Making monsters clicked last night, like I was waiting for it to. The first sprint drill was alright, but in the second…the subtle fire kicked in. That tiny and angry spirit inside me stopped saying “Gosh, this is hard. What a good warmup…” and instead started to whisper, “More. Harder. Pain. Feed me pain…” Being the oldest and least fit person in class, I’m happy to use myself as the fitness barometer. The pressure had finally risen to where it needed to be.
It takes a while to prepare the body for real effort. At first, everything seems hard. The first time you sprint, it feels like a maximum effort. But it isn’t…it’s not even close. The brain takes prep time before it’s ready to send some proper juice to the muscles, and last night was the first night I was ready to assume that the students had satisfied that prep time. I moved the sprints from a simple, if challenging, warm up to what they were meant to be: Ten to fifteen minutes of modified Tabata drills. Pure sprint strength exercises, but with less than ten seconds rest between exercise. After fifteen minutes, we hit the power phase with 30s/30s split static strength exercises. Finished up with some proprioceptive work for a nice half hour monster building session.
I like making monsters. I like to ignite the savage heart inside my civilized students, and make proper gentlemen and gentlewomen out of them. The old-school nobility should shine out of their eyes…not the rich and pampered kind, but the ancient kind, the kind of noble that was the one guy in the village who stood all day in the fields with his spear, looking for lions. He didn’t work the fields, but everyone gave him a little spare food anyway…because he was the one scarred from fighting the dragons off of their kids, and the one who would throw himself in front of the next beast.
When we work out the right way, push ourselves and feel ourselves adapt, that old fire starts to spark up again in the soul. The craft of weapon work heats the flame to forging temperature, but only the pure physicality of the right kind of exercise can strike the sparks. It’s good to be an animal. A capable animal. Our jobs and daily lives take us so far way from that essential reality that we complain bitterly when we are forced to behave more in line with our real nature. It’s not that exercise is hard, it’s that moving is hard…moving in ways that are natural to us, not in the few ways we are limited to in modern life. We are allowed to stand. To sit. To walk. Running may be allowed, but only in the right clothes, with the statement that you are intentionally performing an abnormal motion. All the other natural motions are forbidden to us by the weight of social convention.
I find it counter-intuitive to train fighters by building on top of a stifled set of movements. It’s so much better to make class a place of social movement, and break the rigid body into a natural animal body. I admit to despising other workouts I’ve seen, because they work from the basis of the body being a rigid automaton. Their ideas of a workout amount to nothing more than loading the ox-plow up with more and more weight, even when they talk about “core” and bodyweight and other catch phrases. The concept they have of what a martial artist can do comes from that same assumption. What is possible, what is realistic, to their minds comes from watching shackled bodies and seeing that as the whole of possibility.
So I make monsters. My students build strength from the heart and brain out, and build combat skills on top of that. Last night they broke through the first barrier, and discovered the real heartbeat.