In the last blog entry I spoke about the advantages to using capoeira for martial arts and/or sports cross-training. In this entry however, I would like to shoot to the opposite end of the spectrum and share my experience using extreme sports as a way to cross-train for martial arts.
For the past 5 years or so, I’ve been working on and off with English Adventure, a Tokyo-based company that specializes in giving city kids not only a genuine camp experience, but also nature education ranging in everything from ecosystem mechanics to wilderness survival techniques. For myself, the action/stunt benefits of working with EA have ranged from getting CPR certification and first aid training, to learning how to rappel down walls, and understand the mechanics of fire. Oddly enough however, the exposure to other outdoor enthusiasts (in particular Jeff Jensen, owner of Rock24) has also given me another way to cross-train for martial arts- rock-climbing.
Upon visiting Jeff’s gym in Saitama, I had thought that I would be the first martial artist to grace his establishment for cross-training, but it turns out I wasn’t. According to Jeff, a myriad of other martial artists (in particular, Karate-ka) come to cross-train at his gym as a way to improve hand strength and grip for weapons play- a fact that doesn’t surprise me, given that even in his 40s, Jeff himself is strong enough to do 2 finger pull-ups and hangs with his arms at 90 degree angles without so much as breaking a sweat.
After a brief lesson on how to save energy while climbing (i.e. using the legs to push instead of the arms to pull), other advantages of rock-climbing also began to immerge. The development of leg strength, conditioning for one’s hands and feet (if, like myself, you climb barefoot), and of course an incredible ab and torso workout as one uses their trunk muscles to swing into positions from which the feet and legs can grip, pull, or push.
Additionally, as I continued my day, and tried for harder (and higher) routes- the ultimate training benefit became apparent- training to push past one’s fears. In the same way that I used skydiving and bungee jumping as a way to learn to stay calm in chaotic and dynamic situations (such as the ring), I saw the same benefit emerging during climbs (particularly those which were done outside). Although I didn’t know it at the time, I think this is also why my Taekwondo master in Korea also took me on one of the most terrifying experiences of my life- a barefoot climb to the top of one of the peaks of Pukhan Mountain just outside Seoul. Even if it scared the living sh- out of me, without my really knowing it, getting though that experience gave me the courage to not just face down new challenges, but more importantly, old fears as well- something that pertains to not just stepping into the ring with a scary opponent, but also learning difficult (and risky) gymnastic moves outside of it that I would need to try at (and fail) repeatedly until I had the confidence to land them.
I guess overall, what I am getting at is that we as martial artists all know that we train to take the things we learn outside of the ring or dojo into our everyday life. What we forget however, is that much like the nature of the Yin and Yang, the opposite is also always true- we can just as easily bring the things from outside in, to better us as we train as well.