I recently heard a Ju Jitsu instructor quoted as saying. “If I want to get fit I’ll go running!” This was apparently not in his own class, but when taking part in a Muay Thai session. I have also heard a top Muay Thai instructor say about his sessions. “I’m here to teach the art. It’s up to my students to work on their own fitness.” So there are obviously two trains of thought here. Should time in the session be devoted to fitness, or should it be up to us to find time for the extra work?


I once, when searching for somewhere to train after I had moved, took part in a session when the instructor rebuked me for putting too much effort into a technique. He told me. “When you get attacked, fear will reduce your energy levels to thirty percent, so you need to be able to practice the technique with thirty percent.” Yes, being attacked does reduce your energy, I can’t say by how much, I suppose it must be different for everybody, but assuming it is a seventy percent reduction, and you’re used to drilling your defence with thirty, won’t that mean you risk being reduced to minus forty in an unexpected tight spot? That was the last time I trained at his club.



I discussed the ‘thirty percent theory’ with a Jeet kung Do instructor, who I know from when he trained at the same Karate club.  It was his branching out to Wing Chun and Escrima that inspired me to look outside my base art as he had done. His sessions were physically tough, yet he still had a range of ages and abilities. He told me; “That’s why I work my students hard. I can’t scare them, but I can wear them out and then get them to practice their techniques.” Something I noted for myself was, during his sessions, it was the individual effort he was looking for, based on the individual, not on a common target.

My old Karate instructor always said that Martial Arts is for everybody, which is also true. His sessions were full of a wide range of ages, and people with disabilities. In fact, the other instructor was a childhood polio sufferer. However, we might not have done circuit training during the sessions, but I always left feeling like I had worked out.



That seems to be the point. Everybody has a level that they can safely work to. Before joining a club, many instructors will get new students to sign a disclaimer to assess their fitness to train, and if there is any doubt, they will advise them to consult their doctor, in much the same way as a commercial gym or a personal trainer would.


I have always said that if I were to suffer an injury, or my health were to deteriorate to such an extent that I could no longer keep up with my current level of training I would find something a little less extreme. One thing about Muay Thai, is that you can’t train without some physical exertion, even if you don’t include circuit training or other drills in the session. The extremity of this will depend on the club and instructor.


As a competitor in Combat Sports, like many other members of my club, I am of the mind set that fitness is a vital part of the training, should be included as part of the session, and built on outside the dojo. But then, I compete in a full contact arena, and this is not necessarily a common rule of every art or Martial Artist.


Lengths of session vary from one to two hours. If circuit training is included in that time, it can be a significant percentage of the time, especially if more time is dedicated to stretching. The session has to be constructive to its purpose. If you have a Tai Chi class, which includes a high percentage of senior citizens, the aim of the session is the general aerobic and spiritual health of the practitioners. Their needs differ from those of a Judo club, full of people looking to grade and compete, or a self defence based class. It is a question of context.


Going back to my initial question, the amount of time during a session, if any, dedicated to physical fitness, outside that gained by practicing the techniques, depends on the nature of the art being practiced, and the style of the instructor. Mohamed Ali once made the statement. “The fight is won or lost on the road.” This is very true of competitors in any sport, and for anybody to achieve their maximum potential, an amount of training outside the club sessions is essential.


There is certainly a place within the session for fitness, but it is most beneficial if it is what is referred to as ‘Sports Specific’. Being able to bench press one hundred kilos might be beneficial for practitioner of a grappling based art, however, it should not be done in the same way that a body builder would do it. Something both grappling and striking arts have in common is the need for explosive power and speed over pure brute strength, together with good cardio vascular and body conditioning. Body weight exercises such as sit ups, squat thrusts and so on, combined with the use of equipment such as skipping ropes, kettle bell weights and medicine balls are extremely beneficial. In lots of cases, the fitness, practice of techniques, and drills are interlinked. Pad work and bag work are good practice for range, depth and accuracy development, and support all of the fitness needs of the Martial Artist or Combat Sports Competitor.


If you join a Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Judo or MMA club, you can have a fairly reasonable expectation that fitness training is highly likely to feature somewhere. If you are joining a traditional Ju Jitsu, Karate, Tao Kwon Do or Kung Fu club for example, the inclusion or exclusion of other forms of workout will depend heavily on the point of view of the instructor and the physical capabilities of the club members.