Physical training in Martial Arts: the King is naked

Physical training in combat sports, as Italian legal framework frames martial disciplines, was the focus during a recent meeting for the IOC’s Italian Federation for Martial Arts ( FIJLKAM) coaches.

We  enjoyed the opportunity to meet prof. Massimo Montecchiani, an expert in Physical Education who boasts a highly respected experience and curriculum, from university teaching at the University of Rome 2 – Tor Vergata to the preparation of our olympics athletes of Judo and Karate. Thanks to his skills, he is one of the reference persons for federal training.

During the meeting we had the pleasant sensation of being quite ignorant about the topic. Obviously a specialist has knowledge and skills on the biomechanics of the human body that are the result of specialized study and field experience.

Therefore, surely for us, being able to benefit from a formation of such a level is an enrichment of which we are grateful to the organization and that enhances our practice and the quality of teaching.

Thanks also to a practical demonstration session, some aspects emerged that are worth thinking about.

The premise is that we live in a social system in which the government promotes sports in an indirect way. There is the local IOC, there are various federations: structures that somehow facilitate the dissemination of sports culture, the identification of talents and their starring on the national and international scene. However, the basis of the sports movement is in fact an associationist nature. The passion of the individual citizens who gather, usually under the cover of an Amateur Sports Association is a strong support for sports culture.

Everything is found in this “hard core”. From this base the trajectories of professional athletes evolve, then absorbed into hyperspecialistic facilities. In this base the most remain, at an amateur or competitive level, united as much by passion as by the after-work dimension (or at least not as a professional).

It is not uncommon to meet, in the associationist environment, people who have their own passion as a pillar of their existence (sporting, in this case). With an intensity, intention and often rhythms not different from those of a professional athlete.

However, even if we are at the dawn of a new era in which professional teacher begin to appear (= those who make their living from teaching, being qualified for that) in the sector of Martial Arts, at a numerical level the most of the cases is given by situations in which the classes are organized and managed by willing teachers who take care of every aspect of training (athletic, technical, educational, psychophysical, relational, etc.) based on the experience derived from their own ranks.

Fortunately, there are situations in which some realities are open to transversal skills, such as those coming from the world of Sports Medicine or Food and Education Sciences.

However, the experience of prof. Montecchiani has somehow put light on some gray areas.

Most of the free-body exercises that each of us, in his martial story, was invited (obliged?) to repeat to death, were physiologically wrong and harmful.

If it is reported that Olympic level athletes generally have problems with poor joint mobility in ankle chains because the competitive aspect of the kumite  is over-trained (for example for a kick) and if it is known that this setting leads to postural problems and serious risks for the joints and the skeletal and muscle system …

… So this means that the setting of the work that is done on the mat must at least be re-discussed. At all levels.

Most of us, students or teachers in a Martial Arts classes, will never be expert in physical training, nor will we ever have the resources and tools with which the Olympians are followed BUT at least we are aware of this and therefore with such humility, if possible, we have the duty to form ourselves and, when we have the opportunity, to collaborate with people more experienced than us in this field.

Most of us, historically, have been the subject of training, especially in the past, based on harsh methods and, let us say, rather violent. Often careless of the psychophysical dimensions. All sweeped under the carpet of “at the end it is a Martial Art”, the winning excuse with which we cover even the worst manipulations and incapacities.

These two aspects, that are a rough physical training and often incorrectly set up and an acritical training with respect to the aims of the discipline studied, somehow created and consolidated a “culture” over time. That “it has always been done this way” that while on the one hand has allowed us to reach  the form of tradition, on the other has also allowed in our environments the survival, when not the proliferation, of perspectives often more “macho” than martial, creating false certainties, based on excessive use of force and not contributing to a harmonious development of the individual.

Most of us, in the final analysis, are and remain at a hobbyistic level of practice, because even though this is perhaps also the most important moment of our days, it is embedded in an agenda full of other commitments and, in percentage terms, concerns a minority part of our day.

Many of us have begun (or started again) at such an age that great miracles, from a physical and postural point of view, cannot be made. And we all grow old.

So what kind of reflections can emerge from these analyses?

If the “poor&cheap martialism “, made up of obsessive repetitions of essentially incorrect and harmful physical gestures, is wrong, the reaction can not only be a “sweet” practice, which does not even point to a competent care of the physical aspects and the strengthening of the psychophysical system of each, given its peculiarities.

Without a doubt, considering that a large part of our movements is actually constituted by an amateur practice helps us not to take ourselves too seriously, especially when we cover the amateurism of a pseudo façade of false professionalism. This is a requirement to seriously improve, making contact with what we are, with the kind of user and the real purpose of our classes and, hopefully, to build with such humility and patience that culture of psychophysical well-being that underlies the concept of “sports culture “so close to our federations.

Working (also) on the external, physical and technical aspects, with competence and planning, not only can better results be achieved in terms of well-being than of physical performance, but a more correct interpretation of the higher aims of our disciplines can also be built, that is the work on oneself through the relationship with others in absolute respect for one’s own and others’ integrity.

Disclaimer Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

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