Martial arts is often steeped with mystery, and the methods used in traditional training can often look unorthodox and sometimes even dangerous, to the untrained eye. A good example of this is 1984’s The Karate Kid, where we see the wise, old karate teacher instructing the young protagonist the many techniques required to properly learn martial arts before competing in a karate tournament.
Although I’m a big fan of this classic piece of cinema, some of the techniques demonstrated in the movie seem a little, shall we say… off the wall? The thought of repetitively waxing a vehicle or sanding a wooden deck in order to properly learn how to block, falls a bit on the side of the ludicrous to a trained martial artist.
Or does it? Does anyone else believe this? I’m sure that lots of kids in the early 80’s suddenly agreed to wash and wax their dad’s car, in the hopes that it would help them learn karate (Light knows I offered to scrub the tile floors for my mother often enough after I saw this movie for the first time!)
My point is,… and believe me, I have one despite rambling on as I often do, some ACTUAL training techniques do look as ludicrous as the ones depicted by cinema. And the specific training tool I’m referring to in this post, is something referred to as body conditioning.
Body conditioning refers to the practice observed in Okinawa karate, of rubbing or striking the major muscle groups in order to harden and/or strengthen them. And even though this may sound ridiculous, 30 years of practicing Okinawan karate tells me that it is quite genuine, as I have lived it. And I still use body conditioning to this day.
Let’s think about it for a moment; when you perform intensive muscular exertion, such as weight lifting, you cause damage to the muscles. The repair of those muscles requires fibre and hormones that end up causing the muscles to be grown larger and stronger to prevent that same damage. The human body is pretty smart, in that regard.
Before I go any further, I’m going to reiterate that I have no formal medical training, and that you should consult a trained professional before starting any kind of fitness regiment. That being said, body conditioning, or “body pounding” as it has been referred to in some circles, follows very much the same principle as the effect of weight lifting.
By rubbing or pounding the major muscle groups on the outside of the arms, kegs and the abdominals and key target areas, you cause light damage to the muscle tissue requiring the same type of repair as weight lifting. The trick is to cause light muscular damage without bruising. Since Okinawan karate usually requires body conditioning to be done with a partner, the resistance adds a strength aspect to the training tool.
And no, before everyone gets excited, body conditioning won’t help you get ripped the same way as heavy weight lifting or hypertrophy workouts would. But it allows for the hardening of those muscle groups to create a natural “armour” that helps you properly and safely execute blocks against and receive strikes from an opponent.
Another good example of this, is rooted in the Japanese karate system of Kyokushinkai, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyokushin) that observes the practice of full-contact sparring as a general rule, in order to harden the muscles and overcome the fear of being struck.
Ultimately, the lesson I’m trying to impart tonight is that strange and unfamiliar methods of training can be genuine ones, and can lead to wonderful results. One needs only to be careful and never overreach. Train based on your abilities and always allow your body some time to heal.
After all, as general Choi Hong Hi once said, “Pain is the best instructor, but no one wants to go to his class.” ☯