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tksdaddy's picture
Non martial training

Hi all, I was hoping I could get some feedback on different ways of non-martial arts training, i.e. cardio, calisthenics, weights etc.

I am a generally fit guy, ex military and long time karate-ka and more recently I have trained/competed in Judo but one thing I have never really done is supplement my martial arts training by going to the gym,  Sure I have been to the gym, but never for the sole purpose of benefiting my martial arts training, usually it is to "bulk up" a bit.  (I am 26years old, 5' 9", and last time I weighed in at a Judo competition I was 56kg(!).)

I can run a mile and a half in 8mins 8 seconds (although I am dying after 10mins of randori!)

In "The way of Sanchin Kata: The Application of Power" by Kris Wilder, Hiroo Ito says in the Foreword that "A physique strengthened from karate is not created only from muscle strength, but from a flexible muscle tone.  It is not possible to perform strong karate without this characteristic.  A body strengthened with bodybuilding will have an adverse effect.  There are no historical documents describing weightlifting among samurai soldiers.  Bodies with hard muscles will slow the movements of the body."

Now, I am aware that there is a distinct difference between "bodybuilding" and "weightlifting" and I wonder if Ito makes this distinction (if not then the comment in general could be percieved by many as naiive or unfounded).  What I am getting at is, does anyone agree with this statement and is weighlifting (as opposed to bodybuilding, which is not my aim) truly detrimental to the practising martial artist?  Bruce Lee was a staunch advocate of weight training, and nobody could accuse him of being slow (alleged camera film manipulation aside).

And if I were to weight train, what sort of exercise would be benifical to martial arts?  I have always assumed the power exercises (clean and jerk for example) and whole body exercises like kettle bell routines would fit this category, but what about strength straining like bench press, squat and deadlift?  I know they deliver great results in overall body enhancement, but in terms of martial arts?  I don't know.  Any ideas?

And as an historical aside, does anyone know what methods the old warriors (Chinese and Samurai) would have used to supplement their training?  I have always (perhaps naiively) assumed that the samurai did have hard bodies, but they didn't achieve that by training bow and sword all day, did they?  And I am not aware of any cardio, calisthenics or weight training they may have undertook.

I hope that this post will be uselful to others besides myself.

Warmest regards,


michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

One of the biggest myths plaguing modern martial artist today is that weight lifting reduces speed, hinders flexibility, stunts the chi, etc ,etc ,etc. Most, if not all, of these statements are made by individuals who have never curled a dumbell in their entire life. Strenght training has long been associated with Okinawan Karate, or Hojo Undo as it’s popularly known, and its also found in numerous other fighting arts of both Asian and European ancestory. Something else we should remember where strenght training is concerned is that the agriain lifestyle of the samurai was in itself a workout. Manual labor was the norm, not the exception, in fedual era Japan, so yes, strength training did take place though not in the form found in gyms today. Their’s was a farmer’s workout that utilized almost every muscle through working in the fields. And even those who didn’t work in the fields, like the fedual man of arms, had to undergo some form of physical conditioning to meet the demands of the battlefield.

With the above being said I do think it improtant though for the karate-ka to understand the differences between functional strenght and aesthetic strength. The former is what football players rely on as do other athletes such as MMA fighter and boxers to achieve victory in their chosen sport. The latter is what you see in the muscle magazines and is commonly found with bodybuilders whose main goal is to sculpt their bodies.

Functional strength, which the karate-ka needs, can be attained through many ways but almost all of them have in common the explosive lift principle. By explosive I mean you’re performing an exercise that not only taxes your muscles, but your cardiovascular system as well. Plus the exercise trains your body to explode, or go from non-action to action in a split second. Olympic style lifts, or floor to ground lifts such as the clean, clean press, squat, hanging clean press, deadlift and others of this varity will go a long way in helping you to achieve both muscle endurance, cardio-endurance and explosive power. Also, pulll-ups, dips, chopping wood, throwing a sandbag around the back yard and in general manual labor will also go a long way. I also enjoy mountain bike riding because not only is it fun but it helps develop my legs and the pumping action is great for developing knee strikes.

Hope this helps some!


Mike R

ky0han's picture

Hi tksdaddy,

maybe that short article will help: http://www.karatebyjesse.com/?p=1854

Regards Holger

Andrew Carr-Locke
Andrew Carr-Locke's picture

Cardio work - running or swimming (think sprints not marathon), and plyometrics. 

Strength work - Kettlebells and weights. Stick to the Olympic power lifts. (strength not muscle)

Suppleness - Yoga (add same theory into you kata if you like).

Alive training (sport specific) - relaxed low intensity, comfortable paced, medium pressure sparring (think randori marathon, constant sport specific exercise to the point of endurance failure)


This will give you a strong, supple body that is able to go the distance. It will help with all kinds of training, but adding the last point will give you the base of being able to perform in your sport for longer stretches.

To really get specific, consult a professional who can analyse your biomechanics and develop a personal training routine to that effect, coupled with a good sport specific coach for technical exercise training (but that level is usually reserved for national squad level of training- it is not necessary to do this to see results in the dojo day to day). 


That's what I have done when I've needed to perform at a high level of athletic ability. Easy 4 things to think about. Cardio, Strength, Suppleness, Sport specific endurance and execution. Have fun and enjoy the workouts.

tksdaddy's picture

Thanks to all for your input, it has been insightful and I hope to start utilising it sooner rather than later!

Compliements for the swift, mature and informed replies!