Martial Fitness & Conditioning

Martial arts require practitioners to develop in a well-rounded fashion. Those who train the the martial arts properly and seriously eventually develop complementary physical abilities that include:

  •  A keen sense of proprioception 
    • Proprioception is the ability to understand where each part of the body is in relation to other parts of the body. 
  • coordination
    • The ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently.
  • endurance
    • The fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.
  • explosiveness
    • The ability to exert maximum effort in the shortest amount of time.
  • toughness
    • The state of being strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough handling. 
  • speed
    • The rate at which something is able to move or operate.
  • power
    • The ability to move with great force.
  • connectivity
    • The state of being interconnected, particularly in reference to having the entire body act as one mutually reinforcing unit.
  • kinetic structure
    • The ability to move freely without compromising body structure. 
  • reflex actions
    • physiological reactions to stimulus that bypass the brain, occurring without conscious thought. 

All of these physical attributes have strong mental components. Therefore, while the martial artist improves their physical strength and abilities, they also see increases in mental toughness. Mental toughness is defined as:

"The ability to consistently perform in the upper range 

of your skill and ability regardless of the circumstances."

As referenced in "The Ocean as a Muse", an additional psychological byproduct of martial training is serene power. 

"Serene power is the ability to function with 

clarity and decisiveness regardless of the situation." 

Stress, adrenaline, fatigue and fear can lead to debilitating physiological and psychological reactions to challenging situations. 

Recommended Exercises


What is better than an exercise you can do anywhere? Only an exercise that can be as hard or as easy as you need it to be and mimics the motion you are trying to make stronger! Get both with push-ups.

Of course, standard push-ups (YouTube push-ups tutorial) are an excellent start. Once you’ve mastered those, many push up variations (YouTube: push-up variations) continue to enhance your explosive muscular power.


Punching Push-ups:

Place your hands in orientation for a chest-high punch, including your hand shape (fist, palm, tiger claw, etc). This allows the specific punching motion you use to be trained under stress and establishes it as a reflex. As an aside: if this becomes uncomfortable or unsustainable for a “normal” amount of repetitions (roughly the same number as “regular” push-ups) your punching structure may not be sound. An exception to this is knuckle push-ups, which require the build up of wrist strength and pain tolerance independent of the regular push-up muscles.

“Clapping” and “Platform” push-ups:

In this variation hand speed and explosive motion get an extra workout. The clapping variation famously requires you to push off the ground hard enough to clap your hands and then catch yourself. In the “platform” variation you slap the top of the platform, like a step or chair. Unlike clapping push-ups the hands have to go up & out before coming back in & down to catch you. The height of the platform can be adjusted for the appropriate difficulty.

Chinkuchi or Impulse Push-ups:

Hold the top push-up position. With only a slight bend in the arm, tense the entire body with the intent to “push the ground down”. The upper body should “bounce” off the ground. This is different than the alternative of rapidly pulling the hands up to create space and then catch yourself. You’ll feel the difference as proper impulse push-ups allow you to catch yourself with no additional bend in the arm.

Elbow Push-ups:

Execute a push-up and on the way up drive one arm back up into the chamber position. Or, if your chamber is a high guard, imagine elbowing someone behind you in the gut. Alternate sides with each repetition. For added benefit, perform this variation in conjunction with the Punching push-up above.

Core Exercise

The core and upper-lower body “connectivity” are key components of strong, fast punching. Following are some exercises that help strengthen the core in ways specific to punching. As with push-ups, core exercises and their variations are limited only by imagination. YouTube is a great resource for additional exercises.


Raising the Flag

Find something to hold on to above your head while laying flat on your back. The lighter the item the more difficult the exercise. Trying to keep the body as straight as possible, lift the legs, buttocks, lower and mid back off the ground. Hold for a moment (or longer) at the highest point before slowly returning to the ground.

Hanging Leg Raises

Hanging from a bar, keep the waist and hips in place and raise the legs to 90 degrees (parallel with the floor.) If flexibility allows, go higher. If not, keep the legs firm and engage the pelvis and lower back to further raise the legs. For an added challenge, engage the back to press the feet toward the ceiling becoming fully inverted. Release the legs back to the starting position in a controlled manner.

Windshield wipers or Tick-Tocks/Metronome

Hanging in the pull-up position (or laying down for an easier variation) raise the legs until the toes/bottom of the feet are pointed toward the ceiling. Rotate the legs and waist until the feet are pointed to the side (3 or 9 o’clock). Raise them back through the center (12 o’clock) on the way to the other side. Back to the center for 1 complete repetition.

Walk Overs:

Again using a platform, take a push up position with the feet inline with the center of the platform and the head/hands off to one side. Place the hand nearest the platform on top of it (at the far side), use that to press up and bring the other hand onto the platform. Keep the body rigid. Lower yourself to the other side with the same hand moving first. Return to the starting position in the same manner to complete one repetition.

Leg Exercises

The legs are the foundation of movement. Conditioning the legs, especially for explosive movement, can really help develop speed and power in hand techniques. Below are a few exercises that I find useful for conditioning the legs. Again, YouTube is an excellent source of how to videos.


Standing Long Jump or Broad Jumps

Begin with the feet in a neutral position. Squat down and swing the arms back to “load” up. Explosively drive the legs down and back while swinging the arms forward. At full extension, the moment the feet leave the ground, drive the knees up to the chest. The objective is to leap as far as possible. One way to measure progress is to set a distance (say 20 yards) and count the leaps required to cover the distance.

Body weight squats and Squat jumps

Body weight squats are simple but work the coreKeeping the back straight and eyes up, lower the body as far as possible by bending the knees. Pause for a moment. Stand back up. It can help to keep the hands in front of you at shoulder height to counter balance.

For an extra level of difficulty, explode up and jump as high as possible with each repetition.

Lunges and Lunge Variations

Lunging as an exercise is to take a step forward and bend both the front and rear knees until the front leg is at a 90 degree angle and the rear knee is slightly off the ground. Standard lunges are done in place with the leading foot returning to a starting position next to the rear leg.

Walking lunges are similar, except done in an alternating and forward fashion instead of in place.

Jumping lunges are done in place, but instead of starting and returning to a feet together position, you begin in a forward stance, drop into the lunge, and when rising jump into the air and switch legs, immediately dropping into the lunge position on the other side.

Side lunges, also known as Cossack squats, are lunges to the side with one leg bending completely and the other remaining straight. It is important to complete the full range of motion with the back straight.