Body Conditioning and Hardening for Fighters By Antonio Graceffo

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Aug 4, 2001
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Land of the Free
Body Conditioning and Hardening for Fighters
By Antonio Graceffo

Shihan Mike told us to put a pad into our belt, which would partially
soften the blows to the abdomen. When he said start my partner started
punching me in the stomach with his bare hands. He didnt stop until the
signal was given, two minutes later. My partner, a huge Cantonese guy,
about 22 years old, was hitting me so hard that it was pushing me
backward. I kept seeing images of my internal organs rupturing and

This is how Hudini died. I reminded him. But he just kept on pounding,
till Shian said stop.

Now it was my turn, and I pummeled the Cantonese guy for all I was worth.
My force also knocked him backwards, but like me, like everyone in the
room, he just took it. He stood his ground and never asked me to slow down
or to stop.

This exercise was just one of many Kyokushin body conditioning exercises,
designed to prepare the fighters for the Kumite or fighting competition.

It was painful, but ever since seeing the movie Blood Sport as a kid, I
have been dying to participate in an event called The Kumite. And if
internet debunkers are right, Frank Dux would also like an opportunity to
compete in such an event.

Monday to Friday I train in Silat Kalam and in Muay Thai. My training day
goes form 4:00 PM till 10:00. At 10:00 PM I start teaching sparring class
at the Muay Thai gym. Sundays are the only day I am free to attend
Kyokushin and it is always a struggle to get myself out of bed and out of
the house. This particular Sunday was problematic because I had had
diarrhea all day. It is a gross reality of training in Asia. You will
periodically get stomach problems. And it is your choice to train through
them or just baby yourself. But they happen so frequently, if you
cancelled training every time you spent more than an hour on the toilet,
you wouldnt get much training done at all.

I am human, so, needless to say, I almost cancelled training. But I pushed
through and I went. Shihan Michael was away, fighting in Japan, so another
teacher was taking the class. The class was physically very easy, mostly
katas and no kicks or sparring or conditioning. I felt slightly cheated,
but honestly, I was in no shape to do a full work out. My friend Chris
said to me, You look completely white. and gave me some re-hydration

After class, Chris and I did a little conditioning. Sicne beginning
Kyokushin, I have now added the thigh conditioning to my Muay Thai
training for my self and my students. We just stand in a Muay Thai stance
and let the opponent kick our thighs, inside ten times, outside ten times,
on each thigh. Then you kick him. Then he kicks you. Chris told me they
also condition their forearms so they can block kicks. The conditioning
was the same as Wing Chun or what the Vovinam teacher did to me in
Vietnam. Two men stand facing each other, and swing their bodies, knocking
their forearms together. Whap! Whap! Bone against bone. It hurts so much.

In addition to believing that Kyokushin body hardening or conditioning,
should be part of a fighters daily routine, I also like this training
because it is not cardio intensive. For example, yesterday I was ill and
not able to do lots of rounds on the pads or the bag. But I was well
enough to stand still and let someone pound on my body.

In Kyokushin we also do rounds where you stand and let a man pound on your
stomach with bare hands, but I skipped these on my diarrhea days.

In teaching Muay Thai to beginners, or normal people, one issue is that
they only have so much cardio fitness. For normal people, a two hour
training sessions is like running a marathon. And I cant ask them to do
more cardio work outside of class because they have full time job s and
school. So, all of their training has to be in that narrow window when
they come to class. If I see they are dying, I want to give them a break.
But if I give them too many breaks, they will feel I cheated them out of
their training time. So, switching from cardio and pad work to
conditioning is a low intensity way to make them feel they are still
training, but without making more demands on their depleted energy
reserves. Also, as the conditioning requires two partners to hit each
other, one is getting a lesson in taking hits, and one is getting a lesson
in delivering them. When you train normal people you have to teach them to
hit as well as get hit.

With other martial arts, apart from Kyokushin, they condition forearms and
knuckles and other parts of the body. And I have always laughed at them.
Why do they do it? They are so proud of how much conditioning they do, and
are always quick to tell me that no boxer or Muay Thai could handle even
one session of conditioning. But then when we fight, it becomes apparent
that they cant beat even a novice boxer or Muay Thai. So, I always feel
they are enduring all of that pain for nothing.

For example: Why did the Tae Kwan Do guys I trained with in Taiwan take so
much pride in conditioning their knuckles. Yes, their knuckles were much
harder than mine, but then none of them knew how to throw a punch. In
fact, their martial art doesnt even allow punches. And Vo Co Tryuen guys
in Vietnam were banging their forearms on a metal flagpole for
conditioning, so they could block kicks. But in their art, they never
actually fight. How hard do your forearms have to be to do demonstration
forms? Many of the martial artists I trained with stressed the importance
of running, to build cardio. But their fights, in addition to not being
full contact, lasted less than a minute or certainly less than a round.
So, how much cardio did they need?

A boxing fight is a minimum of three three-minute rounds. Muay Thai is
five two-minute rounds. You need cardio for that. In both sports you throw
heavy punches. And yet, we dont condition our hands. The only part of the
body Muay Thai fighters condition is their shins. The rest happens
naturally. The VoVinam guys in Ho Chi Minh city were telling me how weak
Muay Thai was because of this lack of body hardening. They were also
amazed that I couldnt do a flip or a hand spring, But you said you are a
fighter. They remarked in complete disbelief. Obviously, it wouldnt even
have been fair for me to fight one of those guys because they had no clue
about fighting.

What I like about Kyokushin is that they condition their shins, but it is
because they hit with their shins. So, it makes sense. They condition
their thighs, but they also get kicked in the thighs. So, that makes
sense. They condition their hands. But, this is because they punch, for
real, bare knuckle, in their fights. So, again, this makes sense. And when
Chris told me they also condition their forearms to block kicks, that made
sense, because this is what really happens in their fights.

Kyokushin body conditioning makes sense. And if you doubt them, they would
be happy to get in a ring with you, instantly, and show you whether their
system works. Boxers and Muay Thai do between zero and very little body
conditioning, but it also works. The only answer I can come up with is
that maybe intentional body conditioning is overkill. Perhaps the constant
sparring, pad work and fighting is enough to condition a boxer or a Muay
Thai. I would imagine, although we havent tested it out, I could take
more shots to the face or head than most of my Kyokushin friends. But I
never conditioned my head or face, it just happened naturally over a
lifetime of fighting.

Maybe Kyokushin body conditioning speeds up the natural process. At the
end of two years or four years of that constant battering, the Kyokushin
fighter achieves pain thresholds that take a lifetime to develop in other
sports. Or, maybe it is just better. No matter what, they are obviously
doing something right in Kyokushin, because they can fight and beat nearly
any other Traditional Martial Art (TMA) and are the only TMA I know of
that could get in the ring and spar with Muay Thai and be fine.

One of my Kyokushin friends wrote me and asked about training in Thailand.
He said he wanted to train Muay Thai. The one strange thing was, he said
he wanted to learn it for self-defense. It appears to me, Kyokushining
someones head would also be a good means of self-defense, but I wont
discourage anyone who wants to learn Khmer Boxing or Muay Thai.

If my best Kyokushin friend wanted to come to my Muay Thai gym, I would
need to teach him combination punches, and how to go to the head. But I
wouldnt change much of anything about his kicks or blocks. One big change
for him would be going from a single two minute round in Kyokushin to five
two-minute rounds in Muay Thai. But, I feel confident he could spar the
first day, and hopefully learn to fight in about a month or two. But if
the best Tae Kwan Do or VoVinam guy wanted to learn Muay Thai, it would be
a long painful road. They would have the flexibility and athleticism but
they wouldnt have the punches OR the fighting. They also wouldnt have
the threshold of pain necessary to fight.

Adding Kyokushin type body conditioning to a fighters regime makes sense
to me. Everywhere I go, and every art I train, I try and find something I
can take back to the Muay Thai or Bokator gym.

Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He
is the author of the book, The Monk from Brooklyn and the host of the
web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey, which traces his ongoing journey
through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

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