Adding Exercise to Your Training – The Martial Artist’s Greatest Conundrum…Solved

by Steve Grogan

Many martial artists have a long way to go when it comes to physical fitness. This is due to the following:

  1. They are looking at exercise in the wrong way.
  2. They think that, with all the time they devote to martial arts training, there is no way they could fit an exercise routine into their schedule.

Their opinions on both of these fronts is misinformed. The goal of this article is to set the record straight.

First, you will be given an alternate way to look at exercise.

Second, you will learn about a method of exercise that not many people know about: High-Intensity Resistance Training.


There are many martial arts students who don’t see any benefit in strength training. This is because martial arts styles sell the promise that if a person knows more about body mechanics and the proper way to generate power, they will be able to hit harder than a bigger, stronger opponent.

This is true to a certain extent. However, this statement reveals that martial artists are missing the point of the exercise. Its purpose is not mainly to gain muscle (that is just a byproduct); its purpose is to make you healthy.

Many martial arts teachers look down on strength training because they believe in the myth that lifting weights will somehow make you tense all the time. (Nothing could be further from the truth, although that is a subject for another article.)

Lifting weights will not make you a muscle-bound oaf. That is an incorrect assumption for two reasons:

  1. Not everyone even has the genetic potential to gain as much muscle as the guys in bodybuilder competitions.
  2. Having more muscle is not a bad thing.

Stronger muscles allow you to perform your techniques with more explosiveness, which means more hitting power. Since hitting harder than your adversary is the name of the game, it is obvious how being stronger is ideal.

With that covered, we must now answer every martial artist’s greatest conundrum: “How could I possibly fit an exercise program into my schedule when I already spend so much time going to class, practicing forms, sparring, etc.?”


Most gyms and personal trainers push programs where you need to work out five to six days per week, for an hour or longer. Given the amount of time that a martial artist spends on going to class and training on their own, this is a tall order.

Plus, we cannot ignore the fact that martial artists have more in their lives than just their art. They have full-time jobs (complete with commute time), romantic partners, kids, friends, and errands. In other words, they are just as busy as everyone else.

Another problem with these programs is that there is not a lot of downtime between workouts and/or martial arts classes. If you go to a Gut-Busting Boot Camp on Monday night and then go spar on Tuesday night, you are more likely to get injured.

The more you exercise, the more wear and tear you put on your body. With each opening and closing of your joints, you run the risk of injury, not just in the form of hurting the joints themselves, but also of muscle pulls and the like.

Therefore, the answer must be the opposite of what the “experts” say: we need less exercise. This sounds counterintuitive, but if you change how you think about exercise, it will make sense.

Here is how you look at exercise: think of it as medicine.

Let’s say someone is diagnosed with some physical ailment that will require them to constantly take medicine for the rest of their lives. The doctor puts them on Medication A at a dosage of 10mg and says, “Take this twice a day.”

There is no effect.

The doctor says, “Try Medication B at 15mg, once per day.”

Still no change in the patient’s condition.

The doctor says, “Hmmm…you felt a little better on Medication A, right? Just not completely better. So…let’s put you back on that one at a dosage of 20mg, three times per day.”

The patient winds up in the ER. Feeling guilty over his error, the Doctor looks over the charts once more and says, “Okay, same medication, but 15mg twice per day.”

Suddenly, the patient is doing wonderful. In fact, they rebound so dramatically that no one suspects anything was ever wrong!

What is the lesson we can learn from this?

To paraphrase Dr. Doug McGuff (author of the book that got me interested in this method: Body by Science), it needs to be the right medication, the right dosage, and the right frequency.

The same holds true of exercise. Do too much, and you might overtrain. However, if you do too little, your muscles will atrophy (break down), and you’ll lose whatever gains you had.


Executive Decision: I am going to abbreviate this as “HIRT” going forward to save some space.

Go to the gym, and what do you see? There’s some guy in the corner doing bicep curls, making the weights go up and down as fast as he can so he can bang out some arbitrary number of repetitions within a certain time limit.

Not only is this dangerous (swinging super-heavy weights in a fast manner can definitely lead to ligament tears, muscle pulls, etc.), but it isn’t even really a workout because he’s making the weight go up and down via momentum instead of muscular work!

HIRT workouts consist of a series of anywhere from 5-12 moves. Usually, there is one exercise per muscle group. These are performed in a slow and controlled manner; ideally, you want to move the weight for at least five seconds in both directions. When your limbs are at their fullest extension, you do not lock them out. (Otherwise, this means your skeleton is supporting the load, and there is no tension on the muscle.)

Conversely, when you bring the limbs back, you do not set the weight all the way down. This is because your muscles are in their weakest position at that point, and it will be harder for you to get the weight moving again.

You do this for one set. Then you move to the next exercise. Keep going until you are done, and that is it.

Yes, you read that right. With HIRT, there is:

  • No warm-up. You move so slowly that there is no need.
  • No stretching. In fact, stretching can do more harm than good. (That would be best explored in another article.)
  • No cooldown. Actually, that isn’t 100% true: there is a cooldown portion: when you walk from the gym to your car.
  • Also, no need for a separation of strength training and cardio days. You will find that, aside from getting stronger, the HIRT method gives you cardio improvements.


Now that we’ve outlined the way to do a HIRT workout, let’s look at the reasons why this is perfect for martial artists.

  1. It is time-efficient. When you are doing only a half hour once a week, it should be easy to figure out how to fit martial arts training and exercise into your schedule.
  2. No risk of injury. Due to the slow and controlled manner of the exercises, there is no way you are going to pull or tear something. In fact, you won’t even need a warm-up!
  3. No risk of overtraining. The danger of the 6-days-per-week routines is that, when combined with martial arts training, the odds increase that you could hurt yourself. If you’re working out only once a week, that is nearly impossible.

The reason I say “nearly” impossible is because that depends on how strenuous your martial art training is.

The main concern here revolves around the activity of sparring. If your school has sparring, you’ll want to skip that activity for at least two days after your workout.

You can still practice forms and techniques, as well as run through some self-defense scenarios, but you will be far too drained to do anything as intense as sparring.


I am not asking anyone to watch this entire video. (It is 41 minutes.) However, it is here for those who want to know more.

Follow Me Through My High-Intensity Resistance Training Workout


After seeing all the fancy equipment in that video, you might wonder, “Can I do it if I don’t have access to all that gear?”

The answer: YES! In fact, here is another video where I show you how little gear you’d need to do this at home:

Gear Needed to Do HIRT at Home (Plus a Cat)


Hopefully, this article has presented a clear picture, showing why this training methodology is perfect for a martial artist.

Before leaving, I want to extend one final resource to you: namely, myself. If no facilities near you teach this exercise, and you really want to try it, you can contact me. (All contact information and links are in my Bio at the end of this article.)

Here’s to a fitter, happier, healthier you.

BIO: Steve Grogan has been a practitioner of Wing Chun Kung Fu since early 1995. He started doing High-Intensity Resistance Training in January 2020. At that time, he weighed 241 pounds. By July 2020, he was down to 175.

His passion for the effectiveness of this training method inspired Steve to become a Certified Personal Trainer, which he achieved in August 2022. If you are interested in learning more about High-Intensity Resistance Training and maybe even want to try a complementary lesson (Steve can do them in person or remotely), visit his site:

You can also reach him in the following ways:

EMAIL          –

TIKTOK         –


What Should You Expect from Your First Month of BJJ Training?

Beginning your journey in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be a daunting task. There are so many things to learn and remember, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Here are a few things that you can expect during your first month of training. If you’re thinking about starting Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)) training, you may be wondering what to expect from your first month of training. BJJ is a challenging and rewarding martial art that offers many benefits for practitioners of all levels. In this blog post, we’ll give you a glimpse of what you can expect from your first month of BJJ training.

In your first month of BJJ training, you should expect to learn the basic techniques and principles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You will likely be introduced to a variety of different guard positions, such as the closed guard, half guard, and butterfly guard. You will also learn how to perform common submissions, such as the arm bar, triangle choke, and heel hook. In addition, you should expect to develop a better understanding of leverage and how to use your opponent’s weight to your advantage

1. Month One is About Showing Up

Leverage is a key element of Jiu-Jitsu. It is the use of your opponent’s weight and momentum to your advantage. By using leverage, you can force your opponent to tap out or submit.

There are many different ways to use leverage in Jiu-Jitsu. For example, you can use your opponent’s weight to your advantage when you are on their guard.

In addition, you should expect to develop a better understanding of leverage and how to use your opponent’s weight to your advantage as you progress in your Jiu-Jitsu training program. With time and practice, you will become a master of leveraging your opponent’s weight and momentum to your advantage.

2. Month One is About the Basics of BJJ

In month one of your BJJ journey, you will focus on the basics. You will learn the fundamental techniques and principles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This will give you a strong foundation on which to build your BJJ game.

During this month, you will learn the following BJJ techniques:

– The fundamental guard positions (closed guard, open guard, half guard, side control, full mount, and back control)

– The fundamental escapes from bad positions (closed guard, open guard, half guard, side control, full mount, and back control)

The fundamental submissions, sweeps, and take-downs are the building blocks of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. They are the techniques that all practitioners must learn in order to be effective in this martial art.

While there are many different submissions, sweeps, and takedowns, there are a few that are considered to be the most fundamental.

The fundamental submissions are the chokes, arm locks, and leg locks. These are the techniques that are most effective in submitting an opponent. Chokes are used to restrict the flow of blood to the brain, causing the opponent to lose consciousness.

Arm locks are used to hyperextend the elbow, causing the opponent to submit. Leg locks are used to hyperextend the knee, causing the opponent to submit.

Submission or choke hold is the technique that involves grabbing a neck of an opponent and squeezing the throat to prevent breathing.

Choke holds are simple to perform but can be very effective in forcing an opponent to submit.

How to Perform Concentration Curls for Bigger Biceps

Even if you step into the gym with no intention of cheating on your fitness training you might end up doing as you progress in a tough set of exercises. It’s something that a fitness enthusiast who is into biceps curls, would identify immediately. This exercise is extremely effective when it comes to building momentum and shooting for the bigger biceps. Proper execution of bicep curls will itself eliminate the practice of cheating with the curls as you work for a longer period. Unlike most of the body-building workouts, concentration curls make you work on each arm individually, this can help in working on your weaker side if you have one.

The slow & steady pace of this workout exercise is excellent for inducing tension that helps in squeezing your biceps. This workout primarily puts your biceps to work, & results will follow the topped shape of the sleeve-busting arms.

Building Bigger Biceps:

You have to put more into it, than just doing bicep curls. Workout is just one component of achieving your fitness goals. You have to consider other factors too. Building bigger arms increases the overall muscle mass and makes you stronger.

  • Regulate your diet: A thumb rule for gaining muscles is consuming more calories than burning for gaining weight. Make sure you distribute the healthy calories evenly throughout the day in your breakfast, lunch, dinner & post-workout snacks.
  • Get Stronger: But the Strength not just the size. Also, focus on full-body strengthening, it’s not realistic to strengthen a particular muscle group of your body. Increase the overall muscular mass of your body.
  • Rest: Your body repairs and heals itself when you rest. Taking appropriate rest is essential for your muscle growth. Make sure you give the proper rest and break, follow the proper rest routine.
  • Track Progress: Keep a track of your weight & measure the width of your arms every two weeks. If the arms are not bulking up, then check your training if you are doing it properly or compromising on your diet.

Muscles targeted in Bicep Curls:

Multiple muscle groups of your arm are engaged in concentration curls. The muscle groups that are directly targeted includes:

Brachialis muscles                              Biceps brachii

Flexor digitorum                                  Tricep brachii

Serratus anterior                                 Pectoralis major and minor

Rectus abdominis

Benefits of Dumbbell Concentration

1)   Strength & Size Gains

Concentration curl is the primary bicep-building workout. The arm is placed in the anchored position, the biceps receive greater tension than the standard bicep curl. This workout is highly effective for strengthening your biceps muscle & boosted biceps hypertrophy. Building the biceps muscles is not just for showcasing—  improves the performance at the gym and other workouts.

2)   Better Athletic Performance

The concentration curl offers a major boost to athletic performance. Sports that involve swinging, throwing, rowing & other similar motions primarily depend on how strengthened your biceps are. Doing concentration curls helps a lot with that. Adding them to your training regime will give you an edge over the competitors.

3) Improved Aesthetics

Everyone wants to have bigger arms, biceps popping out of their sleeves, improving their overall aesthetic. Concentration curls are very effective for developing those defined bulky muscles. It’s simple to learn & improve in no time.

Eccentric vs Concentric Moment

Picture yourself doing bicep concentration curls. While you lift the dumbbell in the concentric phase, the bicep curls into a ‘cannonball’ like position, lowering it slowly will make the bicep resist weight while extending – this phase is called eccentric.

Eccentric workouts subject your muscle to greater tension & too for longer time intervals they generate a greater trauma which in turn stimulates more muscle growth. The bottom line regarding mastering the eccentric workouts is the foregoing rookie mistake of rapid lifting & lowering weights for achieving the highest rep count.

Concentration curls

Unarguably concentration curls are one of the most efficient workouts for maximizing bicep growth when done in workout clothes. It completely isolates the muscle group of your bicep. Causing the greatest shock to the biceps, which yields micro-trauma without the inefficiently working of secondary muscles.

How To perform The Concentration Curl

Start this workout by sitting on the bench that is the height of the knees, bend them at an angle of 90° by placing your feet on the ground flat. Then pick up the dumbbell with the right hand & place the back of the upper right arm at the inner section of the right thigh. Make sure your arm is extended as it holds the dumbbell off the ground.

Then slowly start curling weight up, by moving the forearms – putting the upper arm on your thigh will enable you to keep still as you perform the workout.

While you are at the top of this move, pause for a moment & squeeze the biceps, while slowly lowering the weight back. Perform all the reps with one arm, then switch to another.

Common Concentration Curl Mistakes to avoid

1)   Doing Partial Reps

One of the most common mistakes, that’s not just bound to concentration curl but other exercises as well are performing partial reps. Athletes either do short curling while going up to do not return the dumbbell to starting position. This mistake prevents you from getting the best of your concentration curl. It’s better to lift less weight with better form than lifting more weight in poor form.

2)   Utilizing Momentum

Dumbbell concentration is designed in a way that prevents people from using their momentum for lifting the weight. Many lifters make the mistake as they move their legs & upper body to swing the dumbbell. This occurs when you try to lift a lot of weight. It can be fixed by choosing a lighter weight.

3)   Rushing into the Motion

Another mistake that happens during dumbbell concentration curls is when you rush into the motion. People curl the dumbbell upwards in a controlled fashion & then let it fall quickly. It’s not only unsafe but steals potential major gains from eccentric portions of this exercise motion. Rather than rushing into the motion, curl up & down in a calm and controlled fashion. The slow tempo increases the muscle tension period & maximizes the benefits of this exercise.

4)   Overtraining the Arms

Your arms are made up of small muscles that get hit in the exercises as you hold the bar & bending the arms. You can not train them for more than 5 weeks. Muscles need proper rest for growing and healing.

Variations of Dumbbell Concentration Curl  

1. Standing Concentration Curl

Assume that you are in the standing position with the feet opened shoulder-distance apart. Then grab a kettlebell by using your right hand & palm facing away. Then Shift your whole weight at the right side & place the elbow at the inside of the thigh above the knee for supporting yourself. With the stabilized base, complete its standard variation. Complete the reps and switch the arm. 

2. Landmine Concentration Curl

In this workout secure a barbell with the landmine attachment, and stabilize yourself at one side of the bar placed at your front. Then straddle that barbell and stand perpendicular to the bar. Then hinge at your waist & anchor the right elbow inside of the right thigh above the level of your knee. Then grab that barbell with the right hand & both palms facing upwards. Complete the rep and switch the arms in the next one.

3) Body Weight Concentration Curl

This variation of concentration curl involves no equipment. It can be done without using any additional weights. Begin with this exercise by sitting on the chair. With the right foot placed firmly at the front on the floor, then grab the back of the left leg by using the right hand.

Then with the right elbow plant yourself securely at the inside of the right thigh, use the leg as resistance & contract the right bicep for lifting the left leg. Complete the rep and switch the leg. 

Endorphins and Exercise: How Exercise Helps with Depression

As the pandemic is taking its toll on the job market, finance, and economy more people are becoming jobless. As unemployment is increasing, mental health is becoming worse with every passing day. People are now becoming concerned about physical as well as mental health because they are finally realizing the importance of both. According to psychologists, the behavioral school of thought talks about human behavior, their lifestyle; and small changes that are changing the overall human life. In short, it talks about the fact that when you engage in physical activity and transform your living patterns, this impacts the production of a happy hormone that helps in relieving stress and anxiety.

For understanding the benefits of a workout and how it impacts mental health, we need to understand our anatomy. In addition to anatomy, we must also have a grip on human psychology and how our daily exercise affects mental health.

Psychological Benefits of Exercises

We all know that according to Maslows hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is at the top of the pyramid. With regular workouts and exercises the human body goes through change, this means that the physical activity improves and the self-image of the person improves as well. While exercising the body secretes a chemical that is known as endorphins. With the help of endorphins, the reception of pain decreases, which also means that it helps in increasing tolerance of pain. Apart from having an impact on pain, endorphins also have an impact on triggering a positive feeling just like morphine. This also means that like the morphine addiction, one can also get addicted to endorphin. This is the same reason, fighters, athletes, and adventure enthusiasts find long harsh playing conditions tolerable. In short, when a person runs and feels exhausted usually this overall exhaustion is linked with a sense of euphoria. Endorphin is manufactured in the brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of the body and helps with overall body response, and suppresses the pain hormone as well. According to most neurologists and neuro-researchers, endorphins work just like a pain killer. However the addiction to endorphin is not the same as that of morphine, instead, most of the researchers claim that endorphin is not additive at all.

Impact of Regular Exercise on Mental Health

Overall, if we see mental health and its impact on the day to day life, we will see that it not only helps in reducing stress but also helps in improving the sleep cycle. A person who doesn’t sleep so well doesn’t allow his body to heal properly and so a tired body impacts the mental health of the individual. Along with improved sleep, it also helps in boosting self-esteem and improving self-image. Daily exercise also helps in reducing anxiety and relieving depression. 

Apart from the mental health improvement, there are so many other improvements as well. Especially if we talk about a heart condition, we can say that exercise strengthens the heart and helps the body in maintaining blood pressure. With the help of regular exercise, the energy level of the body improves and the overall muscles become better. The body gets toned up and string as well and you will see a visible reduction in fats. One of the most surprising things is that it also helps to strengthen the bones and accelerates calcium absorption which helps with increasing bone density.

What Kind Of Exercises Is Considered Healthy?

We all know that exercise is healthy but there is a common notion that excess of everything is bad. This means excess exercise is also bad. To explore this notion further, we need to understand one thing, exercise has so many different types and each type is important in its way. As far as the healthy type of exercise is concerned, we can see that there is no good or bad type. Your body has its limit, if you are exercising regularly, you will eventually learn to listen to your body. This also means that if you ever get exhausted, you will be able to feel it. In short, there is nothing called excess exercise. However, we have seen people pushing their body limits. This usually happens in athletes when they are trying to work for some fight or game. If you keep challenging the limits of your body eventually, your body will not find time to heal and the injuries will become permanent.

Some of the best exercises that are recommended to everyone include aerobic exercise mainly. This includes simple exercises like swimming, jogging, walking, biking, dancing, yoga, gardening, golfing, household chores, etc. The best thing about these exercises is that you don’t need to work too hard, spend too much money, buy equipment or look for special sportswear.

Is Exercise The Only Thing?

So far we have seen that people keep talking about the overall exercises and how these exercises impact human health. Apart from this, people are also exploring ways their daily exercises are impacting their psychological health. However, most people question if physical exercise is the only thing that impacts psychological health. This is not true because there are so many other factors as well. One of the main factors is social support. If the social support is not very strong, soon the person will start getting depressed. A very evident example of this situation is the ongoing pandemic. People are now getting more concerned about their psychological health because their social ties with others are getting weaker. More people are willing to extend a helping hand but the impact of social interaction and touch is still there. According to research conducted by developmental psychologists, children who long for human touch or children who are kept in isolation suffer from more diseases as compared to children who are loved, cared for, and experience proper human touch.

If you are facing some issue with regulating your daily exercise routine, you should start the exercise routine with your partner or join a class. It has been noticed that people who work in a group are more motivated as compared to people who work alone. Apart from the motivation factor, another important thing is the self-assurance and learning factor. With social interaction, you will be able to compare your progress and learn more as compared to learning individually.

Exercise for Improving Mental Health and Depression

For someone who is going through depression, most people talk about regular exercise. However, people are not familiar with the fact that regular exercise is different for everyone. For athletes, working out 3-5 days is considered regular, however, for bodybuilders, the intensity of exercises and the frequency are quite different. If you just want to ease your depression, you don’t have to lift heavy weights or spend long hours in the gym. Simple workouts for a few minutes will be good for you. You should exercise for at least 20 to 30 minutes every day for at least three days a week. You don’t have to spend too much time finding a perfect exercise for yourself. Even if you swim every day for a few minutes, this workout will also be enough for you. For most of the simple exercises, you don’t need proper gear or sportswear, however, for swimming, you will need specialized gear like swimming glasses and a swimming costume.

The Gracie Clan and the Making of BJJ: National Identity, Performance & Culture, 1905-1993

by Jose Tufy Cairus


This dissertation examines the transformation of a modernized Japanese school of martial arts, alternatively known as jiu-jitsu or Kodokan judo, into a Brazilian combat sport. It encompasses jiu-jitsu’s introduction in the early 1900s, the creation of a native style in the following decades and its globalization under the hybrid form known as “Brazilian jiu-jitsu.” The adoption of jiu-jitsu in the military is part of a larger project of modernization conceived by the Brazilian elite aiming to provide the emergent middle-classes with innovative fitness trends. Around the World War I, however, a branch of the Gracies, a Scottish cum Rio de Janeiro family with genteel pretensions, joined a troupe of Japanese martial artists and adopted jiu-jitsu as part of their circus act. In the following decades, the Gracies supported by their upper class peers and by a nationalist regime, launched a comprehensive process of jiu-jitsu reinvention that evolves into a hybrid combat sport exported worldwide at the end of the twentieth century. Using sources such as state and private archives, newspapers and magazines this study suggests that the making of Brazilian jiu-jitsu through the agency of the Gracie family reflect historical constructed values stemming from a patriarchal culture, social and racial inequality and nationalism.


How to get to Wudang Shan with ease

Wudang Shan or Wudang Mountain is one of the most famous mountain ranges in China. By the way a shan 山  is what the Chinese call a mountain. By the way if you hadn’t noticed that’s me trying to impress you with my 12 years experience of find excuses why I’ve not managed to learn the language. The reason I mention this is two fold. Firstly, to mock my own language learning skills, but more importantly to give you confidence to travel in China and to Wudang without overly stressing about not having Chinese Language skills. Of course learning the language is advisable and will lead you to a much richer experience but it should not be a barrier to exploration.

In this article I’ll give you the right information to make your way to and around Wudang like a pro.

How to train at one of Asia’s best MMA gyms

In this short extract I will provide you with a link to an article I completed for a different website I’m working on. This blog will focus on my own personal martial arts journeys plus random travel tips. The one below focuses on how to train at one of Asia’s best MMA gyms, Evolve MMA in Singapore.

“If you’ve ever wanted to train with top class MMA Coaches in one of Asia’s best MMA gyms you’ll have to do some serious research to budget for accommodation, and food. These are not include currently in evolves training packages. So unless you are staying with friends or family what options are available to make training there possible, in a city dubbed the most expensive city in the world for the fifth year running?

Well lucky for you with, the help of the kind people from Evolve MMA I’ve put together some great budget options. Including some of the best nearby accommodation options to make it as easy on your wallet as possible so you can get more of that top quality training in.

So first up here’s your accommodation options starting with Evolves accommodation partners located within 5 minutes of their Far East Square facility”.



A Word from Alan Watts

by Phillip Starr

For those may not have heard of him, Alan Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter of Zen.  A one-time Episcopal priest, the church still utilizes some of his writings to this day.  He was a prolific writer, particularly after studying Eastern ways of thought. authoring some 25 books and many articles.  His first book, “The Way of Zen”  (1957) remains a classic to this day.  I was most fortunate in being able to meet him at a summer seminar in 1973 shortly before his untimely demise in an airplane crash later that year.   I learned more from him than I ever suspected at the time and a number of things that he told me that day have stayed in my mind ever since.  This article is in regards to one of them.

Few people, even most fans of his, know that Watts was an avid practitioner of aikido.  I found out because I was young, didn’t know much about him or his fame (thus, I wasn’t awed by him in the least until a few hours later), and I asked him directly, “Mr. Watts, do you practice martial arts?”  He glanced sideways at me and I told him that I was a teacher of Chinese martial arts.  It was then that he admitted to studying….and loving, aikido.  In fact, he was very interested in all of the martial ways and because it was a rarity to find a practitioner of Chinese martial arts in those days, we talked at some length.

As we discussed martial arts he said, “Any physical activity taken to its extreme, becomes s spiritual path and leads to awakening.”  I asked what he meant by, “extreme?”  I remember that he smiled as he answered me.  “If you strive for perfection in it, it eventually becomes a spiritual experience.”

“Even something like…tennis?” I asked.

He chuckled.  “Yes, even tennis…or baseball, or crocheting.  Any activity.”

I’ve mulled this over for many years now.  The operative phrase in his answer is, “strive to perfect.”  If we attend classes on a regular basis, that isn’t enough.  If we simply engage in the practice of basic techniques, kata, two-person routines…it isn’t enough.  We have to CONSCIOUSLY strive to perfect our skills as this leads towards self-perfection.  It is the underlying theory of all martial arts.  It is why we continue to practice for decade after decade.  We don’t do it for the exercise, although that certainly provides many wonderful side benefits.  And we don’t do it for self-defense; heck, we’ve acquired more than adequate self-defense skills after a fairly short time in training.  We (should) do it because we are aiming at self-perfection.

Is such a thing even possible?  I would have to answer, “No, not in this lifetime.”  But that shouldn’t discourage you in the least.

The Dojo Kun

by Phillip Starr

The training hall oath…recited at the beginning of class by many martial arts schools worldwide.  The oath is a reflection of the values and spirit of the martial discipline which they practice.  When I trained in Kyokushin karate many, many moons ago, we all recited it before every class and to this day, I remember it; “We will train our hearts and minds for a firm, unshaking spirit….”

We were told that we should focus on the meaning of every line and recite the oath with reverence and spirit.  Nowadays, fewer and fewer martial arts schools utilize a dojo kun, even if their particular style has one (some styles don’t) and of those who do, the students tend to repeat the lines of the oath robotically; like a parrot.

The oath is there to remind us of what we are striving to accomplish and why we leave sweat and blood on the training hall floor.  It’s our fault as instructors that this particular aspect of training has fallen by the wayside and been forgotten.  But we can readily find it again and put it to the use for which it was originally intended.  Shall we re-trace our steps back a little distance and retrieve it?


by Phillip Starr

In earlier writings, I’ve mentioned the concept of “kyo”, which is the chink in your opponent’s armor; it is an opening, a “window of opportunity” through which you can quickly enter his defense perimeter and bring him down. Well, that’s what you hope to do, anyway.

I can see that you’re a little perplexed. “Whaddya mean, ‘what I hope to do?’” Well, you’re going to barrel through that window and…then what? Stop and consider that once you enter that window, not only are you close enough to strike the opponent…but he is equally close to you! Ah, yes…I saw some eyebrows jump. Hadn’t thought about that, had you? You bet. So, you’d better bring him down because if you fail, it’ll be his turn.

There are five key elements that must be studied and practiced repeatedly if you are serious about developing real martial skill. We’re going to look at each one individually.


This would seem pretty obvious but many people miss it. Your movement (not just your technique) must occur suddenly and without warning. The enemy must have no clue that you’re on your way and when it happens, he should be taken by complete surprise. This means that you have to train to eliminate any “telegraphs” (small movements or physical signals) that indicate your intentions. If you fail to do this; if you inadvertently “telegraph” your plans to your foe, the results will be disastrous.


In this wise, I’m not talking about how fast you can deliver a punch or kick; I’m talking about how swiftly you can move your entire body and deliver your techniques . You dare not be too slow or pause in the middle of your attack lest you provide the opponent with your own moment of “kyo.” Your movements must be smooth and quick, never wooden, clumsy, or “jerky” as if you were a robot. Everything flows together seamlessly, without a break.

Both of these first two elements, Surprise and Speed, have to do with the concept of timing and rhythm. These concepts are discussed in detail in my book, “MARTIAL MECHANICS.” It presents special training routines that will help you polish your timing and better understand the idea of “rhythm” and how you can apply it to your best advantage. I strongly suggest that you save up your beer money for a couple of days and purchase a copy.


The objective here is to take the opponent’s ground! You must close with him as quickly as possible while simultaneously firing out powerful blows. You are already inside his defense perimeter and he must do his best to defend himself against the onslaught. He has no chance to mount a counter-offensive; your blows force him to focus on defense. Train to apply the techniques with which you are the most comfortable, including both grappling as well as percussive techniques. You must figuratively “grab him by the belt” and don’t let go!


This goes hand in hand with the previous element. Your attack must be overwhelming and extremely violent. This isn’t to say that you must become angry or otherwise lose control of your emotions. On the contrary, you must control your feelings and keep your spirit calm. Bear in mind that your objective is to take his ground (remembering that no battle was ever won by letting the enemy keep his ground…) and run over him. Literally.


Once the enemy has been brought down, you must immediately move out of his striking range. Keep in mind that thugs rarely hunt solo; he’ll likely have friends very close by. You must be prepared to deal with them, so don’t pause, “pose”, and admire your handiwork as if you’re in some grade B kung-fu movie. Maintain eight-directional zanshin and prepare for whatever may come next.
Here endeth the lesson.