Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Exercise Tips

How hard do you train at your school? Do you pride yourself on the number of knuckle-pushups you can crank out? Are you sweating bullets by the end of your class? In karate and related styles, the emphasis is on hard physical training. Muscular strength and cardio-vascular endurance are developed through a circuit of exercises that usually includes plenty of abdominal work. Strengthening the abdomen is especially important as it is the seat of the hara where balance and power (ki) are derived from. Having washboard abs is not only nice for the summer but can also assist you with your martial arts program. Getting in shape should coincide with one's progress in the martial arts as long as it's approached correctly and with care.

Realize that training for anything is a stimulus for improvement. Actual growth can only occur during rest and recovery. This is critical to understand, because overdoing any strenuous activity without a break is not only a waste of time but counterproductive. When the body is run down from over-training, it will produce an abundance of the catabolic (muscle wasting) hormone cortisol. Muscular atrophying in turn causes an increase in relative body-fat percentage. Conversely, muscles at rest have the capacity to burn fat. So being lean will produce a convincing fighting machine as long as you give your body adequate rest and recovery time in addition to a proper diet.

We are what we eat, and while I'm not a big believer in these trendy low carbohydrate diets, I do advocate sensible moderation with everything, including alcohol. Although carbs are touted as a premium energy source, in lieu of its presence the body will readily burn fat. For this reason, a light morning cardio workout before breakfast is ideal for burning already stored body-fat.

A stretching regimen is a must for any stylist. Research has shown that stretching actually preserves muscle mass. Muscles are subject to the myotatic reflex which prohibits them from over-extending and tearing. Each time we stretch, we teach the muscles to extend this reflex by elongating more than previously, which leads to greater flexibility. Stretching should be done slowly and consistently. The stretch should be enough to cause some discomfort, but it should not be unbearable. Ballistic (bouncing) or extreme stretching routines will only prematurely activate the myotatic reflex and eventually cause injury. Stretch at the beginning and end of every class and every time you workout.

Experiencing some residual soreness after a workout is actually a good sign, even if you're a long time practitioner. After a hard workout the muscles undergo a certain degree of micro-trauma at the cellular level which leads to a repair cycle. Under optimal conditions, the body will not only resume to its original state, but exceed it, i.e. become better, stronger, faster, and more resilient. This is how we grow, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually. Mind, body and spirit form an inseparable triumvirate for the consummate martial artist.

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Blogger frotoe said...

I'm definitly sweating bullets by the end of my class. Actually, I'm sweating bullets by the end of going thru basics. We stretch out pretty well before and after class as a group, but I have to start stretching before class to get my hips loosened up.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Mir said...

It took me awhile to understand the balance that is needed between hard training, and proper resting that promotes strengthening.

Thank you for addressing this issue on your weblog, and alerting readers to it's importance.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Charles James said...

Hi, John

Excellant Post! I also advocate breaking your workouts into smaller sessions through out the day, if possible.

I get up and do mokuso at 5am then move into a few stretches, pushups and situps. I then move into Tai Chi Chuan exercise along with Chi-gong.

At 10am I do Te-no-bu at work. Noon I do kaho or kata practice then at 3pm I do Ashi-no-bu.

I do Sanchin once a day.

In the evening I walk or ride a bike with my wife.

I also feel that breaking it up helps with concentration to get the most out of what you are practicing in lieu of a two hour marathod workout.

When I am in class I teach, period. The Gakusei learn, period. Practice is outside of the dojo. This is so the most of the limited time in the dojo can be learning since it is only 2hours twice a week.

Maybe when I retire I can teach five to seven days a week. :-)

Great Post, thanks!

10:33 AM  
Blogger Perpetual Beginner said...

Our dojo does about 30 minutes of exercise and stretching before each class. We definitely get warm, but we're not particularly hard-core - probably because we have few (okay, no) students of the ages to become fit easily without serious concerns of injury. About 2/3 of our student population is 12 and under, while the rest are 40 & up (I'm the youngster among the adults at 38).

On my own I train considerably more outside of dojo time - aerobics, weights and yoga, which have had a dramatic effect on my overall fitness, and on how much exertion the time in the dojo is for me. I would say we do enough exercise to challenge somebody who is only moderately fit, but not enough to actually make someone very fit.

10:19 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...


We do basics sometimes 20 times per side, which in and of itself is a good workout. Stretching after a class is really good practice because the muscles are already warmed up and respond accordingly.

Thanks, Mireille:

Here's a quote from Kyokushin founder Mas Oyama that runs opposed to modern methods that you may find interesting:

If someone asked me what a human being ought to devote the maximum of his time to, I would answer, "Training". Train more than you sleep.

You have to admit, that's extreme. But then, so was Oyama.

Thanks, Mr. James.

I also advocate breaking your workouts into smaller sessions through out the day, if possible.

Good idea, but as you say, if possible. A similar idea would be to vary the intensity and focus of routines (as you implied anyway).

I do Sanchin once a day.

We like to conclude the class with this one. The problem is that everyone is usually so wiped out that it really can't quite be performed with proper gusto. Sanchin is unique in that it produces a training effect that can't be duplicated with weights, cardio, or anything else that I know of.

I also feel that breaking it up helps with concentration to get the most out of what you are practicing in lieu of a two hour marathon workout.

I think you're on to something. You can either train hard, or train long - but not both.

In the evening I walk or ride a bike with my wife.

Every weekend, my son and I go out on our bikes through the neighborhood. I also do a fair amount of walking. Both are very enjoyable and terrific exercises.

Perpetual Beginner:

On my own I train considerably more outside of dojo time - aerobics, weights and yoga...

Me too. Except for yoga. You don't hear much about yoga these days (I'm assuming you're referring to hatha yoga), at least where I'm from. Yoga has some of the most challenging postures and stretching routines I've ever seen. I'm sure it's an excellent supplement to karate.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ever since we got a new Sabumnim, I've been hurting more after Tuesday and Thursday classes...

I can't do knuckle pushups yet. I'm still working on just holding myself in a knuckle position.

But it's better than what I could do a month ago. And that's cool.

I think the thing that training five nights a week has made me realize (more than I ever knew when I was only going two nights a week) is that you have your good days and your bad days physically.

For some reason, I've been sore all over for about 3 days. So I'm taking it a bit easier and not feeling guilty about it. When I was only training twice a week, I'd either skip the training when I felt this way or feel guilty for not going all out.

12:54 AM  
Blogger Rick Matz said...

When I trained in Yoshinkan Aikido, we trained very hard. On my own, I did 500 sword cuts, and 100 back breakfalls everyday. That was just to keep up.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Rick Matz said...

... one more thing. Try practicing "standing stake" until you fall down. It's an interesting experience.

9:34 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Hi Amanda:

I don't bother with knuckle- pushups. And frankly, neither should anyone else - I've never cared for them and I really don't see the purpose for them. Regular pushups or even wheelbarrow pushups are more than sufficient. Please forgive me for sounding so cynical, that's just the way I feel. Tell your Sabumnim that your doctor forbids you to do knuckle-pushups. I'm serious.

Ideally, you shouldn't train at all if you're very sore. 3 days of soreness is a pretty long time, and you may have broken down more muscle tissue than your body is used to. Some people who have over-trained have actually developed flu-like symptoms. If you have to, take a week off to rejuvenate, then you'll be raring to go. (My understanding is that the 5-day training week is par for the course for martial artists in the East. Westerners have it easy!)


I've dabbled in aikido. It is indeed rough. Aikido training under its founder was reputed to be absolutely brutal.

You and your standing meditation. I'll give it a shot someday.

12:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhh, but John, you're forgetting that I would have to go to a Korean doctor.

Here's how the doctors are in Korea.

First, you must get a note to miss any work. Hence, the only reason I go to the doctor when I have a simple head cold. "Doctor, my head hurts, I have a sore throat, and I have a cough."

"Ah, it sounds like you have a cold [gee, really?]. Take this packet of five pills [and I won't tell you what they do or what they're for or even what they're calld, nor will I ask about any allergies], eat kimchi, gargle, and don't take any hot showers."

I so wish I were kidding.

As for the soreness, I think it has more to do with other factors than training. Luckily, we had an easy week at the studio and I'm feeling much better.

And next week my parents are coming to visit, so I'm only going to the studio once! There's my week off. ^^

12:45 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Welcome to my site, Scott.

My understanding of Oyama's kyokushin was that it was geared towards full-contact fighting. This included low kicks and other things generally prohibited in other systems. Tough style.

It's amazing that sometimes the so-called medicine is more debilitating than the ailment. Fighting this sort of thing makes you a warrior in your own right. Hang in there pal.

Striking objects - whether it's a makiwara (striking post, usually made from wicker) or cement block makes more sense than knuckle-pushups which are weight bearing - this would cause compression which you wouldn't get from proper striking. I've developed scar tissue on my knuckles from years of sparring, so I'm leery of either of these methods. Thanks for stopping by.


Medical care in Korea sounds rough. OK, don't see a doctor. You can just say you did! Kimchi - isn't that Korean cole slaw?

I'm glad you're feeling better. Enjoy your visit with your parents.

12:49 AM  
Blogger Miss Chris said...

I think knuckle push-ups are just something people think are cool. I didn't like doing them because it seemed stupid to me. Okay, it makes my knuckles hurt. What good will that do me? Is it all a part of the "karate is pain and lets see how tough you are by how much pain you can endure"? That's how it was sometimes in our school. If you thought something was painful it made you weak. Seems like regular push-ups will give you a great physical result if you do them correctly.

11:19 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Hi Miss Chris:

Seems like regular push-ups will give you a great physical result if you do them correctly.

Right - and they will. We used to do these other variations of pushups in my old school that had us reverse our hands (fingers pointing down instead of up) extra wide hand-placed pushups and diamonds (extra close hands). I agree that knuckle-pushups are implemented in part with a certain amount of machismo in mind.

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have taken time out of martial arts and into the gym.

And its part of my strengthening and fat burn experiment, perhaps you are right.

Just one thing, does anyone like the feeling of pain on sore muscles after hard exercise? it hurts but for some reason I can't stop hitting it or pushing on it.

5:00 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...


A little pain or soreness usually means you had a good workout. It's a good sign. I just hope your not bringing your sword with you to the gym, Eddie!

6:03 PM  
Blogger Mathieu said...

As for standing meditation,

sanchin can be a prelude to that. I had some very interesting experiences with sanchin.

Ho hum. I just realized there are various versions of sanchin.

"Ritzu-zen" or "zhan zhuang" is pretty similar to what one can acheive in sanchin. Or so I believe. :)

But again, what do I know :D

11:01 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...


I just realized there are various versions of sanchin.

Definitely, especially as far as how intense it's performed (as opposed to different styles). One guy I know who runs an Isshinryu school near me does a version of sanchin that's unbelievable. His breathing sounds like a hurricane. I think some of those goju-based forms (like seiuchin and tensho) may have been created at a time before weight training was realized.

I can't say much about standing meditation since I've never attempted it. Some of the postures require that you hold your arms a certain way. From what I do know, it's supposedly pretty tough, where some practitioners start to shake and tremble spasmodically. Actually, that happens sometimes during a sanchin performance, depending on who's doing it.

12:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post is why I've been doing a lot of pilates. It places an emphasis on core muscle strength and stretching. You just feel tighter and stronger after doing it.

12:09 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Black Belt Mama:

You know it's funny, I actually had to look up pilates to see what it was, even though I've seen this word around for a long time. If this works for you, then definitely stick with it, especially if it incorporates stretching.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Mir said...

Yes John, Sosai Oyama was a man of extremes. However, to understand his quote, as a Kyokushin-ka I needed to think about what he meant by "training". I believe that he was referring to keeping our senses alert, and having a Budo perspective in every aspect of our lives. His mottos mention things like having proper posture throughout the whole day ( This is training.) Keeping a healthy attitude towards money ( It cannot be ignored, but neither should it be clung to.) Using introspection of our behaviour as contemplation for improvement. Sosai saw Kyokushin as a way of thinking, and moving, and training in ALL times of our life.. not just while we work on our basics, and sparring in the dojo. Therefore, even when we breath we attempt to use our diaphragm and breath in a healthy way rather than do light upper lung breathing. ( This is also Training.)

Sensei Gichin Funakoshi was known to train constantly. He purposely walked in a shuffle step to strengthen his knees, and posture. He chose what he ate carefully to increase his health. He was always careful to give corners a wide berth when he was walking. I am of the opinion that Sosai Oyama is echoing the lifestyle, and teachings of his Shotokan Sensei. I know that Sosai's Mottos start with the same admonition as Sensei Gichin Funakoshi's "Karate begins and ends with courtesy."

I truly believe that this is what is being encouraged.

3:40 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...


I really thought Oyama was literally referring to training, not training in a metaphorical sense. Bear in mind that this was a man who (if you believe the story) spent a year or so in the wilderness practicing karate, Zen meditation and kata under a waterfall.

I believe that he was referring to keeping our senses alert, and having a Budo perspective in every aspect of our lives.

I have no doubt he lived that way. I should've mentioned that I swiped the quote from Forrest Morgan's Living The Martial Way, where it appeared at the beginning of a chapter discussing training methods.

As always, I appreciate your input.

5:31 PM  

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