Today I want to share 7 reasons that all martial artists should do some form of cardio.
This article actually started on a great run up my favourite local mountain.
During that run, while dodging roots, rocks and puddles, I also spent a lot of time thinking about the direct martial arts benefits people get after they start working on their cardio.
After the run, while cooling down and stretching in front of the Olympic monument, I released a series of short snapchat videos to talk about these benefits (look me up on snapchat by the way, my username there is stephankesting).
Anyway, I saved those particular snaps and turned them into a youtube video, which then morphed into the article you’ll read below.
If you agree or have a different opinion about martial arts cardio I’d love to hear it – please let me know what you think in the comments at the bottom of this article!
First, here’s the video from that day on the mountain…
Reason 1: All Other Attributes are Dependent on Cardio
One of my most influential instructors, Dan Inosanto, told me once that endurance was the most important of the various physical attributes. He said “If you are tired you’re not strong, if you are tired you’re not fast, if you’re tired you don’t have good technique, and if you’re tired you’re not even smart.”
He was absolutely right: it doesn’t matter how strong, coordinated, or athletic you are, if you’re completely gassed then all your other attributes drop right down to zero.
If you’re tired then your technique goes to crap, so it’s cardio that allows you to use the techniques you’ve worked so hard to develop;
If you’re tired then you can’t follow your gameplans, or even use whatever athleticism you’ve been been gifted with.
Cardio is even important for learning martial arts…
If you’re gasping for breath in class then you’re certainly not going to absorb what your instructor is telling you. Nor will you be able to figure things out on your own very easily.
Being exhausted is not a great state for acquiring knowledge.
Think of it this way: if you’re dog-tired and in a semi-vegetative state halfway through class then you’re not going to get much from the rest of class. Essentially you’re throwing away half your training time and half your training dollars.
Getting in better shape will allow you to benefit from the entire class, so you’ll learn more, get better faster, and save a whole bunch of money too!
Reason 2: Cardio Allows Submission Through Attrition
There’s an easy way to beat an opponent who is technically better than you; just grind him down and paralyse his muscles with lactic acid buildup!
If you think you’ve got the bigger gas tank then you’re in luck! Just attack him hard and keep him moving, moving, moving all the time.
Push the match, force him to keep pace with you, and keep your eyes and ears open: when he starts slowing down and breathing more heavily then you’ve got the advantage.
Then keep pushing until he becomes completely ineffective and finally close in for the kill.
Submission through attrition, a great way to beat someone who is legitimately better than you, but you have to have put the work in beforehand!
“Conditioning is your best hold” -Karl Gotch
Reason 3: Cardio For Self Defense
No matter how good your fighting skills are, in a self defense situation you can easily find yourself outgunned, outmatched or outnumbered.
The better your cardio is then the longer and faster you’ll be able to run, hopefully leaving the bad guys in the dust.
But in other street situations you might need to become the pursuer; chasing, catching, and then subduing your opponent.
And in other situations you might need to fight one guy, run some distance, and then fight a second guy…
Anyway, I know from personal experience that scenarios combining running and fighting are absolutely exhausting. Your chance of getting through these situations unscathed is MUCH better if you’ve a good reservoir of stamina to draw on.
Fighting running battles without gas in the tank… that’s a recipe for defeat, disaster and destruction.
There are lots of good reasons to train in the martial arts: fitness, camaraderie, personal development, and so on…
But ultimately the martial arts have to be rooted in real world self defense. Never lose sight of the fact that you have to be able to take care of yourself in dangerous situations.
Running is an essential self defense skill, and stamina is an essential attribute for self defense. And like all skills and attributes they are improved through practice, so step onto the elliptical machine, climb onto the stairmaster, or hit the streets and get your sweat on!
Reason 4: Cardio Is the Ultimate Self Protection
What changes would you make if you had a one-in-three chance of getting murdered by a serial killer?
I bet you’d start taking some pretty serious precautions, wouldn’t you?
Well it turns out that about every third death in North America is the result of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes. Meaning that your odds of being ‘attacked’ by a clot in your own arteries are about a bazillion times higher than being attacked by some random knife wielding attacker emerging from an alley…
Cardiovascular disease is mostly preventable if you exercise and have a good diet.
So cardio doesn’t just allow you defeat other people. It also defends you against one of the deadliest serial killers in Western society.
What’s the point training yourself to defeat any attacker but getting cut down by a heart attack in the prime of life because you’re 50 lbs overweight and horribly out of shape?
Self defense HAS to include health, nutrition and fitness.
You work so hard to protect your body from external attackers… Don’t lose your life to an internal attacker like some tiny little clot that could have been eradicated by hitting the stair master a few times a week!
Reason 5: It Improves Your Strength to Weight Ratio
Cardio is one of the very best ways to keep your weight down and burn fat off your body.
It’s almost as if your body knows that getting lighter will make the cardio easier, and so it starts shedding the pounds.
(Plus longer cardio sessions usually have an appetite suppressant effect for me as well.)
By getting rid of fat you increase your strength to weight ratio, which is a very good thing in almost all martial arts. Being stronger and lighter allows you to move faster, be more competitive in your weight class, and carry around less excess baggage.
It’s a disgrace when some self proclaimed deadly killer has a giant beer belly and gets out of breath climbing a flight of stairs. Sure, he might have the deadliest techniques, but let’s see him try to use them after he’s been scrapping for a couple of minutes…
So unless you’re practising Sumo where getting huge (and fat) is an advantage, cardio is an essential component of sculpting you into that lean, mean, killing machine you were always meant to be!
Reason 6: Because Cardio is Hard
If you’re doing it properly then cardio is hard. You’ll ache, you’ll sweat, and you’ll find it hard to breathe.
Deliberately doing difficult things repeatedly makes you a better, tougher, more disciplined person. And improving self discipline helps you deal with adversity in all areas your life.
It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting your way out of the bottom of mount, dealing with a sick family member, or trying to resolve a giant conflict at work: tenacity, mental toughness and work ethic will get you through.
Lacing up your running shoes and hitting the trail is a great way to develop that tenacity, mental toughness and work ethic.
Yes, you’ll ache, sweat and hyperventilate. This is normal and to be expected. Embrace it!
As I said in my article Blood, Sweat and… Sparta we don’t train because it’s easy; we train because it’s hard!
Before Bruce Lee became a movie star he had a famous challenge match with a Kung Fu fighter named Wong Jack Man.
(Allegedly Wong Jack Man represented the local traditional Kung Fu instructors who wanted Bruce Lee to stop teaching Wing Chun to non-Chinese students.)
Anyway, according to most sources it was a long fight. Bruce eventually won the match, pummelling his opponent, but he was disappointed by how winded and tired he was.
This match may have been an incentive for Bruce Lee both to develop both his own martial art of Jeet Kune Do, and also to add much more running and conditioning to his workout regimen.
Like the old school boxers he admired so much, Bruce Lee did his roadwork religiously. He believed that running was the ‘king of exercises.’
And who are we to argue with Saint Bruce? Go forth and cardio!