Friday, June 10, 2011

Spirit Training

I"m not sure how common this is (though I suspect it is pretty common) but my style tends to get together for extra - intense workouts every so often in a large group setting.  We do it for the new year (Kagami Biraki), an annual beach training, an occasional black belt only training - maybe 2-4 times per year.  Not every person attends every workout, but if you're in the area you're expected to make it to most of them.

The workouts are ineveitably preceeded and postceeded by some social interactions, as people are gathering who don't normally train together, and usually some meeting type stuff - announcements, administrative stuff, etc.  Then the workout.

These workouts are not very technical - there are usually a lot of people involved with a broad cross-section of skills, and communication is often difficult due to the size of the group.  The goal here is not fine tuning anybody's technique.  We're also usually packed nearly shoulder to shoulder, so nobody's going to do much in the way of moving - think lots of punches, lots of blocks, lots of squats/ knees, lots of pushups and crunches, and lots of kiais.

If you're not a martial artist you might not appreciate how taxing it is to, say, throw a thousand punches into the air, but if you're really executing with full force that's quite a workout.  Obviously it's possible to pace yourself and kind of half-ass the whole thing, but we try not to.  After all, you're surrounded by your senpai - your seniors - and you don't want to be the guy slacking off in the middle of the group when everybody else is giving 100%.

Now if you're a regular reader of this blog you know I'm not a fan of marathon workouts.  Long workouts lead to two results - either you pace yourself, which means spending a lot of time practicing half speed techniques, or you don't pace yourself and wind up exhausted, which means spending a lot of time practicing sloppy techniques.  Either way it's the wrong kind of neurological programming.

So why do I go to these events?  There are a few reasons.  There's a social dimension to them, of course (funny story - I'm lined up, randomly, next to this guy who seems familiar.  I vaguely remember him having been around when I went for my nidan promotion four years ago.  I talk to him, and he agrees that we saw each other then, but he knows me from elsewhere.  Turns out he was a year ahead of me in high school and we were on the football team together!)  There's a certain amount of social pressure to show up - the seniors like it when you attend these events.  But there's also a useful training aspect to the workouts.

Training to exhaustion, if you do it right (and by "do it right" I mean put real effort into every technique - I mean don't pace yourself) you're going to get a few benefits.  First, you're going to practice executing technique while exhausted - there are compensations you have to make, and it's not going to hurt to be familiar with them.  Should that be a primary focus of your training?  Of course not.  But once in a while you should remember what it feels like to throw a knee when you're exhausted, and practice mustering up force in your techniques while gasping for air.

This kind of training has an effect on your spirit - your will.  Think about the euphoria people express after finishing their first marathon or climbing a mountain.  Some of it is probably endorphins, sure.  But you also gain confidence in your ability to push through adversity, to push your own body to extremes, to work at your limit.  Most of your training should be done when you're fresh, in short bursts, which is great for developing skill, but it doesn't tell you anything about your ability to push the limits of your endurance.

Making it through these workouts is a bonding experience and a confidence building experience.  There might be an endurance training effect, but I wouldn't swear to it - not if you're doing these things infrequently, which is all you should be doing.

Here are the secrets to benefiting from spirit training:
  • Don't pace yourself.  Really work - put everything you have into the first punch, even if you know that you'll pay for it later. 
  • Focus on technique.  Don't get too, too sloppy - you want to be sore afterwards but not injured.  You're not going to be crisp on kick #273 - but don't throw your back out either.
  • Sleep as much as you can the night before and after.
  • Double your protein intake for the two days after the workout.  I recommend my magic recovery formula - 12 oz. milk, 2 scoops MetRx chocolate protein powder (not the meal replacement, just the protein), Rice Krispies to taste, once or twice a day.  Any animal based protein will do.  Probably not a good idea long term, but for a day or two it really helps with recovery.  If you normally do intermittent fasting, don't schedule any fasts for the days after the workout.  You need to be in full anabolism to recover.
  • Double your fish oil for the same two days to control the inflammation.
  • A little bit is good; a lot is not.  If you run a dojo and you try to do these, for example, every Sunday, you're doing the wrong kind of training.  Your students will start to pace themselves, and if they don't, they'll deeply ingrain sloppy karate into their nervous systems.  In my style we do these at most maybe 4 times a year - which seems about perfect to me.
The leader of our style always exhorts us to show "strong spirit" during these events.  It took me twenty years, but I think I understand at least part of what he means when he says that. 



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