use to rate someone who is serious about their combat fitness. For an old person like me this is 20 push-ups, 50 sit ups, 2.4km run in 13:12 minutes and a 5km walk in under 44 minutes. This is not that hard to do (although the run is work) and I would like to make it the standard for all my squires…

For people getting a bit more serious about health and capacity I would point to the standards set by the Gym Jones people (this is for males).

Deadlift 2 x bodyweight One of the most fundamental exercises for strength in any sport.

Front squat 1.25 x bodyweight Squats are one of those essential moves.

Overhead squat 1 x bodyweight A fundamental move that tests your flexibility and core strength.

Clean 1 x bodyweight and Jerk 1 x bodyweight

Pull-ups x15

Row 500m in 1:40 and Row 2,000m in 7:30

“Jones Crawl” 3 rounds of: 10 Dead lifts 115% of BW, 25 Box Jumps 24 inches under 5:30 minutes.

“JonesTown Sprint” Push Press @ 30kg + Burpee/ Pull-up combo, 20-20-10-10 reps of each in under 4 minutes.

Yes, this list is a bit scary. No I am no were near this standard, yet. But here is a standard to work towards.

A journey begins with a single step (an update).

The USA, Stranger in a Strange Land
In mid August we backed our bags and headed over to the warm climes of California. The trip was ostensibly a honeymoon of sorts but we were planning to get to Sport of Kings in Portland and get some training in with Count Gemini. The Portland side trip failed to happen due to recalcitrant trucks eating their own transmissions. Anyway this did present me an opportunity to get in a lot more training work with Gemini.

We spent a lot of time going over the basic techniques. This is always a good thing as they form the foundation of everything we do. I still have so much to learn and then bed in. Fortunately most of the foundation stuff was various tweaks to what I am already doing, some stuff on weight shifts, sword grip and breathing. I have a lot of pell and mitt work ahead of me.

I was also introduced to some of the ideas around using maces. I will be making up a few to work on this aspect of what we can do. The mace is very useful in demonstrating some timing changes and working on wraps and some other attacks. Spears were also covered. Again, I have a lot of practice work ahead to get this stuff working.


Not my monkeys but maybe my circus…

Last weekend was the Lochac ‘Knights School’ event. This is a weekend of classes and pickup fighting designed to develop and advance the combat arts in the kingdom.

The event gives us lots of combat related stuff and an opportunity to teach and learn from a wide variety of Knights and others. Mostly…

I was not schedules to do any classes this year so I spend my time sitting through various classes, trying to be a good student and not interjecting. I was only partially successful at this. Some of the classes were useful and some of them were what we would call ‘interesting’.

I think we also lost a good opportunity to do some focus one on one work between the belted and unbelted combatants. The Armoured portion of the day was just a lot of pick up fights. One way I think we would get better use out of this is each person gets to spend 15 min with a knight of their choice to either fight some passes, do some critique stuff or work though some drills. This sort of thing would make things a bit more structured and useful than just pick-ups.

Anyway – I was asked to fill in a teaching spot. I went against EVERYTHING I normally try to do in teaching and unloaded way too much information and ideas in a single session. It was poorly done on my part and probably due to having to sit through several hours of some very odd classes.

I also have finally purchased a video camera. This means I will be trying to film a lot more of our combat and training session sessions. I will post the link once I get stuff up.

So now begins going back to my basics, working on bedding in the refinements in the fundamental cuts and thrusts. In many ways, the key to any martial art is the mastery of the fundaments and this never changes.

Many times, one who pursues the martial arts expects to see results too soon. You cannot expect to move, strike, block and attain any understanding of the art before you know how to stand. – Syr Gemini.