The combination of cardio fitness and the martial arts has been a boon to the martial arts industry. The popularity of such programs has greatly promoted public awareness and participation. Unfortunately, despite the positive aspects of the martial arts fitness trend, it has also produced some potentially dangerous side effects.
If you watch any of the infomercials for martial arts fitness systems, you will invariably see interviews with people who have successfully gotten into shape and the compulsory before-and-after photos testifying to improved health and confidence. However, you’ll sometimes also hear comments like, “Thanks to this program, I can now take care of myself in a self-defense situation.”
Although it is encouraging to see how these programs can increase a person’s self-confidence, there is a tremendous difference between confidence in one’s actual proficiency in self-defense moves and false confidence in the movements of an exercise program that only resemble an actual fighting technique.
As an instructor of cardio kickboxing and a variety of application-oriented fighting arts, I have found that the best way to maximize your fitness benefits without compromising your defensive skills is to base your exercise routines on self-defense moves. This way, your training is consistent and you can use the exact same motor skills for both activities. This synergy also helps refine the form and the resulting function of your technique. By relating all your movements to realistic self-defense moves, you will also find it much easier to stay focused and motivated in your fitness training.
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To develop the cardio-kickboxing programs that I teach, I followed 10 simple rules that maintained the self-defense orientation of these fitness routines. Although the routines you practice may be very different, in most cases, they still contain the roots of functional self-defense techniques. By applying these same guidelines to your martial arts fitness practice, you can find the “fight within the fitness” of your routines and use cardio kickboxing to greatly enhance your defensive skills.
How to Turn Cardio Kickboxing Into Self-Defense Moves — Tip #1: Adapt your punching motions to practical self-defense moves. Punching with full power on the street is a dangerous proposition. Unless you train your fists and wrists to punch without the support of hand wraps and boxing gloves, you are better off using more practical striking surfaces. Using the same movements of your standard jab, cross, hook and uppercut in your fitness routines, substitute palm-heel strikes, web-hand strikes and finger jabs for fists. This will allow you to practice the same striking combinations while ingraining the habit of hitting with practical tools.
How to Turn Cardio Kickboxing Into Self-Defense Moves — Tip #2: Focus on practical movements that can be done in regular clothing. Although you shouldn’t completely discard high kicks and other fun movements, try to alter your routines to emphasize practical movements that do not require an extensive warm-up or exceptionally loose clothing to perform. This will get you used to operating within normal ranges of motion and keep you focused on practical techniques. As you begin to understand the defensive applications of these movements, you will begin to appreciate them more and be less concerned with doing the flashy, fun, yet impractical movements found in many martial arts fitness programs.
How to Turn Cardio Kickboxing Into Self-Defense Moves — Tip #3: Developing cardiovascular fitness obviously requires that you move constantly. However, make a point of identifying the difference between functional fighting movement and meaningless jumping around. By using real fighting footwork as the basis for all your routines, you will ultimately develop better balance and more power in your strikes.
How to Turn Cardio Kickboxing Into Self-Defense Moves — Tip #4: Add other useful motions to your routines. Most cardio-kickboxing routines focus on punches and kicks. Don’t be afraid to add elbows, knees, hammerfists, blocks, parries, grabs, locks and any other useful movements to your routines. This not only rounds out your routines by providing different types and ranges of motion but also provides a whole new arsenal of fighting techniques.
How to Turn Cardio Kickboxing Into Self-Defense Moves — Tip #5: Feel free to alter your fitness routines to emphasize realistic street techniques. Most martial arts fitness routines are designed to be challenging and fun, but they do little to ingrain practical fighting skills. By practicing combinations that follow the flow of realistic defensive techniques, you develop better motor memory and functional conditioned reflexes. To do this, you may have to alter your performance of the routine and do things differently than the rest of the students in your class. Don’t worry about it. Focus on your personal goals, and make your training relevant to your needs.
How to Turn Cardio Kickboxing Into Self-Defense Moves — Tip #6: Don’t be content performing sloppy or halfhearted techniques. Realize that every movement is important and that good form is the only way to achieve real power. Visualizing actual strikes on an opponent is an excellent way to motivate yourself and give meaning to the movements of your routine.
How to Turn Cardio Kickboxing Into Self-Defense Moves — Tip #7: Incorporate wind sprints into your routine to simulate running away after defending against an attack. You will fight the way you train. Because realistic self-defense moves are usually about incapacitating an attacker to create an opening for you to escape, make that part of your training. Rather than just hopping in place to maintain your heart rate between segments of a workout, break out of line and run a short sprint to the front or rear of the room, then return to your spot. This adds another element of cardiovascular fitness to your training and is more meaningful than useless, impractical footwork patterns. If you feel uncomfortable about doing this, talk to the instructor about it before class and position yourself near the edge of the group so you have a clear area to run in.
How to Turn Cardio Kickboxing Into Self-Defense Moves — Tip #8: Integrate practical verbal skills to power movements and develop breathing rhythms. Cardio training and self-defense moves require breath control. If you incorporate verbal commands into your routines, you will learn to exhale at appropriate times, creating greater power in your techniques while developing a good breathing rhythm. If you can get your entire workout group to join in, you can create a powerful group dynamic that keeps energy levels high and inspires individual self-confidence.
How to Turn Cardio Kickboxing Into Self-Defense Moves — Tip #9: Use focus pads in your training to give students the feel of hitting something for real. After you have developed good technique, learn to appreciate that power by actually hitting something. Focus pads are excellent tools for this because they allow you and your training partner to stay in motion and maintain a high pulse rate. If you cannot make this training part of your normal group workout, try to identify other students in your class who share your goal of developing strong self-defense moves and arrange to practice with them outside of class.
How to Turn Cardio Kickboxing Into Self-Defense Moves — Tip #10: Learn to identify, recognize and harness the physiological potential of every movement. This is perhaps the most important — yet least understood — aspect of martial arts fitness training. Like kata (formal training exercise set), the movements of cardio kickboxing are physical motions that generate force along specific lines and vectors. Although the defensive applications of these movements are often expressed in a very simplistic way — usually a punch, strike or kick — every movement actually offers a multitude of applications. The key to discovering these is the ability to analyze and appreciate all aspects of the motion.
For example, a hook punch is normally thought of only as a close-range strike with the fist. In addition to this simplistic interpretation, you can vary the striking surface to include the palm or fingertips. By retracting the fist, you also can use the same body dynamics to deliver a horizontal elbow strike.
In a defensive role, the motion of the hook can be applied with the palm to deflect an incoming grab or punch, much like a brush block. Against a wrist grab, the hook motion works against the weakest portion of the attacker’s grip and can provide an easy escape. Finally, when applied against a one- or two-hand front choke, a simple hook thrown over the attacker’s arms creates a powerful shearing force that can easily break the hold. This motion also coils the body for a return hammerfist or back elbow while simultaneously pulling the attacker into the oncoming blow.
Another good example is the forward knee thrust. To hit with power, push off the supporting leg and swing the hips forward to add momentum to the strike.
Taking this same motion and applying it to a common ground attack like the mounted position, the same movements can be used to buck an attacker off of you. Even if you don’t launch him completely off, the movement will at least drive him forward. This forces him to place more weight on his hands and makes it easier for you to escape.
The benefits of martial arts fitness programs go far beyond getting in shape and losing a few pounds. With the proper mindset and the willingness to alter your technique to emphasize practical function, you can use your martial arts fitness routines to develop extremely powerful self-defense moves that have direct situational application. By training hard and having the courage to kickbox to a slightly different drummer, you’ll find plenty of fight within the fitness of cardio martial arts.
About the Author:
Addy Hernandez is a black belt in the KI Fighting Concepts curriculum. She also holds black belts in kenpo karate, Yang-style tai chi chuan, Doce Pares escrima, and escrido, as well as an instructor rank in yoga. She can be contacted at KI Fighting Concepts by calling (866) 543-4448 or visiting kifightingconcepts.tv.