"Mind, Body, and Spirit are different aspects of the same thing. "
Its a common phrase in the martial arts. Is it useful or valuable?
Another way to state this idea is that there can be no contradiction between what we discover by using our brains, what we experience physically, and what our hearts and emotions tell us when we are searching for the truth.
But we live in our heads way too much. Often my head is working at a blistering pace, thinking away, strategizing about the future, trying to learn from the past. This has been pretty useful but not always. Sometimes being in my head gets in the way.
I often watch my students floundering as they try to work out a move by thinking about it right on the spot. Meanwhile their opponent's sword is descending. "Figuring things out" intellectually is really important but its just one part of the way.
Often in practice you have to short circuit the mind and encourage a connection between sensing and feeling. This means that you have to start trusting unconscious processes...processes that are running parallel to your brain all the time.
"Our bodies are the receptacle of our soul"
"Body" means the physical manifestation of things..Perhaps you could call it "Reality". It includes all that is substance and energy.
Physics, chemistry, biomechanics, the electrical impulses shooting around inside you and around you...all the matter and energy that makes us and the world up are body.
If you focus on fitness you have to be a student of your body. This requires that you cultivate discipline and to a deeper understanding of yourself as you push yourself and wrestle with your fears.
The Mind and the Spirit working with the Body even if you just want to lift weights to get stronger whether you like it or not.
In fact getting fit unifies mind, body, and spirit.
Lifting weights and doing pushups turns out to be a matter of discipline. Discipline is in the realm of mind and spirit. You can make lifting weights or rowing a practice in the discipline of tenacity. Repeating many sword strokes builds character.
The practical advantages of being fit are that you get sick less, you recover from injuries faster, you can take more punishment, you are more able to do things.
It is a mistake to think that fitness is not important. Spiritual and intellectual people often neglect their bodies. Likewise physical people often neglect the other two. But mind, body and spirit are deeply connected.
Besides people who are larger and more importantly stronger or more agile will be much more dangerous even if they know nothing. If you do not focus on fitness, you are sitting on the bottom of a hill looking up at the opponent. You are walking into battle without a sword and armour. You are running backwards and looking through your legs without a sword while you....you are...well...you get my point.
Here at Swordfighters we think that fitness is a unifying principle of martial arts.
So did the Knights.
For starters read this:
We imagine that people in the past were more fit than we are on the average despite the fact that they died much earlier. Disease was more prevalent and complicating factors in injury and illness were not well understood. More people died from violence back then. Thats why they died earlier than we do.
But people were more physical back then. The average person walked or rode a horse. Labor was manual and constant. We know that they did not eat processed food. On top of all of this, there is evidence that men at arms exercized above and beyond.
Real swords are not all that heavy. You do not need to be a giant to wield a longsword but swinging a sword in earnest for any length of time requires a special kind of fitness most akin to the fitness required in modern collegiate wrestling.
Swordfighting emphasizes the following fitness parameters:
Flexibility through range of motion under a load
Local muscle endurance
Endurance, mostly anaerobic
Speed and quickness
Each of our practices begins with a warm up and fitness component. We teach you to become more fit safely using physiological principles.
What you eat is part of Fitness.
Mastering your eating habits is a great way to develop discipline and self control. In the same manner that we want to be aware of what our body is doing in space we want to always be aware our mental state and what drives us be it fear or desire. The desire for food can control us in this way.
To consciously eat is this sort of discipline. Eating is pleasurable and it is also a need. What, when or how you choose to eat is up to you. Start thinking of food a laboratory for discipline and as a means of supporting fitness and health rather than simply a way to get energy.
There are many awesome sources of healthy eating habits. One of my favorites is Mark's Daily Apple .
Cutting right to the chase:
Stop eating lots of sugar. All kinds. White sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, fructose, glucose, maple syrup, soft drinks.
Stop eating processed foods. Anything that is pre-made and comes in a box. IF you read the label and find a bunch of biochemical names don't eat it.
Some people are more vegetarian than others. Lots of paths seem are feasible. Eating meat works too.
Eat good fats, good protein, good carbs.
Good fats include saturated fats and omega 3 fats. Butter and fat from meat are ok. Highly processed fats like margarine and oils that require complicated extraction processes are not so good.
Good proteins come from sources without pesticides and antibiotics.
Good carbs include vegetables and some fruit. Starchy foods are not so good.
Practice the discipline of "Time Restricted Eating". At least experiment with this. Learn about Intermittent fasting and try a longer period of fasting once or twice a year.
Minimize alcohol. I like beer and a good Scotch now and then. But for years I did not drink any alcohol. It was just not a part of my family culture. So I still drink in moderation and I cannot help but think that all those years (approximately 40) of having no alcohol in my life was to my great beneifit. I drink only moderately now.
Learn what works for you. I eat paleo for the most part. I usually do not eat until sometime after 11 am and I stop eating by 8 pm. During those times when I am not eating I drink water and thats it.
On the weekend I relax a bit and indulge in a desert or an extra beer.
Sometimes life circumstances change and I roll with the new situation, eating what is placed in front of me and at a time not of my choosing. That is an exception and I return to my base mode of operations as soon as I can because I have been at this long enough to feel the difference.
For swordfighting, the strength training areas in order of importance are: the core, legs, lats, neck, shoulders, grip, triceps and biceps.
Use whole body exercises with free weights because these require that you stabilize your core when you move.
The kettlebell swing is similar to the motion of a hip pop, the skill used to pick an opponent up off the ground.
Here are some examples of strength training exercises suitable for swordfighting:
weighted pull-ups for total weight moved
military press (3 x 5, 5 x 5, 1 x 7)
dead lifts (3 x 5, 5 x 5, 1 x 7)
squats (3 x 5, 5 x 5, 1 x 7)
bent over rows (5 x5)
"Working out at the gym" medieval style
Finding the Centre
A good swordfighter possesses nimble body movement that they can sustain while under the pressure of a fight. By pressure, I mean that your opponent might be resisting your efforts or even forcing you to work hard to maintain your own position and balance. This sort of agility requires joint flexibility, a good range of motion for large muscles even under a load, core stability, and a core that is pliable to rotational motion.
Long slow stretching exercises increase range of motion. Use this form of flexibility training to increase the gross range of motion for large muscles in the legs and arms. Joint flexibility in wrists, ankles, shoulders and hips is built using rotational movement. In either case, it is one thing to work range of motion by holding a static position and another to have range of motion while under a load. Strength training that moves through the entire range of motion builds flexibility under a load where you are limited by neither lack of strength or low flexibility.
Some studies suggest that too much flexibility training can diminish strength. I think that this is true if flexibility training is done exclusively. I generally work on flexibility during both local muscle endurance and strength training and I incorporate flexibility work into all my fitness workouts. I personally find that light stretching coupled with light movements prior to strength and endurance workouts minimizes injuries and promotes full range of motion. I will warm up with a combination of calisthenics, range of motion exercises, joint mobility and long muscle stretching. I also stretch in between sets. For example, I might be doing deadlifts and while recovering after a set I will crouch into a deep squat, then sit on the ground and perform a few gentle splits. At the end of each training period I will stretch again.
Examples of flexibility exercises:
long muscle slow stretching (example: working on splits)
performing squats with a load through a full range of motion
bear walking and other natural movement exercises
Endurance, Mostly Anaerobic
To target anaerobic metabolism we use short duration high intensity workouts. Examples are:
- 6-10 sets of 100m sprints for total time
Short duration high intensity workouts such as:
10 to 50 burpees for time
95 lb. thrusters/L-sit pullups or ring dips 21-15-9 for time
clean and jerk with low weight
power cleans also with low weight
Do not neglect aerobic fitness either. Go for a bike ride or a run every so often.
Local Muscle Endurance
Local Muscle Endurance is the ability of a muscle or a group of muscles to work continuously without rest. It is often the case that a wrestler must maintain a hold against a resisting opponent for a long time. He who lasts longest will often win. Local muscle endurance depends on a sound Phosphogenic metabolism, strong anaerobic conditioning, and solid aerobic conditioning in that order.
To build local muscle endurance for the core and legs practice static stance drills. Hold a low wrestling stance and do not move. This is a form of isometric exercise. Build your endurance so that you can stay in a low stance for a minimum of 30 minutes and as long as an hour and a half. L-sits, planks, and wall sits are other examples of static exercises.
You can also build local muscle endurance by using repetitive calisthenics such as pushups, back extensions, air squats, ring dips, and L-sit pullups. Start fitness training slowly. In short order you will begin to understand your limits, whether you are pushing yourself too little or too much. Err on the side of caution when starting out but also do not think that just because an exercise is challenging that you are at your limit. You may be at your limit for now, but in one or two weeks of consisted workouts you will improve. Grade the difficulty of your workouts over time, use metrics and increase the level of difficulty of your challenges as you get stronger.
Examples of exercises that build local muscle endurance:
- handstands and handstand progressions
L-sits using rings
squat for time
Speed and Quickness
Speed and quickenss depend as much on a person's awareness, their mental state, and proper biomechanics as they depend on physiological training. Often the best way to optimize speed and quickness is to focus on training the martial technique. Nevertheless, there is physical training that helps.
Many short duration high intensity workouts build speed and quickness in addition to strength and local muscle endurance. For example you can use power lifting techniques such as the clean and jerk or power cleans with moderate to light weight and emphasize explosiveness in your movements.
Sprinting, particularly sprint starts also builds explosiveness that is very similar to what you need to make a fast attack in swrodfighting.
Heavy kettlebell swings will build strength with quickness and the motion of a kettlebell swing simulates a "hip pop" (a hip pop is another wrestling fundamental that approximates the correct way to lift someone).