A little while ago, a friend of mine showed me this trailer of the 100 Man Fight video. If you don’t know hat that is, check out this article. Anyway, I watched it and responded with this:
Did a lot of that kind of training when I was younger. Still paying the price for it…
Another friend replied to that as follows:
Wim, can I ask you to elaborate? I hear a lot of people talk about old wounds, etc., but are you talking muscle damage from a medicine ball to the gut? Carpal tunnel from whacking a log with your forearms like this dude? I don’t hear many people mention the specifics types/methods of training that have consequences like this.
Check out the video first and then read on after the break:
Here’s what I said in response, with some additions left and right:
There are a lot of “It depends” answers here. Some people get away with that kind of training forever, others are broken relatively early on. The problem is, you won’t know you shouldn’t have done it until it’s too late. Not every body is created the same:
I didn’t know I had a bad back until last year when I had to do an MRI. Turns out that my vertebrae have the worst possible structure for the kind of training I did and as a result, there’s a lot of damage.
I didn’t know I had a form of hereditary arthritis in my feet because my dad died before he could develop it (my sister has it too) and it doesn’t come from my mother’s side. All that kicking was the worst thing I could have done for my feet, but I didn’t know until it was too late.
There’s more, but you get what I mean. The crux of the matter is: most people aren’t meant to endure the kind of impact the training in this video shows. The way he was punching the mat? Stupid idea like you wouldn’t believe when you look at it long term. But when you train hard and you do it, it feels awesome. When you’re young, and strong, it feels awesome. When you’re older and sill strong, it still feels awesome even if the next day it hurts (a bit).
I would jump into a handstand on my knuckles on concrete, hold and then bounce out of it to an upright position using arm strength only. It was cool, it was awesome, I was the man! But my bones weren’t meant for that kind of crap, they aren’t as thick as other people’s bones. And so on ad nauseam.
BTW, when I finish my next two books, I’m starting on Fighter’s Body 2: The Warrior’s Body. It will be all about how to train so you don’t fuck yourself up in your older years and how to mange that shit when you hit 40 and start paying the piper. It will be an autobiographical book…
I felt ambivalent about the video right after I saw it. On the one hand, a lot of what you see Mr. Reid do was exactly the kind of training I did when I was younger. My teacher would hit us with a shinai or a heavier stick all the time:
- He’d hit us as we were coming out of a push-up or crunch and we’d have to block it.
- He’d hit us in the arms as we were holding a one-arm push up and we weren’t allowed to fall. If your arm didn’t buckle enough for his taste, he’d hit you again on the other side of the arm.
- He’d hit us as we were doing forms.
- He’d hit us without warning as we were running around the mat and he walked in the opposite direction, a few feet off.
In short, he hit us a lot and he hit hard too. I’d routinely come home after class all black and blue.
The big wooden log also rings a bell. We’d have to carry it around, lift it, hold it as we stood in a low horse stance, throw it at each other and catch it with the forearms, etc. And of course, we’d have to hit it using fists, palm strikes, edge hands, forearms (both in and outside) etc.
Those are just two of the things that came to mind as I watched the video, there are tons more. Here’s my point:
I loved that kind of training. It felt great to push yourself to exhaustion and come back for the next training session to do it again. It also felt great to block somebody’s punch and see them cringe because my forearms were conditioned so much it hurt them. This kind of training and its effects can be addictive. I still do some of it and you can see parts of it in my Hard-Core Heavy Bag Training video, but I’ve been forced to back off on a lot of it because of the downside:
The damage is permanent if you don’t handle it well and if you’re unlucky.
I didn’t know when to let my body heal and when I could keep going; I just kept going because that’s what my teacher taught: “pain doesn’t hurt” was his favorite saying. I also didn’t use healing liniments like Dit Da Jow or Balur Cimande until much later in my training because my teacher didn’t use it and I didn’t know it existed (these were pre-internet days and information was scarce.) By the time I did, the damage was already done.
In many ways, I’m lucky that I didn’t do more damage to my body with this type of hardcore training. As is, it’s already plenty but it could have been worse and that’s the other side of my ambivalence. Like I said before, you typically won’t know if your body can handle this kind of intensity until something breaks or the wear and tear to joints, cartilage and connective tissue starts accumulating into irreparable damage.
That’s basically my point here: if you train hardcore like Mr. Reid, make sure you do so under the supervision of a trained sports-doctor, preferably one who works with martial artists all the time. Maybe you’re the guy who can get away with this kind of training forever and not suffer for it. Or maybe your back is just waiting to give out on you. You really won’t know until it’s too late. With medical supervision, you at least have a choice in the matter and hopefully some advance warning before you really mess your body up.
Like they say: train hard, but train smart.
I have often thought that I was fortunate not to have more injuries than I did. So many that had promise in skills and instruction drifted away after injuries. Some probably didn’t realize that pain produced stress and made it easier to find other interests through the years.
Good point about the pain producing stress. I’ve seen it happen a lot too.
Some practitioners in my art are also discussing the value of this kind of hard training and how to properly and safely introduce it to students. One anecdotal observation is that Japanese and Korean arts tend to do a lot of makiwara type exercises vs. Chinese arts’ inclusion of things like iron palm. Connected with that observation is that Japanese/Korean practitioners may have a greater degree of hardened knuckles or even disfigured joints compared to Chinese practitioners.
Do you or any of your friends have any further insight? My own thoughts include the difference of surface area of the weapon (a few knuckles vs. an entire palm) and surface tension of the object being struck (hard like wood vs. ball bearings or sand). I’d even venture to guess it’s the kind of weapon (knuckles vs. palm) common in external vs. internal styles.
I’ve seen loads of horribly disfigured hands in Chinese styles too. Don’t forget that there are hundreds of them (China is much bigger than Japan) and not all of them are well known in the media.
As for the makiwara, I believe it to be a very misunderstood piece of equipment. The way I understand it, its purpose is mainly to correct your technique and not just hardening/conditioning. Look up some of the slow-mo board breaking videos online. You’ll see the bones in the hand move around like marbles in a bag on impact. The human hand wasn’t meant for the kind of impacts you so often see people try out. There’s a reason why I teach the five kinds of impact as one of the first principles to learn.
So I guess, “it depends” is an accurate answer. Personally, I don’t do any board breaking or a lot of conditioning anymore like back in the old days. Yet somehow, when I hit somebody, it seems to hurt them just as much as back then, if not even more. :-)
Nice article, Wim. I’m not a fan of body conditioning (ie hardening certain parts of the body with specific drills/exercises) as I think it comes naturally with the training that you do and more specifically what you are training for: The body adapts to it naturally. As you say here, you are hitting harder than ever (presumably through training on pads and heavy bag and sparring): I think this article backs up what I am saying with regard to your body becoming naturally conditioned and your comment about hitting harder than ever: http://speakingadventure.com/body-conditioning-and-hardening-for-fighters
Nice article Wim,
After 2blown ACLs and broken rib, I am starting to feel the effect of those injuries. Regarding conditioning the body in CMA I was taught never to hit with the bones but rather the muscles in the forearms unlike Karate.
Yup. And these injuries are the kind of gifts that keep on giving. :-)
I’ve seen it done different ways in different CMAs. Sometimes only bone, sometimes muscle, sometimes both. But I rarely saw Western teachers make their own dit da jow (or similar) and teach students how to take care of themselves.