Consistency over Intensity in Training
Updated: Aug 14, 2022
or, How I learned to Love the Ju of Goju
I grew up in specific period of Karate tradition, before the explosion of MMA and even before the internet existed. Its now hard to imagine a time where there was hardly any access to information for a young enthusiast and answers to questions were delivered in a stern voice from a Sensei in one or two words. Giving everything you had with a “no pain no gain” attitude was expected at every class and I was more than happy to smash my fists, feet, arms, elbows and knees into a fine pulp trusting in this training discipline. I gained many mental and physical rewards from this doctrine however I wish that I could have seen the “big picture” of training earlier on in life.
Unfortunately, it is only through the recent preparation I’ve put in for my upcoming Yondan grading that I now see the other side of my training potential. It is because of this revelation that I now believe that Consistency is more important than Intensity in Martial Arts development. Successfully dealing with a fierce opponent or intense situation is a mental game. I always use the analogy of a switch being turned on or off in my head. When the switch is on anything is possible, and any challenge presented in front of me can be overcome. I feel that the principle way to learning this fact about yourself can be achieved only by placing oneself in severe mental and physical environments’. How else could you know if you can cope? Faithfully standing up to the pressure presented gives you self knowledge that identifies “the switch” and what is possible once its on. After this self realization occurs however I do not believe that it needs to be revisited as often as one might think. When you know, you know, and maybe then it is time to move past the sole idea of hard work and get into the idea of smart work with both convictions operating in tandem. More times than not training as if there is no tomorrow leads exactly to that – No training tomorrow, and instead of getting your daily session in, you are forced to swap in a focused ice pack tutorial.
Whether at home, in the Dojo, or at the Gym, working out is supposed to be fun. It’s a joy that should always make you feel better mentally and spiritually and at the same time endeavors to strengthen your body making you more capable to do your thing physically. You should love to work out but if you are too sore or injured from yesterdays practice then it is impossible to focus and be present for todays training priorities. Injury takes a huge mental toll on an individual that lasts much longer than one might realize. Slowly but surely the negative repercussions will start to outweigh the positive benefits of daily ritual if one is in pain. Unfortunately very few individuals have a strong enough character to work through serious injury or physical stress and continue through their lives enjoying bodily betterment and wellbeing. Just look at how many of our Karate family as well as many other athletic practitioners who come to a total stop and completely abandon their once energetic background due to injury and physical stress. Injury can and will happen, but if someone was once serious about this lifestyle its sad to think that it is completely lost and may never come back because of continuous extreme training. At times I have felt that if its not a relentless training session then its not the same rush as before. But, nothing stays the same.
As I try to keep the workouts fun as I get older, what is exciting to me about my training today is that even though I still repeat so many movements and drills exactly the same way as I always did, I now think about them differently. I love the mental variation. That’s one change to be embraced and it is one of the reasons I will be able to get up tomorrow and do it all again.
Training in the spirit of competition, beating your personal best, and preparing for physical exams or a grading are important for any athlete and one should strive to do their utmost to excel during these seasons in life. Outside of competition you must remember that it is the “slow but steady” approach that will allow you to accomplish your daily goals unscathed and without impairment. This is only achieved by not pushing oneself to the maximum in everyday training. For example, if I know that the maximum number of pushups that I am capable of doing on my best day is 100, then my usual daily pushup ritual should be more like 60. This way I am rarely in a state of soreness when I hit my session the next day and am able to continue on and amass a greater volume of training time. More sessions put in and more hours logged equals a greater level of experience and gives one better preparation for when intense physical and mental challenges present themselves. I should always be preparing for tomorrows session in my training today. The same idea is transferable to sparring or kumite drills – when you go too hard in these situations the risk of physical or mental injury are great and that puts the idea of sparring tomorrow (or even all month) in jeopardy. There should be a steady playful attitude and approach to sparring in the Dojo, so that little or no trauma occurs. The “switch” that I referred to earlier is always there, but you shouldn’t be flicking it on unless it is a heightened circumstance. Going all out in these situations a couple days a week by completely exhausting yourself will only lead to many days lost in the Dojo or Gym, and at the end of the year the athlete who took it a little easier but trained consistently will have logged countless more hours compared to the other. The advantage this gives when the time comes around is obvious.
The exploration of martial arts has been a lifelong journey for me, and I am continually fascinated by aspects drawn from differing styles and cultures when bringing the knowledge back to my Karate base. The opportunity to test the “micro economics” of this thrill comes around every so often, but the “macro economics” of it happens everyday. There is a specific amount of energy, emotion, and physical actuality in your reservoir and overtaxing the system comes at a cost. Most definitely there is a “right” amount of exercise for each individual and it is important to remember that you don’t want to enter a phase where your body gets mangled or your mind may mangle too. You must have the “right” amount of difficulty and challenge in your training routine, but clearly not so much that you are stressed or anxious about your daily drills. There is no fast track to knowledge or a healthy lifestyle and its consistency that will keep you in the game and allow you to push yourself further. The ability to cultivate and maintain fascination in ones Martial Art comes from training sessions being fun, and without this main aspect its impossible for one to advance to higher levels towards Mastery. Rather than taking the gamble that accompanies an intense training regiment as the majority of your schedule, take the time to plan a consistent one and receive the mental and physical rewards of a better positive mood, higher energy levels, and you can give yourself a greater chance to keep doing what you love for as long as possible.