Combative Conditioning


In addition to developing foundational historical European martial skills during the recruit training in order to prepare the student for their challenge for the prize of "scholler", it is recommended that the student also engage in additional training activities over and above the 20-30 minutes of conditioning training received during class. Training in European medieval martial arts consists of far more than training with a sword. The purpose of such conditioning is that it focuses on enhancing one's overall strength, flexibility and endurance - loosely called "combative conditioning". The benefit of the additional training activities described below is that the student is able to fight with increased performance in terms of physical conditioning and therefore, maintain one's enhanced focus during the engagements. Being able to engage in bouts for longer periods with improved stamina results in greater probabilities of opportunities to surface and thereby be in an improved state to take advantage of the errors made by the opponent as the opponent grows fatiqued, especially in the area of grappling and giocco stretto (close-play) fighting.

It is clear that there are three combative attributes that must be developed by anyone who engages in historical European martial arts: a) endurance, b) skill and c) cunning. The augmentation of formalized martial arts training with combative conditioning will help develop an excellent and capable martial artist. Conditioning is important enough that Giacomo DiGrassi, 1594 stated:

"Therefore let every man that is desirous to practice this Art, endeavor himself to get strength and agility of body, assuring himself, that judgment without this activity and force, avails little or nothing."

There are three fundamental aspects of combative conditioning:

The methods described are designed to mitigate the human factors experienced during combat that have a physically debilitating effect on the human body permitting the practitioner to face the rigors of swordplay (armed, unarmed, armoured, unarmoured) with improved endurance and mental focus.

Aeorbic Conditioning

Aerobic conditioning is important to developing the endurance to withstand the demands of historical martial art. Technically, aerobic conditioning involves approximately 20 minutes of continuous exercise which elevates the heart rate to around 80% of the maximal rate. The maximal rate is 220 minus your age. For a person 50 years of age, an aerobic rate would be elevating the pulse rate for twenty minutes to approximately 136.

There are various forms of aerobic conditioning, and the most obvious and common form is running. This does not mean that one needs to be able to run marathons. The running is structured to focus on what is needed to endure long periods of time in armoured engagements such as in tournament or competition or demonstration events. Running may enhance one's endurance in unarmoured bouts including giocco stretto, armed and unarmed bouts. The thing to remember when training, is intensity. The general rule of thumb is the harder one trains, the more results one will see.

Running three miles at lease three times weekly will generate obvious results. Keep the pace below 7 minutes a mile. To vary the routine, jog one hundred yards, and sprint one hundred yards.

Note: before engaging in any strenuous physical exercise, see a doctor if you have doubts on what your heart can take. A full-blown physical is wise before you launch into training.


Endurance, Flexibility and Strength Conditioning

The key feature of combative conditioning designed to develop and enhance endurance, flexibility and strength is variety. There is no one system that does it all, i.e. running certainly helps with the cardiovascular fitness, but it does little to enhance one's flexibility and muscle tone/definition. The exercises described utilize a body-weight approach, meaning no additional weights or other training equipment is required over and above one's own body.

The core of the conditioning exercises are based on Matt Furey's approach to combative conditioning, described in his book entitled "Combat Conditioning - Functional Exercises for Fitness and Combat Sports". He suggests that the three most important exercises for developing conditioning fitness include: Hindu squats, Hindu pushups and bridging. During the execution of these exercises, it is critical that one breaths with full and deep breaths. The image on the right depicts Matt doing a one-legged squat. According to Matt:

"Hindu squats (right) lay the foundation for strength and endurance. They build lung power, as well as the thighs, lower back, calves, chest, shoulders and arms. The deep breathing that you do with this exercise, all by itself, will expand the chest and make it larger and more prominent. Additionally, Hindu squats develop balance and coordination."

The second core exercise is the "Hindu pushup". The image on the left depicts Matt doing a Hindu pushup. According to Matt:

"Hindu pushups (left) are the second component of the Combat Conditioning program. They build strength throughout the torso and arms. The arch involved in this movement also stretches and strengthens the spine, hips and shoulders."

The last of the "royal three" conditioning exercises is the bridge. The exercise is designed to enhance the flexibility of the spine all the while strengthening the muscles in the neck, back, legs and thighs. The image on the right depicts Matt doing a bridge. According to Matt:

"As great and important as Hindu squats and Hindu pushups are, however, the KING of all Combat Conditioning exercises is the back bridge. It exercises the entire body from head to toe. Many people mistakenly think the back bridge is bad for your neck. The exact opposite is usually true and scores of Combat Conditioning students have proven this.
Those who do not have current injuries to the cervical vertebrae, will find the back bridge strengthening the neck, back, thighs, hips and buttocks like nothing else. "

For more information on the conditioning program, click on the image on the left for more details on Matt Furey's book. The book describes a total body fitness program which is designed to simultaneously improve one's strength, muscular endurance, Cardio and flexibility. Body weight exercises are a way to get fit without the need for expensive fitness centre fees nor the need to incurr expensive training equipment. It is recommended that these exercises are done at least thrice weekly over and above the conditioning exercises done during classroom training.

Released: November 1, 2000 / Last updated: October 17, 2005