Let’s suppose for a minute that you run a study group for WMA…Western Martial Arts. And by the way, I’d don’t follow the weird convention of splitting WMA into those with a sport focus, HEMA a historical focus. I use WMA because it’s shorter and sounds catchier to me. I’ve been told this has been confusing some people, but bluntly…that’s what you get for relying on labels to do the thinking for you. Moving on.

You run or are part of a study group that doesn’t work out, or you are a teacher at a school that doesn’t want to waste valuable class time on exercise, so you only do technical training. For whatever reason you’ve decided that you would like to start an exercise program. Only now that you’ve decided, you aren’t really sure how to do so.

Your initial problems are time…you still only have so much time to teach, you can’t spend a lot of it on exercises…and students. The students are a problem because they are in a comfy rut and probably not very fit, even though they might think they are. After all, they got up off of the couch and came to class!

You can deal with the student problem by recognizing it for what it is. One of the best books on software design had one simple rule at it’s core: “Don’t let the user feel stupid.” It’s excellent advice for coaching. Make sure the students feel confident every step of the workout process. If you start out by demanding everyone do fifty pushups and everyone fails around five…everyone might laugh about it, but they are feeling embarrassed, and trying to deal with it. Not something you want to have happen.

Easier said than done, because when you start out exercise makes everyone feel stupid. You can minimize that feeling a few ways, though. First off, the leader leads. You might think it’s cool to pull off the Drill Sergeant thing and stand up at the front of the class and yell…that’s fine if you want to be all alone in class. It’s better to lead by example. And frankly, it’s better in this case to lead by failure. If the students see you working hard but not quite making it…but still trying…they will feel better for their own efforts. Of course, you still need to keep an eye on everyone and correct errors, but hey if teaching was easy they’d get someone else to do it, right?

A short and intense workout is easier to digest for everyone, and as long as it’s intense it’s as good if not better than a longer workout. You can do a tremendous amount of work towards making fit fighters with only five minutes of hard work, and that’s an easy sale. I like to start with sprint work across the floor. A few years ago Illka Hartikainen posted a video called “Animal Walks” that shows him doing a number of warm-up exercises. We do similar ones. What I recommend is that you pick and choose some that suit you, enough for a five minute workout.

You can also search for more video’s with the terms “animal, flow, ape, kong,” etc. with “workout” added. Or just make some up once you’ve got the idea. What we do is the animal movements…but at full sprint speed. Five seconds or so is plenty of work for new people. Take a twenty or thirty second rest between sprints when you are starting, and then hit the next sprint on the way back. It’s challenging enough to keep people’s interest up, silly enough to keep the tension low, and hard enough to have some pretty good fitness results.

Five total minutes of that should have everyone warmed up nicely, and breathing heavy…Which is the perfect time to start some strength work. We use the Gymnastics Bodies method. Have a look through their Youtube playlist to find some good strength workouts. I aim for ten minutes of strength work, which gives us a total combined workout time of fifteen minutes. If you use that as the bare minimum, you will still get in a very decent workout. It will take about six weeks to really notice fitness improvements…but you will notice improvements in martial practice at the same time.

Every class should be able to spare fifteen minutes towards exercise for the students. If you can spare another fifteen minutes, I reccomend working on movement oriented fitness drills. I use handstand and cartwheels mostly. When we have time, I add in some breakdancing or parkour drills for overall movement conditioning. If you have access to kettlebells or other equipment, take advantage of it. Make sure to schedule one week out of every six as a rest week, where you tone the exercise way down, and do other things. That should get you started.