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Fitness, Martial Arts and Chi Gung

This is a fun question from Jack.

What I like about it is how far away from the mainstream fitness message it is.

I'll tell you how much I dislike mainstream fitness later, but first, a reminder that I want your questions, the best newsletters come from the best questions.

But for now, onto Jack's second question:

"You know I've qualified as a qigong teacher a couple of times and as my energy keeps rising I'm looking to get fit(er) (per point 1). I like the idea of martial arts to get fit - in particular the psychological and spiritual aspect that's comes with these. It would be interesting to hear you talk about this and some of the different martial arts and their benefits in terms of fitness. (Of course you could even give yourself a plug that you can teach us how ;-)

Cheers Dave


Qi Gong or Chi Gung depending on which transliteration you use is a practice associated with the Chinese Martial Arts.

There are several ways to think about it from basic mindfulness, to meditation, to "energy building" and more.

As in any field of practice, there are different methodologies from good to bloody awful, from high value to utter nonsense.

And hopefully you, my dear reader, are well away of my absolute disdain for nonsense.

However, on the topic of Chi Gung, a great start point if for you go to where you can see the basic Standing Chi Gung course.

And at the risk of tooting my own horn, this is great start point.

Fluff free instruction, akin to the live teaching that comes as part of my Force of Nature course.

It is my opinion that good Chi Gung practice brings together the current “trendy” practices of Breathwork and Mindfulness, with the added bonus of helping develop both proprioception and interoception.

It can be a powerful tool for learning about the relationship between Body, Mind and Spirit, which is what helps you become an all round more awesomer human animal.

What about using Martial Arts to get fit?

This is the reason most folk take up a martial art in the first place.

And depending on the art you choose, it will certainly help you.

Obviously the combat sports, BJJ, Judo, Muay Thai, Kick Boxing, MMA etc will have a higher emphasis placed on fitness than say Aikido or Tai Chi.

So the art you choose will be determined by it’s availability to you and your desired outcomes.

I’ve always been of the opinion that fighters exhibit some of the best all round fitness.

They’re not the strongest, although wrestlers/grapplers are very strong.

They’re not the most enduring, but they can go all day.

Traditional arts, such as the Karates, Kung Fu’s, Siltas etc do have associated S&C practices.

Be it simple Skipping, Push Ups and Sit ups, or more complex animal type movement and small joint preparations.

After all, the goal is to create a skilled and powerful warrior.

It does of course depend on the teachers knowledge and the overall culture of the club.

Most combat sports guys to also go to the gym for additional S&C

If you’ve been around my work for any length of time, you should be aware of my own background in martial arts and how the martial arts have hugely influenced the training I deliver.

Swinging weights, such as the kettlebell, but also the Mace, Clubs, Bulgarian Bags and Stone Locks hare synonymous with martial arts.

Stone Locks are used in Chinese Kung Fu, Maces and Clubs are associated with Kushti wrestling, Bulgarian Bags also come out of wrestling training.

Add to these the low gait movements such as Duck Walks, Lateral Ape like sideways movement.

Numerous crawling patterns.

The Jumping and Bounding movements.

And yes good martial arts training includes everything you need to develop well rounded fitness.

The issue you may run into, and why getting help from a good S&C coach is useful is that martial arts tends to proritise it’s specific needs, which creates what I refer to as “training scars”

A good external strength coach will spot these and design training that brings balance to the body.

Helping bullet proof a BJJ players back and knees

Helping the Muay Thai fighter be explosive and keeping the hip and shoulders strong and mobile

Helping the Judo player keep the hands strong and safe

Helping the Karate guys balance out left/right imbalances

I highly rate the work of people like Karl Goch and his student Matt Furey, legendary boxing coach Ross Enamait and wrestling inspired Zach Evan-Esh for their strength and conditioning knowledge and how they’re not afraid to buck the usual fitness trends and lean into the old knowledge that has come up through the martial arts.

These guys have been huge influences on how I develop training programs for my own clients

Just as breath work is now the darling of Neuroscience, and plyometrics are becoming social media gold. My karate instructor was teaching me these things 30 years ago, and he would have got them from his instructors who got them…. You get the idea..

And while not everything that is old is gold.

But look across the various disciplines and when you come across commonalities, that is where the truth lies.



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