GunslingerAndZimOne of the more scary moments as a teacher is the one where you realize your students will more frequently imitate you, than perform the way you teach them to. I’m full of bad habits, quirks from injuries and a malformed body that result in me doing odd things that shouldn’t work but sometimes do. Mostly the athletes at Valkyrie WMAA have their own styles, and perform the skills they are supposed to perform, but part of being a school is the subtle formation of a school style. A school style transcends technique and is a thing that is formed organically from the athletes competing amongst themselves. I see hints of my bad habits showing up in the school style and it bothers me.

I have to clean my style up. If I admit…confess…that I am an influence on the athletes, then I have to be the best role model I can be. It’s not enough to just teach correct mechanics and demonstrate them when I teach them, I have to model the correct behaviour when I’m bouting. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to rebuild my fight game, and it’s resulted in some serious performance increases. Performance isn’t enough though. It’s not enough that I win, I must win while only using correct technique and correct form. No more lazy cheap shots, no more trickery, no more pulling from disparate schools to surprise and confound fighters. Just basics performed well. It’s a boring but necessary step. Six weeks should do it. The same amount of time I’ve given the Thursday night fighters to ramp up their game.

Fitness is always the foundation. Last night in class we worked on using the torso as the foundation for lunging. It’s contrary to everything we normally practice, which is a powerful and precise movement from the legs. The push from the ground is still important of course, but the legs are two pillars that are connected by the bridge of the hips. The traveling leg must lift and move only by the grace of the hip, and the hip is governed and stabilized from above as well as from below. A poor lunge is a result of a lack of unification in the body. More precisely, it’s a result of letting the torso be a passenger of the lunge instead of a driver…usually because the torso is weak and untrained compared to the legs.

And after watching nearly a quarter of the class pull off a fully-bent arm straddle planche in class last night, we can no longer be considered weak. Our nearly nine months of strength development is starting to pay off tremendously. Our strength lets us explore the torso as an effective primary driver for the lunge. Our torsos are strong enough to provide us with an alternate stable base to propel forward from. Integrating that ability with the more usual lunge mechanics should give us some interesting results. Strength is the key to many doors.

Building strength for the practitioner of swordplay is a still an awkward process. Fitness isn’t the unknown or derided factor it was a year ago, but the methods being used to achieve it are still dated and sometimes unsound. More and harder is not the right approach, but let’s skip the talk about what’s bad and move on to what you should be doing.

If you’ve been reading my blog at all before this, you know what’s coming. I’m going to recommend all those nasty gymnastics exercises. I am…but this time let’s look at some easier things to start with that you can incorporate into a two or three times a week routine.

1. The L-sit is your friend. Learn to love it. This method is a great way to start on them. If you don’t have parallettes, pushup bars or wooden block will work. We use chairs in class. You want a total of 30 seconds air time with this exercise, broken up into the largest chunks you can handle. Thirty one-second reps is fine, so is three 10-second reps. When you can do the easiest version for 30 seconds, move to the harder variation. Eventually you want to do 30 seconds on the ground with no supports, but give yourself time to work up to that. A year or three.

2. Working up to the tuck planche is our next exercise. This sequence is a nice build up, just follow his technical advice to the letter. No cheating! Repeat the basic motion til you start to get a little tired to start. When you are comfy, try to hold the final position in the same way as the L-sit: 30 seconds total.

3. Squats. Don’t bother with the air squats. Squat all the way down to the ground. Find a relaxing point of balance so you can stay down for a minute or two.  Got it? Comfy? Good. Spend 30 seconds moving around, but don’t go one inch higher than you are now. Waddle, duck walk, but some hands on the ground and swing around like a little orangutan, whatever it takes. Just keep those legs bent and bearing as much load as you can comfortable handle. Start slow. It’s okay to spend a few weeks just getting comfy in the bottom position. Over time work out to a nice fast scoot.

4. Tuck jumps. You have to have strong legs to be a fighter. Start from a full squat, palms on the ground. Explode up as high as you can, hands reaching to the sky.  Hands lead, almost pulling you airborne. As you leave the ground, pull the knees all the way to the chest…or clap the hands and knees together, whichever works for you. Reach down with the feet and touch the ground, and settle into a squat just long enough to explode up again.

Four exercises. Only take you a few minutes, do them two or three times a week. Or to put it another way, here’s a workout challenge for you. Repeat that workout twelve times, with at least full day of rest in between workouts, within six weeks. Should be easy, right? Post your progress here. Winners get the next harder workout. Go.