Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Five Pillars of Strength

I have always enjoyed questions that interest both the martial arts enthusiast as well as the combat competitor. Should a martial arts practitioner focus more on being strong or on being powerful? I cannot think of a single issue that creates more confusion over what should be the appropriate vocabulary usage, or why it seems that the “experts” on the subject cannot collectively agree.

One athlete may claim that being strong means to lift the heaviest amount of weight in a single given movement (regardless of time) thus, a one rep maximum. These athletes are called power lifters. Another “strength” athlete claims that strong means to have the power to move a fixed amount of weight with speed and explosiveness.

Then the champion martial arts fighter comes along and says that how big you are, or how much weight you can lift, then move around, has nothing to do with being strong in the ring—or in any other realistic engagement. It does not take that kind of “weight lifter” strength to produce that accurate sharp tap on the exact point of someone’s chin (the button) to finish him. A strong wind—like the strong punch—may not be able to lift hundreds of pounds of weights, but when it reaches hurricane force levels, it can reap major damage on large trees and buildings alike.

So, the word strong can mean different things in various sport or athletic contexts. Strength comes in many forms. In the physical realm, the martial artist should understand the three most important types of strength: Maximal (absolute) Strength, Explosive (speed) Strength, and Strength Endurance. What factors are called into play to determine the kind of strength that is most important for your particular type of athletic endeavor?

As a strongman, this type of athlete would focus on setting his training to achieve the type of strength that will optimize his ability to perform a single maximal heavy lifting movement as in the sport of power lifting. Speed in his performance would not be a factor. The martial artist would instead focus more on the speed of his executions; therefore, explosiveness and quickness would become profoundly important.

The degrees of strength as well as the types of strength necessary for each of these athletes to perform their skills at an optimum level would be relative. Therefore, each athlete must make sure that his intended strength gains do not have competing objectives, and detract from one’s sport-specific performance. A fighter may increase his bench press by another 100 pounds, and this may give him that preferred tough-guy attitude in the ring; however, during his bout, he suddenly realizes that the time he spent away from his necessary sparring sessions in order to lift weights has cost him a shocking decrease in fighting skills. Not a smart move.

"Being bigger doesn't mean being better."

We have all witnessed fighters climbing into the ring (or cage) who look big, strong, and muscular, but sadly end up running out of gas long before the fight should have ended. Then we sometimes see another fighter who has great speed and cardio strength but finds his opponent to be just too overwhelming and powerful to handle. This was the case with Brock Lesnar’s last opponent in the 100th UFC title bout.

I have seen fighters who hit hard and who have that gifted one-punch knockout power of a Mike Tyson, and then, barely half way through the fight, they cannot hit hard any longer. Even Tyson had this problem. How many fighters in your memory had that gifted one-punch knockout power in the last round of a title fight? Maybe Jack Johnson, Rocky Marciano, and Jack Dempsey are the only ones most of us can recall. This is a combination of lacking in both Endurance Strength (including the will to endure) and Absolute Strength.

The boxer, Muhammad Ali, used to run nine miles to the gym in Miami to workout. After his training, he would return home—another nine mile run. The former world champion kickboxer, Don Wilson, used to run a daily seven miles in the sand on the beach. This training gave both champions incredible endurance strength.

The smart martial arts practitioner needs to work hard on two types of Explosive Strength. I prefer to use the word speed here in the place of strength. One’s initial speed is the quickness or the suddenness of his starting motion—his initial move. One needs to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible instantaneously at that startle reflex moment called the trigger squeeze. You can call this Starting Strength; it is better known as quickness in athletics.

A fighter’s acceleration speed (called fastness) is keeping the maximum number of muscle fibers recruited after the initial movement is executed, such as shooting in or bridging the gap against an opponent. This increasing rate of force or momentum that must be created and maintained is called Acceleration Strength.

There is no need to sub-divide these different types of strength into more complex terms. For example, with Absolute Strength, a trainer may add the three different types: Eccentric Strength, Concentric Strength, and also Static Strength. The martial artist only needs to know that strength is a training necessity that is an inherent capacity to act upon something, a resistance. The martial artist needs to remember that power is a component of strength, an "explosive" attribute required in the performance of both sport and combative executions. Power is a general term, which simply applies to the ability to move something; whereas, force is the actual exertion of that power, the result.

The last, and for me the most important strength for the martial arts athlete, is Mental Strength. It is a fighter’s most important asset, the Authority of a Fighter’s Will. The appropriate and balanced development of the aforementioned types of strengths enables the martial artist to achieve that ultimate weapon, an obstinate will power—in his heart, his body, and in his mind. This energy will make it possible for a practitioner to always execute with conviction.

I first referred to this phenomenon as part of the fighting system in our Official Black Belt Manual—I like to call this Mental Strength, Permanent Infinite Will Power. I have seen fighters who possess all the physical gifts—coordination, speed, size, as well as strength and power; however, in spite of also having a great work ethic, they are still weak competitors. They are controlled by their emotions, mainly fear. They lack mental discipline—an insufficient degree of confidence in the efficacy of their thinking skills.

There are many training methods, depending on your coach or trainer, to best train in order to develop the above strengths that may be important for you. I started lifting weights two weeks before I turned fifteen, and never missed a day of training for five and a half years. I have been a black belt for nearly forty-six years—that’s about 51 years of total training.
On stage at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Fitness Classic (the nation’s leading fitness competition), I was introduced as the first weightlifter to cross over to become a world champion in another sport. I feel I’ve just about seen it all, and so, let me speak from experience and share a couple of final key points.

First, find your niche—and stay there. No one knows your body better than you and only you know what is in your heart. Avoid any biological manipulation—pharmaceuticals. Keep in mind there are many “experts” on the subject of strength. In every gym—or for every trainer—there’s a “best” way to wrap your hands, a “best” way to hold your fighting stance, a “best” technique execution to work on, and/or a “best” version of strength and power exercises to employ. The real experts are always the most humble.

“Sometimes an expert, always a student"
Joe Lewis

Monday, October 19, 2009

“The Overabundance Syndrome”

A recent discussion about marketing gave me an idea about teaching martial arts. Sometimes it is not important that what you are teaching someone happens to be the best material, but rather how a person uses the knowledge at hand. For example, a teacher may know that controlling distance is important, but he may not also know the best way, or even how to use this knowledge to set up and/or to create a curriculum of drills for its instruction.

In other words, some people may have certain knowledge, but remain totally unaware of how to use it. I see this in both martial arts marketing and in fighting. To me it is all about two things, attitude and approach. If one is off, this can automatically defuse or negate the other. A great system of marketing or fighting is only as good as the implementation of a proper psychology (with its practice) behind it.

For me, there has always been either too much or an overabundance of knowledge out there in the martial arts. The emphasis today has been on always getting or gaining more and little attention on its proper or effective usage. This is one reason why MMA took over the media because a few guys came along and showed us that you only need a couple of moves IF they are properly used. This all starts when one puts both the practice and the proper psychology behind their endeavors.

Joe Lewis
Cum Corde Et Animis