The distaste for strength in martial arts

Ivan

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Hi. I am writing an article on the attitudes towards physical strength in martial arts, and would like to get your perspective on this issue (if it is an issue, I personally feel that it is) in martial arts, since you're all much more experienced than me. Every since I started training, I saw that there were many students and professors alike that seemed to have a sort of chip on their shoulders when it came to physical strength. I specifically noticed this in traditional martial arts; while my professors in Jiujitsu seemed to have an issue with strong people, my professors in more modern arts and combat sports seemed to lean towards it. This issue was most prevalent during my fleeting time in Shorinji Kempo, and it was one of the main reasons I quit.

People there seemed to have this sense of superiority towards me because I spend a lot of time working out at the gym and lifting weights, and many jokes and mockery and criticism by both students and senseis aside at people who spend their time training at the gym. Much of it came from the idea that using strength to fight was brutish and perhaps even a little uneducated or simply stupid. Although modern combat sports and martial arts tend to supplement (and in some cases even rely on) strength training for their techniques, this is not to say that they are bereft of such attitudes. I have come across one or two individuals that have this mentality of superiority in my BJJ gym too, and there is even the running joke amongst the online BJJ community where calling someone strong is an insult in a way, as they have no technique worthy of a compliment.

Personally however, I dislike this mentality a lot. I would even go as far as to argue that strength is a technique too - I wasn't born with my strength, and I worked a very long time to get to the level I am in terms of weightlifting today. If it just so happens that it helps me against my opponent, of course I'll use it. I think it is very important to incorporate strength training, whether traditional iron-body type stuff, or modern muscular hypertrophy and development. What are your thoughts on this?
 

skribs

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Strength multiplies technique. If you have only strength and no technique, then it doesn't matter how strong you are. If you have only technique and no strength, it doesn't matter how good you are. You're probably not going to win much.

With that said, being stronger does tend to lead to people cutting corners in training, often unintentionally. If you are stronger than your training partners, you can often succeed against them by using strength instead of technique. Your success reinforces that your technique is "correct", so you don't see much reason to improve it.

As an example, let's use the above formula. Strength multiplies technique. If you need an 8 in order to be successful, and you have 3 strength and 3 technique, then you have 9 technique and will succeed. If you have 5 strength, you only need 2 technique to succeed, and so you will convince yourself that your technique is good, because it succeeded, even though it is worse than the other person.

In order to fix this, one must consciously assess themselves whether they're using strength or technique, and when technique can be improved even if they already succeeded with it. Then you run into the other problem, which is adding strength back in, when you've built a habit of keeping it in reserve.

There is another aspect. I see this question on reddit every once in a while: "If a bigger/stronger person will beat a smaller/weaker person, what is the point of training martial arts?" You'll see any art that includes grappling (everything from aikido to BJJ) will claim to work on bigger, stronger opponents. The reality is that it's going to be very difficult, especially if they have any idea how to fight. But we also don't want to discourage people from training. I think there's a fine line between being realistic and turning people away.
 

WaterGal

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There is another aspect. I see this question on reddit every once in a while: "If a bigger/stronger person will beat a smaller/weaker person, what is the point of training martial arts?" You'll see any art that includes grappling (everything from aikido to BJJ) will claim to work on bigger, stronger opponents. The reality is that it's going to be very difficult, especially if they have any idea how to fight. But we also don't want to discourage people from training. I think there's a fine line between being realistic and turning people away.

I think it's useful to keep in mind that a bigger/stronger person will beat an equally trained smaller/weaker person. Good technique and skill can make up for some amount of size/strength disparity.

I think that's maybe part of the answer to OP's question. If you can defeat someone who's stronger than you, than that means your skill level is probably fairly high. There's a certain bragging rights to that, you know? It's impressive to beat someone bigger and stronger than you. But if you're the stronger one, people aren't impressed by you winning.
 

JowGaWolf

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Ok There's quite a bit in this and in reality it's not as simple as I'm going to try to make it.

attitudes towards physical strength in martial arts, and would like to get your perspective on this issue
There's no issue. To sum up the perception is that a lot of TMA teachers want you to have good technique that doesn't rely on you being super strong in order for the technique to work.

If you have good punching technique, then you can probably knock someone out with 20% - 30% power. Technically this means you should throw a faster punch with less effort and get good results. If you rely on strength too much then you'll gas out very quickly because you are muscling through everything. This doesn't mean they frown upon getting strong. They just don't want you to over rely on it. TMA martial arts strength training is some of the most brutal training out there in therm of strength development.


Much of it came from the idea that using strength to fight was brutish and perhaps even a little uneducated or simply stupid.
I never hear anyone form the martial arts schools that I train in, make such a statement. I think this is on of those rare things people may hear out there.

I would even go as far as to argue that strength is a technique too - I wasn't born with my strength, and I worked a very long time to get to the level I am in terms of weightlifting today. If it just so happens that it helps me against my opponent, of course I'll use it. I think it is very important to incorporate strength training, whether traditional iron-body type stuff, or modern muscular hypertrophy and development. What are your thoughts on this?
Don't think of strength as a technique. It will send you down the wrong path and if you go this path then a lot of people will correct you on it. Strength is conditioning. Conditioning is what you need in order to be effective with using techniques. You will be come weaker if you start putting your strength ahead of your technique.
I think it is very important to incorporate strength training, whether traditional iron-body type stuff, or modern muscular hypertrophy and development.
This is true but you have to go about strength the right way. The fact that this is an issue for you makes me think you may have made some assumptions about weight lifting, strength, and maybe powerful strikes. Like what is the reason you've been telling people why you weight lift?
 

Tony Dismukes

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I agree with just about everything Skribs wrote, but Ill add on a bit.

The trap of students being sloppy with technique when they can prevail with superior strength is a real phenomenon, but its not really a problem with strength - its a problem of strength + a bad attitude. A lot of the best technicians I know personally or have observed are also remarkably strong. Theyre just smart enough in their training to follow the advice Skribs gives above about analyzing your performance and understanding how their technique can be improved even if they were able to win with superior athletic attributes.

Theres a common myth in certain segments of the jui-jitsu community that you shouldnt need or use strength in your techniques. This is false. The correct formulation (in my opinion) is that you shouldnt waste your strength. You want to polish your technique so you can get the maximum results from whatever degree of strength you have available and use only as much strength as necessary in the moment so that you have it available when you really need it. You also dont want to rely on a technical approach which only works when you are stronger than your opponent. (That said, being stronger is always a good thing.)

As far as why some teachers denigrate the development and use of strength there are a variety of reasons. Sometimes its just a reasonable warning not to let it get in the way of developing good technique, but often there are less legitimate motivations.

Sometimes its a marketing approach. You can attract students with a sales pitch of being able to easily defeat bigger, stronger opponents. But when those students come in and get manhandled in sparring by someone who is bigger and stringer, then they realize the path to being able to defeat strength with technique is long and hard.

Sometimes its a matter of protecting the instructors ego. If the teacher feels the need to be able to demonstrate physical dominance over the students, but their current level of strength x technique isnt high enough to easily defeat the students strength x technique, they may be tempted to discourage the student from using his superior strength.

Sometimes the instructor just doesnt comprehend how strength works. They may think its just a matter of big biceps and muscular tension. They dont understand that strength is also technique. (If you dont think this is true, check out the lightweight womens records in Olympic weightlifting. 49 kg women explosively snatching twice their own body weight.) They might think that their technique will easily overpower stronger opponents because theyve never really fought anyone who is much stronger and has any degree of skill. (Demonstrating a technique on someone who feeds you exactly the setup you tell them to is not the same thing.)

I know that Im not nearly as strong as I could be if I put the consistent effort into it that I should. I also know that if I did put in that effort then I would be that much more effective on the mat. When it comes down to it, Im training for my own personal satisfaction, I dont enjoy strength training as much as I enjoy training technique and sparring, and Im pretty effective on the mats as it is. Thats my own personal trade off, but I would recommend that anyone who wants to maximize their ability as a fighter and a martial artist to put the time into building strength.
 

skribs

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I think it's useful to keep in mind that a bigger/stronger person will beat an equally trained smaller/weaker person. Good technique and skill can make up for some amount of size/strength disparity.
While this is true, the greater the disparity, the greater the technique required. At some point, it won't really matter.

I'm 5'5", 5'6" on a good day. I know people that are more than a foot taller than me. It would take a lot for me to overcome that disadvantage. Lots of people (especially women) are shorter than me, and would have an even worse time. Then you factor in some teenagers have such a high metabolism they can't put on any muscle, or someone who starts around age 30 or 40 and isn't in the best of shape already. It can be easy to be discouraged.
 

skribs

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To add on to what @Tony Dismukes said, another reason an instructor might denigrate strength is they think strength will actually get in the way. They think strength means you will be slower, have less stamina, and/or be less flexible. While all of those are certainly possible, quite often someone with more muscle mass is going to move quicker and with less effort. They're only going to be slower and inflexible compared to people who have maximized those traits (a body builder is not going to sprint like a sprinter, but they might outsprint a layman).
 

JowGaWolf

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They think strength means you will be slower, have less stamina, and/or be less flexible.
If the person builds strength in the context that it must be used then none of this will happen. Just like everything else strength building is not a one size fits all. It must always be developed within the context that it will be used for it to be of benefit that specific activity.
 

skribs

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If the person builds strength in the context that it must be used then none of this will happen. Just like everything else strength building is not a one size fits all. It must always be developed within the context that it will be used for it to be of benefit that specific activity.
Yes and no. If you're min/maxing, then yes. If you're talking about stabilizing muscles, then yes. But there are enough muscles that are going to be pretty useful in any situation. It's hard to think of a martial art where having strong calves, quads, or core is not going to make your techniques stronger. It's hard to think of an art outside of Taekwondo where having a strong chest and triceps isn't going to help.
 

Bill Mattocks

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I can imagine how strength trainers feel about martial artists hanging around in weight lifting gyms talking about how their techniques are better than being strong. Think that would go over well?

Strength is fine. I doubt many have an actual attitude against it. But maybe when doing MA training, do MA training. Same for a martial artist in the weight lifting gym. Get on the bench and stop talking about your belt level maybe.

Bottom line, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. In the dojo, we do martial arts. Glad you're strong. Yippee ki aye. Now do kata.
 

skribs

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I can imagine how strength trainers feel about martial artists hanging around in weight lifting gyms talking about how their techniques are better than being strong. Think that would go over well?

Strength is fine. I doubt many have an actual attitude against it. But maybe when doing MA training, do MA training. Same for a martial artist in the weight lifting gym. Get on the bench and stop talking about your belt level maybe.

Bottom line, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. In the dojo, we do martial arts. Glad you're strong. Yippee ki aye. Now do kata.
I don't think there are martial artists in the weigh room saying weight training isn't important. Just like I don't think there are weight lifters in the martial arts room saying technique isn't important.
 

Bill Mattocks

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I don't think there are martial artists in the weigh room saying weight training isn't important. Just like I don't think there are weight lifters in the martial arts room saying technique isn't important.
Let me put it this way. We've had weight trainers and power lifters in our dojo. One was exceedingly cocky about his raw strength, which he valued more than learning what was being taught.

Another, who posts videos of himself in the weight room as he tries to improve himself, does martial arts in the dojo and weight lifting in the gym. We get along great.

The difference is when he's in the dojo, he's a karate student.

When in Rome, do as Romans.
 

MetalBoar

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Who exactly has "distaste for physical strength"?
It's not usually physical strength per se that I hear people complain about, but having larger muscles and/or doing resistance training with weights that gets a fair amount of criticism. And by "larger muscles" I'm not talking huge, competitive body builder, muscles, just bigger than you'd have if you didn't lift weights.

I've heard it from lots of different people:

Boxers, especially old school boxers, have told me:
  • It'll make you slow.
  • You'll gas out too quick if you have too much muscle.
  • The muscles you get from weight lifting don't make you stronger (I kid thee not).

TKD and karate practitioners:
  • It'll make you slow.
  • You'll gas out too quick if you have too much muscle.
  • You'll get muscle bound and not be flexible enough.

Aikidoka:
  • You'll use muscle for your techniques and never learn proper Aiki.
  • It'll ruin your sensitivity.

CMA practitioners:
  • It'll make you slow.
  • The muscles you get from weight lifting don't make you stronger (I kid thee not).
  • It will prevent you from using your qi properly. (????)
  • It'll ruin your sensitivity.
  • You'll get muscle bound and not be flexible enough.

A certain type of left wing intellectual regardless of style (and hey, I'm kind of a lefty intellectual, but I've got no patience for this one):
  • A bunch of BS that comes down to "Weight lifting is anti-intellectual and having larger muscles would make me look like some kind of Neanderthal so I'm going to go jog for a while".

About the only groups that I've never heard complain about weight lifting are grapplers (not counting Aikido) and western fencers, which makes the boxers and others who complain it will make you slow seem particularly clueless. I also want to be clear that I've known plenty of people who fit into all of these categories who lift weights and don't believe these things, but there are definitely plenty who do.

I think Tony and Skribs have done a good job of explaining why some people may not approve of resistance training. The only thing I'd add is that I've definitely encountered at least a couple of distinct groups that have a classist view of weight lifting and or large(er) muscles and are more concerned about what weight lifting might say about them than they are whether it's effective or not.
 

JowGaWolf

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Yes and no. If you're min/maxing, then yes. If you're talking about stabilizing muscles, then yes. But there are enough muscles that are going to be pretty useful in any situation. It's hard to think of a martial art where having strong calves, quads, or core is not going to make your techniques stronger. It's hard to think of an art outside of Taekwondo where having a strong chest and triceps isn't going to help.

None of this will help a person learn Jow Ga. This is strength building that's not suitable for Jow Ga. He's strong butnot withing the right context for Jow Ga. None of this will make Jow Ga techniques stronger. There's a reason why the best fighters don't look like this.
1646111771689.png
 

JowGaWolf

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None of this will help a person learn Jow Ga. This is strength building that's not suitable for Jow Ga. He's strong butnot withing the right context for Jow Ga. None of this will make Jow Ga techniques stronger. There's a reason why the best fighters don't look like this. Just like training has to be done within the context of what you want to achieve, muscles must be built the same way.
View attachment 28116
 

JowGaWolf

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One was exceedingly cocky about his raw strength, which he valued more than learning what was being taught.
I'm so glad that I haven't come across anyone like this

When I'm in the weight room. I train like a martial artists. People see me hitting myself with a stick lol I also do horse stances and grip exercises. My "MMA Rival" does traditional martial arts grip strengthening exercises using the dumbbells.
 

skribs

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@MetalBoar I think part of the idea that the muscles you get don't make you stronger is that a lot of punching power comes from the legs. (I'll argue that the follow-through comes from the legs, but the impact comes from the chest and arms).

I also think a lot of this is true in theory, but there are specific conditions for that theory to be correct. In general, more muscle means more athleticism. However, if all you do is strength and don't do any stretching or cardio, then your gains will only be in strength, and you likely will lose flexibility and stamina. By doing the martial art, you are probably at least getting some cardio and stretching.

The other possibility is at the extreme end. If you weight train so you can look like Michael Jai White, or as Scott Adkins in Boyka, then those muscles won't affect your flexibility and stamina. But you get some guys who get so big they can't even touch their own back. If you get this big, there's probably some diminishing returns.

That's why I said "theory". In that there are cases where training muscle might become a hindrance. But these are very specific cases that you're not likely to encounter.
 

MetalBoar

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@MetalBoar I think part of the idea that the muscles you get don't make you stronger is that a lot of punching power comes from the legs. (I'll argue that the follow-through comes from the legs, but the impact comes from the chest and arms).
Yeah, a lot of people hear weight lifting and seem to assume all you do is bench press and bicep curls. If you're doing it right (by my definition anyway) you ought to be getting a complete, full body workout when you lift; arms, legs, glutes, chest, back, neck, grip strength, etc. You certainly can do strength training with a limited focus, and some body builders do train for an aesthetic rather than functional results, but body building is just one small subset of weight lifting.

However, if all you do is strength and don't do any stretching or cardio, then your gains will only be in strength, and you likely will lose flexibility and stamina. By doing the martial art, you are probably at least getting some cardio and stretching.
In general, barring genetic anomalies like muscles bellies that are so long that they extend around the joint, a stronger muscle is a more flexible muscle. This is especially true if your weight lifting program requires you to utilize a full range of motion in your training. If you lift with some protocol that utilizes a limited range of motion you'll get less (perhaps little to no) benefit to your flexibility, but it's still unlikely to reduce it. I guess the other exception is the injured or over worked muscle is less flexible than the healthy, properly recovered muscle, and there are definitely body builders and some people who are obsessive about their exercise who reduce flexibility through chronic overuse and injury.

Now, if you stretch and work directly to increase your flexibility you're going to be more flexible than if you just lift, and for high kicks and a lot of other MA techniques a good stretching program is essential for most people to perform at a high level. For me, if I'm going to kick above my waist, it's a necessity to perform at a low level, but that was even more true before I ever lifted weights.

As far as cardio is concerned, I could write pages, but I'll try to keep it short and to the point. Outside of extremes, like running marathons, stronger muscles should only benefit one's endurance. Still, that being said, I agree completely that you need to train your endurance for the activities you want to participate in. If you just lift and don't put any work into conditioning yourself for your sport you're going to be sucking wind in short order when you compete, but the weight lifting isn't what's hurting you, it's the lack of proper conditioning.

But you get some guys who get so big they can't even touch their own back. If you get this big, there's probably some diminishing returns.
None of this will help a person learn Jow Ga. This is strength building that's not suitable for Jow Ga. He's strong butnot withing the right context for Jow Ga. None of this will make Jow Ga techniques stronger. There's a reason why the best fighters don't look like this.
Yep, it's possible to get big in ways that are detrimental to your martial art. That's probably most true for competitions that have weight divisions. The thing is, no one looks like Arnie (from JowGaWolf's picture) in his heyday without 3 things:
  1. A whole lot of work focusing on that aesthetic
  2. Really unusual genetics
  3. Steroids, and not small doses of them either
Some people, with really, really, long muscle bellies can get big enough that it limits mobility, and a lot more people can put on enough fat and muscle combined to limit mobility, but that's not going to happen to you unless you are a bit of a genetic freak and/or you are vastly overeating while doing a lot of lifting.

Most people, even if they take lifting really seriously, aren't going to get anywhere near as big as Mike Tyson at the peak of his boxing career, unless they're juicing, and probably not even then. They definitely aren't going to get as big as Arnie. They don't have the genes for it. I haven't heard anyone say that Mr. Tyson was too big or too muscular to box and I doubt many people would say he was too big for TKD or Jow Ga either. Are there other body types that might be more ideal for those arts? Sure, there probably are, but I bet Ol' Iron Mike could have been better at most martial arts than most people on this forum could be at any martial art.
 
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