The Physical Preparation Level

The components of physical preparation

At the base of the progress model resides the physical preparation.

Good physical preparation is the foundation of the martial-art and many other disciplines of movement. This base is not an obstacle to be overcome, but rather a domain that needs tending through ongoing practice.

Physical preparation entails into four learning components:

  1. Movement pattern
  2. Strength
  3. Flexibility (range of movement)
  4. Fitness (cardio vascular fitness)

How to work with the model?

People are built very differently to begin with. This requires the instructor, while planning the physical preparation:

  1. To understand the entire model;
  2. To possess reasonable knowledge in anatomy and general physiology, and accommodate physical preparation to the pupil’s body state and aptitude;
  3. To be able to deconstruct demands on the higher levels;

Minimizing injuries – physical preparation as a safety cover

The risk of injuries may be reduced through practice that prepares for performance under the most rugged conditions and maximal effort. Seldom will the student function at such effort levels, and physical preparation will create a safety envelope in which the student functions without approaching the limits of his physical ability.

A student who reaches such limits by practicing kicks for half an hour will be dangerously and superfluously exerting himself, and risk tearing muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments. Therefore, if a half hour’s kicking fight is at hand, physical preparation requires practice for at least forty minutes. A physically weak student can hardly be expected to maintain proper movement, for his entire attention will be invested in overcoming his physical shortcoming. Good physical ability enables the student to focus on the training, on proper performance, and uphold the safety of his training partner, as well.

Short-term effectiveness vs. and long-term abilities maintenance

The need for physical preparation is obvious. A person developing physical skills in general and martial-arts in particular, who ignores the need to prepare his body for action, injures himself both in the short and long terms.

In the short term, a martial-arts method that emphasizes kicks, for example, requires physical preparation of leg power and hip-joint suppleness. A competitive martial-art will also stress, among other elements, heart-lung stamina, etc.

The lack of a proper physical preparation will not enable adequate performance of moves. It might even rule it out entirely. The problem of short term effectiveness is so well understood, that all martial-arts I am familiar with solve it properly. Because in our specific end goal there is the demand for long term activity, meaning many years of training, it requires the instructor to prepare a good long term basis while planning the levels according to the model.

Correct movement pattern – emphasizing proper movement

Long-term over or misuse injuries are a tricky matter. Without using a suitable model, the student will inevitably be injured when movement patterns and wrong habits have already set in. Change is difficult at this stage. Therefore, beyond stamina, muscle strength and flexibility, good physical preparation must sustain an additional element: ‘correct movement pattern’. This term applies to motor development befitting the student’s age – the ability to creep, crawl, walk, run, rise from sitting to standing, and more. Adults normally possess these abilities as these are the basis for acquiring any complex motor skills.

‘Correct movement pattern’ as a training element, should be an inseparable component of the physical preparation level, for in many cases students lack basic motor capabilities. Some entirely lack a basic motor skill such as crawling or running, while others do not reach the required level of execution. Students with even minor developmental deficiencies might not able to perform certain movements and will therefore be barred from complex techniques.

The instructor observes students at the physical preparation level, in order to ascertain their normal motor abilities and locate problems. Training aims to increase all three other components of physical preparation: muscle strength, flexibility and fitness. Adequate dosage of each is related to the type of goal activity required in the specific martial-art, as well as to the maintenance and preservation of skills in the long run.

Correcting at the lower levels of the pyramid

“Technical faults are best corrected at the lowest level at which they appear.

Analyzing the movement of a student who does not spar well, one might find his legs lack strength and flexibility. In such a case, correction will take place at the physical preparation level. Results should be followed-up at the foundation level, the kihon (kicks etc.), the movement sequence level, the Kata, and the sparring level, the randori.

A student who begins to train and cannot roll properly (namely, master a movement on the foundation level) is best corrected at the physical preparation level. One of my students had difficulty rolling. Two main obstacles were observed at the physical preparation level: limited movement range in the thoracic spine and adjoining ribs, and the inability to coordinate lateral flexion in that area. The same student could not crawl normally because of his limited grasp of movement pattern. The solution was to learn proper crawling and train for several weeks in order to expand the movement range of his rib cage. After achieving the proper movement pattern on the physical preparation level, the student was able to perform a perfect roll without undue effort.

Long-term health

Some types of physical activity are harmful when done to excess. Research indicates that running over 150 km a week often lowers the body’s resistance to disease. Other studies associate frequent strikes to the head in professional boxing with a considerable risk of Parkinson’s disease. Apart form such extreme dangers; a wide variety of injuries in training is the result of misusing or overusing different body systems.

As we began to follow-up such instances of training injuries, over 30% of my students were found prone to knee problems (from pain to states requiring meniscus-removal). Over 25% were prone to back problems (from neck pains, upper and lower back, to herniated discs). Knee and back problems usually appear as an evidence of misuse! Students should be encouraged, as should we, to regard such pain as warning signals, to locate and correct harmful movement habits, as stated before, at the lowest level in the pyramid.

Proper stance should be maintained; correct and precise feet position; strong legs; hip-joint range of movement; all begin with good and thorough physical preparation and the foundation for the long-run.

Using feedback from the higher levels – the expert instructor’s domain

The progress model does not contradict most existing training methods in the martial-arts; it can only systematically augment them. Combined, the model helps its users re-examine again and again the necessity of certain exercises on the physical preparation level. Some physical preparation components necessary for beginners are no longer useful in more advanced levels of the art, and become superfluous.

The progress model offers a goal oriented perspective that allows for feedback at the higher levels and, as a result, very precise change of the physical preparation. Such feedback is crucial – needs change even within the same technique. Youth groups training in Budo Ninjutsu at its advanced levels are required to meet high standards of stamina and strong sparring. Children groups’ training emphasizes easier and more varied activity. These different age groups face different challenges.

Working with scientific knowledge in martial arts training

Scientific knowledge relevant to the physical preparation changes with current research. Methods considered valid several years ago, have been scientifically examined and refuted.

We now know, for example, that short bounces and stretches are not the best way to achieve flexibility for increasing movement range. There are far better ways to do that. We know that stamina training performed at 70-80% of the maximal heart rate suffices to preserve reasonable fitness. Studies indicate that a deficiency in liquid intake during training injures the kidneys and decreases concentration, muscle strength, and potential aerobic effort. Another study associates knee pain with limited knee flexion etc. Scientific literature is replete with studies and conclusions that may improve training and preserve our health. Working with the model facilitates changes because there is no dogma to follow but the dogma of usability, efficiency and improvement.

In summary: using the model and the flow of feedback from all its levels, we can change the physical preparation and adjust it to the activity in the more advanced levels, as well as integrate constantly the development of relevant scientific knowledge.