Martial Arts Conditioning - are You Ready to Toughen Up?
I used to think martial arts conditioning was all about physically conditioning your body.
I thought it just meant toughening up your hands, feet and shins by striking and kicking rope boards and heavy bags.
This week I realized that while getting physically tough is important...
...but it's only a small part of the whole.
I want to describe a great martial arts conditioning class we just did.
After a fast and furious kicking session we were all loose, warm and on a high. And Jason our instructor paired us up with someone of similar size.
Each of us took turns to stand in a relaxed stance with our shoulders loose. Then our partner delivered 20 punches to the stomach. At first the punches were gentle and slow.
Then gradually the punches got harder and faster. We had to work with our partner to make sure they felt the contact but that it wasn't too much.
Then we did 40 punches. Then 60. Then 80.
By the end of the first 20 I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to mange 40 or 60. Let alone 80.
'Relax' said Jason
'Are you sure?' I think.
I trusted and relaxed. And I found that if I relaxed it was OK. I realized that my body is strong. It can cope.
We did the same thing with turning kicks to our partner's inner thigh. Again with control and care for our friend but with enough force to make them feel it.
Then we moved on to face slaps.
I find head contact very confronting. And a slap is especially tough to take. I think it's because it sensitizes so many nerve endings in your face and stings afterwards.
I started to feel a little disoriented part way through. I felt a surge of panic rise into my throat.
Thoughts like 'I can't do this. I can't cope.' came up.
I took a deep breath and found some determination to get through it. I forced myself to breathe deep and let the fear pass through me. I forced myself to stay calm and relaxed and not react to fear.
And at the end I smiled. I'd got through it!
The next stage in our was to stand with our eyes closed while our partner had one minute to deliver conditioning blows. The hit could come from anywhere. A push to the shoulder, a slap to the face, a punch to the stomach or a push to the back of the knee.
Closing my eyes added another dimension. The exercise became more and more about calming my mind and forcing myself to relax. I found myself becoming more and more determined not to let fear get hold of me.
Then the final test.
I find myself standing in the middle of a circle of 20 taekwondo students. Loud music is blaring. I have to close my eyes. And deal with blows coming at me from every direction.
Briefly I felt fear rise up in my throat. This time I recognized it like an old friend.
'I know you' I thought. 'I can deal with you. I don't have to panic because of you.'
And I didn't panic. I stood and relaxed and dealt with the situation.
Afterwards, when I thought about the class I understood...
... yes, martial arts conditioning is about conditioning your body. And physical conditioning is absolutely a huge part of it.
But now I understand that martial arts conditioning is about the combination of mind and body conditioning.
You can be physically tough and strong. But however physically tough you are...
...you need mental toughness to stand up to the test.