If you are a martial artist, then you know that the martial arts are as much about spiritual and mental matters as they are about physical things. It is, after all, an art, and not simply a sport. Martial arts emphasize discipline, balance, harmony, peace, wisdom, and kindness.
But of course, in terms of the physical expression of these things, they are also about training your body. And physical training is what you will spend much of your time doing if your goal is to gain any real mastery. The techniques of martial arts, at least the ones that you learn most often, are physical techniques—they are techniques of battle and of fighting—and the goal is to be as physically able to perform these techniques as possible.
Whether your goal is self-defense or self-discipline (or both), you need to train your body to meet the requirements of your art. This means training your body in general, and being in great shape—being strong, fast, and flexible. It also means training specifically for the things you need to do in your art—devising and following tailor-made routines for the techniques you are learning. And it means practicing those techniques on your own as often and as much as you can. It also means learning from the best instructor you can find. It means, as well, practicing and training with the best, most suitable partners you can, both at your school and elsewhere. As long as you are safe in your training and follow the principles that you are being taught, doing all of these things will help you exponentially more than doing only some of them. In this article, we will talk a little bit about each of them.
The first thing to think about when planning your workout routine for the martial arts is general fitness. You may not need to run a marathon to be good at Tae Kwon Do, but you will likely be better at it if you can. That doesn’t mean you need to get there all at once, only that it is good to train your whole body, just like anyone in any major sport does.
You will want to focus here on a few different things—first is overall strength, second is endurance, and third is flexibility.
Strength is required in the martial arts. Whether you are striking, grappling, or manipulating, you will need to be strong to be good. Great technique means not muscling your way through a maneuver, but in practice, you are only able to execute the movements if you have the strength to do so. So, don’t be afraid of lifting weights. The goal is not to bulk up, so you don’t need low-repetition high-weight routines, but lifting weights or performing some sort of resistance training as part of your routine, at least a few times a week, is beneficial.
Everyone can benefit from some endurance training. Whether it’s strictly cardio-based things like riding a bike or something that involves your muscles more, you will benefit as a martial artist from having great endurance. And your heart will be healthier too.
Finally, flexibility is of great importance. Virtually all martial arts require you to be exceptionally flexible, in both your muscles and your joints. So, learn to stretch and stretch safely, and then don’t hold back. Stretch every day as part of your routine, and don’t be afraid to push yourself a little.
You will need to do certain things to train your muscles and joints to be better at performing the techniques your art teaches. This may mean doing push-ups on your fists or it may mean any number of other things, but talk to your teacher, and do some research and assemble a list of things for you to do to get yourself ready for action.
Practicing on your own
Going to class is hugely important, but if you don’t practice on your own, every day, then you likely won’t get any better, at least not as quickly as you want to. So, make it a part of your workout to work on a few techniques. Maybe run through the basics every day (remember the things you had to do to get your second belt?). Or choose a technique that is causing you trouble and practice it. Drill it until it is easy. Not every technique of every discipline is possible to practice on your own, but you should be able to find ways of doing this. If you are a grappler, there are devices you can buy that will help you practice certain things.
Going to class (and training hard)
I know it may sound dumb or obvious, but this one is terribly important – go to class. Go as often as you can and don’t skip. You’re going to feel unmotivated sometimes, but go anyway. Class is where a lot of your real training and learning will happen, and it is where you are supervised by a master martial artist who will point out ways for you to improve. Go to class, and when you’re there, work hard. Work as hard as you can, and don’t be afraid to push yourself. You see how hard football practice is for professional athletes, you should think of your time at your martial arts school the same way.
You will probably practice with partners at your school, but even if you don’t, it is quite important that you do this as much as possible. If you are just starting out, then you won’t want to do it without proper supervision, but practicing with another able body who knows the techniques is huge.
Finally, there are the practices that aren’t physical. Most every martial art involves spiritual practices of some kind—slow movements, breathing exercises, focus exercises, mental drills, studies, meditations, etc. These are what will train your mind and your spirit to be a great martial artist. This is how you will gain wisdom, peace, and focus on top of physical ability.