Wait, Master Burns, you can’t block with your heart!
No, but your heart can block you. Returning to formal unarmed training in Tang Soo Do brought me to a painful reality.
I am not in sufficient physical condition to train the way that I want. Now, many a good hard-style promotion, and every hard-style black belt test I’ve ever heard of, involves the principle of running the student into the ground to find out what they can do when they don’t have extra energy to force past their normal limits. When they don’t have any reserves left, all that remains is a martial artist’s ingrained abilities, and that is what the judges want to see.
I can still remember a promotion or two at Parks Judo & Karate when I was warned ahead of time, “If you have to throw up, throw up in your uniform and run off the floor.” In my teens and twenties I was running 6-10 miles on my off days, swimming, doing farm work around the horses, and fencing when I wasn’t doing Tae Kwon Do. I never had a problem with cardio!
I hit forty years old this summer, and forty has hit back. I can’t train casually any longer if I want to make progress as a martial artist. I’m not working outdoors or doing two hours of farm chores a day like I used to, so now I’ve encountered a new opponent, my own level of physical fitness. All the technical knowledge of kicks in the world won’t help me if I’m not stretching and training enough to kick to an effective height. All of the forms memorization won’t help if I’m too busy trying to remember how to breathe to remember where I am, much less which Gumbeob I’m on. Without the ability to practice effectively, I will not be able to fight or teach effectively.
That is where I learned the technique shimjang magi, heart block. It’s the technique that my cardio-vascular fitness level uses to stop my own art and leave it pinned to the ground, unable to escape.
I want it to mean something different. I want my shimjang magi to be the block my well-tended heart uses to ward off fatigue and exertion, to block the obstacles and leave me free to do the level of martial arts I need to teach, learn, and improve.
Mrs. Ekmark at Range Martial Arts recently wrote an excellent post on the topic. She points out that, particularly as people start training for their black belt or moving on with the start of their true training, it simply isn’t enough to do the workouts in the dojang. We need cardio, strength training, and flexibility so that our precious and limited gym time can focus on the art. The less time we’re gasping for breath, the more time we have to learn, the most that we can get out of the time and money we invest in martial arts.
This topic came up this weekend, hot and humid, at Northwind Martial Arts. It’s easier to keep going in a nice, easy, air-conditioned gym without allergens, the sun on your face, and uneven ground cranking up the effort for your legs, and a water beak means walking across the hall. It’s harder out in the elements, away from quick shelter and water.
At 3rd gup the Nerd Posse is within a year of their Chodan tests. It’s looming larger on the horizon. More importantly, more demanding and complex routines, along with all of the old material, means that every break, every pause takes away from finite training time. Before we can conquer our Chodan tests, we must first conquer ourselves.
It takes time to get out of shape, and it takes time to get back into shape. For those students working on their cardio, I’m including a return-to-running regimen I learned when I had my knee rebuilt many moons ago. If running isn’t your thing, try swimming, biking, or some other form of cardio. If you have a hard time training regularly alone, find a friend, a spouse, or a child to help you train, hold you accountable, and encourage you. I read a story about a CEO who lived his life with a photo of his next long-term goal in his wallet. When he needed motivation he would pull it out and see what he was fighting for.
Unless we’re not physically capable of cardio, it isn’t optional past a certain level of training. We must overcome it or be overcome by it and held back from advancing as a martial artist.
I don’t look at my predicament as a reason to surrender. I view it as the next challenge in training to forge myself into the artist I need to be for myself, my students, and my school.
I’ve been stopped by shimjang magi. That means it’s time to master shimjang magi until it works for me and not against me.
A sample return to running curriculum in a 2-week time frame.
Distance: 2 miles/day.
Day 1: 2 miles. Run 1/4 miles, walk 3/4 miles, run 1/4 miles, walk 3/4 miles.
Day 2: Rest.
Day 3: 2 miles. Run 1/2 mile, walk 1/2 miles, run 1/2 miles, walk 1/2 miles.
Day 4: Rest.
Day 5: 2 miles. Run 3/4 miles, walk 1/4 miles, run 3/4 miles, walk 1/4 miles.
Day 6: Rest.
Day 7: 2 miles. Run 1 mile, walk 1/4 miles, run 3/4 miles.
Day 8: Rest.
Day 9: 2 miles. Run 1 and 1/4 miles, walk 1/4 miles, run 1/2 miles.
Day 10: Rest.
Day 11: 2 miles. Run 1 and 1/2 miles, walk 1/4 miles, run 1/4 miles.
Day 12: Rest.
Day 13: Run 1 and 3/4 miles, walk 1/4 miles.
Day 14: Rest.
If you encounter an injury, wait for it to heal. If you feel pain (not fatigue, but pain), stop. Take an additional day to rest. Go back to the level you were at before. Then try again. It’s a journey not a race. Never push yourself to injury! It’s counterproductive!
At the end of the two weeks, you should be up to running 2 miles every other day. Try increasing your running distance 5% or 10% per week until you get to your target. Once you can run 3 miles every other day, consider adding other cardio or a lighter run to your off days, just 1 mile to start off.
When I was running regularly, 3-4 miles on the “on” day and 2 miles with light weight lifting on the “off” day was easy to maintain and didn’t take more time than I had.
It’s also possible to have a long cardio & weight day alternating with a martial arts day instead, to keep switching up muscle use. Remember to stretch before and especially after any cardio workout to prevent injury!
In gymnastics we learned to work on our flexibility using TV shows. Pick a TV show that you enjoy watching at home, and rotate through your stretches while you watch instead of just sitting on the couch. Stretch between 30 and 60 seconds each way, and keep rotating through them. Within a few months the results really add up.