At the time of writing this post, I have been practising martial arts since 1994 with no break. So…that’s now 21 years. In this time I’ve had more fights than I can remember. The big ones, yes I do recall of course, though not always vividly. I remember moments. It might be a pivotal moment in the bout, or something said to me in the corner or side of the mat, but the thing I remember most about fights is that feeling you get about 30 seconds in and the lungs start to burn and then you do that unconscious mental check with yourself. The one that happens in a millisecond where you say….damn I feel tired…have I trained enough for this ? Oh yes….yes I did…..so get back in there and fight. On those rare times when I have gone into a tournament un-prepared, that conversation with the self can end badly. It’s then when you feel tired and you ask yourself that question…that the doubt creeps in and you only have two choices. To talk yourself out of winning….or decide to smash through hard and give it all you got anyway. It’s much better to train hard in the lead up …push yourself to the point of failure and know you can survive so that on comp day….when the going gets tough….you know your training has been equally as tough and so you have this.
I tell my students that haven’t competed in a full contact event this all the time. That you will never understand the intensity at which you need to train until you have had that 30 second moment on the mat. That feeling half way through a round where you are like….where is all my power ? That moment when you hit someone with all you have…and they don’t stop. They don’t fall. Those moments where you need to dig deep just to find the energy to keep kicking and punching and blocking etc. That’s when you understand why you need to work hard in training. Past the point where it’s fun. Past the point where you like it in that moment.
Having had a few injuries the last year or so that have made sparring and fighting not possible for me, and also looking for something to give me a new challenge, I took up Crossfit. There are those that like to say negative things about Crossfit – but to me it all made perfect sense. Strength training, which is varied and functional, in a group session (something I like because of my martial arts background – I love the energy a group brings) and all this tied in with an intense high volume workout sounded just fine to me. Booking myself into my first few sessions of basics to begin to learn the Olympic lifting….I knew I was in for a challenge. I had considered myself coordinated, flexible and somewhat strong. I had started light weights work after completing my Personal Training Qualifications about 1.5 yrs earlier…..so I thought I’d be on track to pick up Crossfit quickly. Ummmm……no. There were of course things I could do and had strength and cardio fitness….but so many new movements. In fact…..certain postures or stances that I had formed like patterns into my core were making life hard in the box. My feet just naturally fell into stances….and now I was trying to break them. I’d been taught to squat a certain way….and now I had to re-learn that too. I think perhaps that coming to Crossfit as someone with no sporting history would be somewhat easier. Or…maybe It was just that I was out of my comfort zone. After years of being immersed in something where I knew what I was doing…and a reasonable rank….I was now back at the bottom of the food chain.
Fast forward to now, and about 1 – 1.5 years of regular Crossfit training, I am now of the opinion that everyone that does fighting martial arts could benefit from this type of training. The Olympic lifting may not be an advantage…but the strength that it builds sure is. Being able to perform some of the movements also requires flexibility in places that as martial artists we don’t address. For example……I had no idea how tight or limited my back movement was until I started tyring to Squat properly….and Overhead squat. And sure….I could pretty much do the splits…..but wasn’t getting deep enough in my squat due to my hips. No doubt some of this was movement patterns…. but here it was pointed out to me in real time.
But that’s not the best part. The best part is that there is no cheating. When you hit the bag…..it’s your choice how hard you hit it. You can go at 60%…or at 100% but it makes no difference to the bag. Sure…it might move more or less but at the end of the day nobody’s going to know but you. Even if you are with a trainer and they hold pads, and they are a great trainer and they push you …..You can still be in a position to control the intensity somewhat. Don’t get me wrong…nothing can replace padwork and bagwork for a fighter and I’m not discounting how hard fighters train. No way. It’s just however that the bar never lies. It’s a great tool for the fighter to know where their strength is at. It’s always going to take you the same amount of effort to lift 20 or 40 or 60 Kg’s. You can’t cheat. You can only make it easier by doing the work and getting stronger so that 40kgs feels like 30 now etc. Couple the use of weights in a workout where there might be running or pullups or burpees and you have yourself a challenge. One that will either burn the lungs….challenge your heart (come on …pickup the bar again) or just be something that you can’t do very well and now you have to do it.
In a fight….we can push some of our own short falling’s on to our opponent. If we somehow manage to talk ourselves out of winning or give up a little…..we lose and we say that the other fighter was better on the day. I am sure deep inside we know….but there is still that avenue. When you are doing a workout….one that really pushes you and you give in to that voice inside your head…..you can’t blame the bar. It’s you. And you know what….that’s okay. And just like a fighter would…you will be back there tomorrow to fight that bar and lift that weight and swing that Kettlebell and burn those lungs and push till your legs want to collapse and row past the point where its comfortable and believe me I hate rowing. I don’t like feeling inadequate when I can’t lift as much as others. I don’t like not being able to do a muscle-up. I don’t like feeling like I want to cry but I have to throw that stupid wall ball up so high another 20 times. I don’t really like Crossfit sometimes at all. But that’s precisely why I love it. It mimics the same feelings that we get in a hard sparring session or a hard pad session or a hard grading or fight. But it does this while building strength and without the same kind of injuries. It forces you to train hard. The things that make us better aren’t usually the things we think of fondly at the time.
So……Maybe give crossfit a try. Perhaps you won’t like it too !