Imagine the following: You have no clue about martial arts, are interested in Karate and want to start with this. In your city there are two dojo and you visit both of them for introductory training sessions. You have no idea about Karate, its styles, and particularly not about the secretive one-finger-death techniques. You’re a normal person :D
The first thing you see in the first dojo is the huge belly of the instructor, wrapped in a jacket of his karate suit just barely closed in front and held together by a much too short belt. You really don’t know what the sensei (his first instruction on how to address him immediately came without being asked) has to report about the benefits of karate training because of his extreme shortness of breath.
The trainer in the second dojo has had a slight mishap with a beverage-holding adolescent, and must wear his dripping jacket over his arms. But he is standing with his well-trained and well-defined upper body with apparently 0% body fat before you and telling you about the benefits of karate training.
Now my question to you, dear reader: With which karate instructor (sorry, sensei) would you start?
Before I start now with my thoughts, I would like to introduce a definition of the term “fitness,” I found in a book on sports theory and practice:
Fitness is a psycho-physical performance status
consciously achieved by training, selective nutrition and healthy lifestyles
that goes beyond the healthy well-being
(Friedrich, Optimales Sportwissen, 2007).
I think this definition is very nice because it makes clear that “fitness” is derived from constant performance. And that’s exactly what we should always strive for in karate and in the martial arts, both at the physical and mental level, which goes hand in hand.
Iam often on the road in the karate world. On many courses and seminars, I meet a variety of karateka. I also know a lot of dojo and their training. And often I am amazed at how much this topic is neglected. And the reasons for this neglect always surprise me …
One more thing first: Of course there are many dojo in which this issue has the priority that it should always and everywhere in karate have.
But what about all the other coaches, Sensei, masters, who explain to their students every evening with which techniques they can kill their opponents, but unfortunately can not spend 10 minutes on the treadmill without being on the verge of respiratory distress, or worse? Do they believe karate without physical performance is possible?
If fitness isn’t necessary in Karate, why have all the so often quoted old masters in Okinawa trained with devices like the chiishi, nigiri gami, tan, ishisashi and so on? Because they are all into the fitness craze? I don’t think so …
I’m not saying that karateka or at least the coaches need to resemble Greek gods and be able to complete the Iron Man in record time.
You have to be more powerful than others:
For instance have a look at the firefighters. There you will not necessarily encounter more elite athletes as in other occupations. But firefighters are under enormous psychological and physical stress during an operation. They must be capable, depending on the equipment to carry 25 – 45 kg extra weight, must be able to maneuver skillfully in complex situations that may involve rescuing a victim while withstanding tremendous psychological pressure to stay in control. And he must be able to cope with any unfavourable outcomes.
If this firefighter should not be physically and mentally prepared, he won’t be able to perform his job adequately and thereby possibly endanger himself and his comrades.
Karate is just like any other martial art designed to survive a dangerous situation without any harm, both physically and mentally.
What good is it when my punch isn’t serious to my opponent? That you could instead “apply really dangerous vital point techniques” won’t get you very far. It will then probably be too late ;)
The one who can rely on his body in a self-defense situation has the better cards.
The aftermath of such a situation is another topic: better mental performance is an absolute advantage.
For many it isn’t possible to train everyday in a gym (by the way that is neither necessary nor advisable). But at least you should plan it in the weekly program with strength and endurance training. And in karate training can also integrate a lot of things. You just have to want it.
Everybody who wants to train karate seriously has to deal with these issues and incorporate strength and endurance training into his routine. That applies also to the traditionalists (they would otherwise betray their so often cited role models, the old masters), as well as, the competitors (if they want to win). And we do our bodies something good. With that in mind: Off to training!