Progressive resistance and Variable Intensity
Let’s talk a little about Resistance. People often get squeamish at the thought of training with resistance, as they envision a hulking opponent smashing them repeatedly in the face. Not a pretty picture. In fact it is one I have been on the receiving end of. I had been boxing for about a year when my coach had me spar with Tex Cobb’s bodyguard at the old Main Street Boxing Gym in downtown Los Angeles. This guy was huge, and weighed in at nearly three hundred pounds! My coach told him to take it easy, as he had boxed professionally. Unfortunately, some people have a hard time turning the intensity down. (This is why we make sure that our students are paired up with others who want to train at the same level of intensity. We also use helmets!) I moved around with him and he unleashed a jab that I distinctly remember to this day. Let’s just say that I learned the difference between having my hands up under my chin and really having my hands up in front of my face. That thunderous jab drove me back into the ropes, almost off my feet. Up went my hands, and boy did my head start moving! So did my feet. I was all over that ring. Luckily, I was in better shape and he tired out with about thirty seconds in the round. Most people will never go back to training after getting a headache like that. My coach was so encouraging that I didn’t give up. But that is the normal method in boxing gyms. Many professional coaches first want to see if a prospective fighter has heart, so they toss them in the ring with a pro to see how they handle the beating. If they have heart, they will train them so they can try to make a living off of them. I want to get the realistic training to everyone, so I employ the concept of Progressive Resistance. I got this term from bodybuilding, and I like to use a weight lifting analogy to explain this principle. Imagine that you decide to sign up at a gym. (Martial arts sounded too dangerous!) You have a personal trainer to teach you how to lift correctly and get you going in the right direction. You tell the trainer that you want to work on your leg strength. She says okay, and teaches you how to do a squat. She puts a broomstick across your shoulders, feet shoulder width apart, has you keep your back straight while bending at the knees. She points out that you should sit back, almost like sitting in a chair, to avoid having your knees move out in front of your toes. Better for your knees and better for balance. After a few minutes you can duplicate the squat correctly. Now what did you actually just learn? You learned a technique. That would be like going to our JKD Unlimited/MMA for the street class and learning how to throw a solid punch. It has taken you about three minutes to learn the proper form for the technique called the squat. Now what happens? Do you just practice that technique with the broomstick for the next three years? No. Your trainer takes you to the squat rack. Why? Because you have to add resistance if you want to get stronger. Doing the technique with resistance is going to trigger the Adaptive Response. If you don’t add resistance you are not going to get stronger. If you don’t add resistance in your fight training you won’t develop fighting skill. Let’s now say that your wonderful trainer takes you to the squat rack and proceeds to load the bar with 300 pounds! What is going to happen if you try to squat that much your first day? You are going to break something. Why? TOO MUCH RESISTANCE! You have to start with just enough resistance to make the effort slightly difficult. This causes your body to adapt. You go in the following week and you can add a little more resistance. Over time, depending on your goals, you may be able to squat with 300 pounds. The exact same theory of Progressive Resistance holds true for our fight training. Too much resistance is counterproductive. You will actually be worse off by adding too much resistance than not training at all. Instead, the trick is to add enough resistance so that it is slightly difficult to apply your technique. As you improve, you add more resistance. The amount you end up training with depends upon your goals. I call this VARIABLE INTENSITY TRAINING, as each person in class trains at his or her own level. Our rule is that when two people play together, the intensity is adjusted for whoever wants to go lighter. Some people lift weights to tone up, others train to be bodybuilders. Some people want to train martial arts for health and self-defense; others want to become cage fighting champions. The amount of resistance and the level of intensity will differ depending upon your goals. You may end up doing two sets of squats with 135 pounds. You stop when you start to feel the burn. A professional may build up to 400 pounds over six sets, taking many of the sets to the point where they cannot possibly do another rep. (Those are the guys screaming in the corner of the gym.) They add more resistance at a greater level of intensity. In our training, I can spar at full resistance, doing my best to defend each offensive attempt from my opponent without using full intensity. I can strike quickly without full power so that my partner is not overwhelmed. That way we all improve and have fun doing it.There is one more very important aspect of this weight lifting analogy.
Whether you are in the gym to tone or to become a competitive bodybuilder, THE BASIC TECHNIQUES YOU PERFORM ARE THE SAME! You do squats, bench press, curls, lat pulls, etc. The professional adds greater intensity and uses more variations of each technique, but the basics are the same. This holds true for fight training as well. The basics will be the same whether you are a hobbyist or a professional fighter. There is no need to have one curriculum for fighters and an entirely different curriculum for people who want to learn self-defense. The professional is just more skillful in the basics and has more variations. Nothing magic, just scientifically tested techniques and training methods performed using progressive resistance to build that skill. I hope you can see why Progressive Resistance is an extremely important part of our training. This is what allows people of all ages, sizes, and goals to train in the same general manner as an “Ultimate Fighting Champion”. Since the concept of progressively adding more and more Resistance is not widely understood, many martial arts systems simply don’t include that all-important factor that triggers the Adaptive Response: RESISTANCE! They instead practice forms, drills, and techniques where neither person ever actually fights back. These drills and techniques are performed without any resistance of any kind. Bruce Lee used the term “aliveness” to talk about adding resistance. This is often misinterpreted. People will take a technique that is practiced without resistance and try to make it “alive”. They do this by bouncing around like Muhammad Ali while doing the technique, still without resistance. Bouncing around does not make it alive. Resistance makes it alive. Movement is part of resistance, and it is easy to confuse the two. If your partner is trying to keep you from performing your technique, then there is resistance and you are going to improve.
Intensity is also mistaken for resistance. A person can go through a technique routine with a well trained, compliant partner at great intensity. This is wonderful in demonstrations. One person feeds and the other person flies into a fast, intense series of blocks, eye strikes, nerve hits, followed by a takedown. Very impressive. That guy was moving with unbelievable speed, precision, and power. If you were to watch the demonstration again, it is best to watch the feeder. What you will usually see is a person who throws a punch then stands there while the defender goes through the routine. No resistance. The feeder stands like a statue offering no resistance. There is great intensity in this type of demonstration, but without resistance you won’t be able to deal with a real attacker who will resist 100%.
Am I saying that it is useless to train without resistance? No. Training without resistance is important to memorize the various techniques. By memorize I mean that your body has to develop the coordination for the technique so that you have all the details in place. You can also use them for conditioning the body. Just like learning the squat, you need to learn each technique. But, again like the squat, it should only take a few minutes to learn most techniques. There are only two types of drills that martial artists do. Memorization drills or resistance drills. I call resistance drills Performance Games. (See Chapter VII) We learn the technique, and then put it right into the Performance Game so that you develop the skill to utilize the technique while under pressure.
Is an attacker in the street going to resist you? Absolutely. If you don’t practice with resistance you won’t be able to handle the situation. I’m going to say it again.
“If you want to learn how to fight, you must practice fighting against someone who is fighting back!” Burton Richardson
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