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Training Regimen: The Brawler

Posted by on 2012/04/17

Alright, I’ve read your e-mails, and I promise I’m not ignoring them; I’m just neck deep in research right now trying to get the wilderness scenario out of the stone age.  Anyway, you’ve made clear that you’re most interested in three things, Self Defense, Training Regiments, and urban/zombie survival.

So, like all our training regiments, the Brawler focuses on practical, functional training.  To reiterate a section from ‘the woodsman’ “Think of your workouts as practice, not just a labor for its own purpose.” The brawler is no exception.  All of the exercises in this regiment are designed to make you better at winning fights with humans (or zombies).

There is a famous kung fu adage, about a man who visited a shaolin temple and begged the monks to teach him kung fu in one year, so that when the bandits returned to raid his village, he could defend it.  The monks led the man to a trough full of water and showed him a strike and told him to punch the water until there was no water left; He immediately began, punching the water, each time sending a splash out of the trough and onto the floor.  But each time the water level dropped below half, a monk would come with a bucket and refill the trough. Over the months, the man voiced his dissatisfaction in his training to the monks, but each time they simply compelled him to continue.  He grudgingly continued striking the water, each time hoping the monks would finally see fit to teach him kung fu.  Finally at the end of the year, he emptied the trough and no monk refilled it.  He stormed into the room where the monks were all sitting around a stone table, waiting for him.    They asked him if he was satisfied with his training.  The man shouted, in all his time in the temple he had learned nothing, and wasted the year on a pointless task, he became so angry that he struck down with his one strike at the stone table, and to his amazement, split it in half.

This parable gave rise to the saying, “do not fear the man who has practiced a thousand strikes once each, but the man who has practiced one strike a thousand times.”.  Now, lets forget that for a while, because the truth is, you’re not fighting bandits in your village, you’re fighting zombie cannibal communist werewolves in the streets of your hometown.

Most of us did not begin the study of ancient martial secrets when we were children, and were not indoctrinated into a lifestyle of constant training and martial study.  In fact, most of us only know enough martial arts to get our asses kicked in a real fight.  We may be past our prime, formative years, where lifelong habits can be formed and reinforced through directed instruction.

The brawler is your cheat sheet for preparation.

Conventional wisdom says that the basics of tactical application of strength are footwork, balance, and timing.

An exercise that will improve all three: Obstacle running.

We’re going to start out small.  Running stairs, both ways.  The trick is, don’t run the same staircase over and over again, you want to run as many different staircases as you can find.  The trick isn’t to get into the ‘rhythm’ of the stairs, but the opposite, to train your muscles to respond to an array of explosive movements. Change it up, skip steps here and there. Find as many different staircases as you can, with stair lengths and gap heights, different staircase lengths. Don’t kill yourself; but almost wear yourself out three times a week. If you have access to them, run hills, sand dunes, or giant piles of gravel, anything to change the way you use your muscles. Look for varied surfaces to run on all the time, changing elevations, uneven trails.

The crane style of kung fu requires incredible balance and deft footwork. One of the exercises that the monks would perform is to balance on poles, one legged, perform a jumping kick, and land with their other leg on the pole.  In it’s basic practice, a solid pillar would be used, but in advanced practice, a freestanding pillar or log that was not secured to the ground would be used, and the legendary masters of the art were said to have been able to balance on a bamboo pole.   We’re not looking to become kung fu masters or spear our genitals with a bamboo staff; so lets just focus on the first task.  First, get used to doing it on solid ground.  Raise one leg, then leap off the ground as high as you can and land on your other foot.  It seems easy in theory, but it’s a trick that takes a few tries to get the hang of.  Once you’re good, try doing it from a ‘pistol’, a one legged squad.  Lower yourself all the way down into a squat, and explode upwards, landing on your other foot and lowering yourself back down into the pistol squat.   Once you can handle this, add a couple to your stair runs.  Try doing it up and down from the curb of a sidewalk.  Careful, you can fuck up your ankle if you don’t land correctly, so practice a lot before you go full idiot strength.  Once you can do that, if you’re feeling froggy, try doing it on a pillar, or a cinder block, or whatever.

In the lumberjack games, one of the competitions the participants must master is running across a log pond.  Logs of different sizes float in the pond, and the lumberjack must run across the surface  of the pond without falling in.  I can’t think of a better exercise for practicing footwork, timing, and balance; but since this is a highly impractical method of training, lets do something else.  Jump rope. I know it’s not very kung fu, but if it’s good enough for Bruce Lee and Mohammed Ali, it’s good enough for us.  Just remember to keep changing it up, switch feet, go one legged for a while, move forward, move backwards, change up the speed and the rhythm, and remember to think of it, the whole time, like you’re training for your survival.

Never lose sight of that one goal. You’re training to live when someone else wants to kill you. I know I have fun with this shit, with colorful fucking language and bizarre analogies and references, but before we move further in this section, I want to remind you that if you’re in a survival situation where another human being is trying to kill you, then every bit of preparation you have done is completely worth it, and every bit you don’t do is to your detriment.

Okay, so part 1, without all the words.

Run stairs, Pistols into box jumps, and jump rope.  Great.  Next.

Killing power,  upper body conditioning.

Once you’ve got a solid foundation, and you can trust your legs to do everything you need them to do to stay alive; you have to focus your attention on your upper body, because your arms are your best weapons.  Swinging a club, throwing a punch, choking someone with your bare hands, deflecting attacks, and grappling an opponent all require three key elements. Endurance, Coordination, and Strength.

To train these three aspects of the upper body we’ve got as many tools at our disposal as our imagination can provide, but some of the best ones are the oldest ones.

The Shaolin used Shi shuo or Stone Locks  as a training tool, similar to kettle bells, essentially the stone lock is a weight with a handle, that when gripped, extends the weight beyond the end of the fist, offsetting the balance in the hand.   There are a number of exercises, in fact, an entire style of training involving stone locks; but assuming we don’t have specialized equipment for our training, then we’ll make do with substitutes.  Each time you train, find a pair of heavy stones, dumbbells, kettle bells, or just oddly shaped and weighted objects.  You could use jugs of water, or buckets of sand, or whatever, the point is the weight should always be just heavy enough to tire you out without making it impossible for you to use your arms.  Instead of complicated forms or predesignated movements, just add them to your routine, shadow box with them until you’re almost worn out, carry them when you jog, alternating between holding them out in front of you, out to your sides, up over your head (don’t fucking drop them on your head), out behind you. Switch up your grips, and don’t use the same things over and over again, you want to really build up all the supporting muscles in your arms, so odd shapes and constantly changing grips will do that.  This will help your endurance more than any repetitive motion exercises like pushups or pull ups, but it’s not enough by itself… which brings us to:

Muscle ups.  Think of them as elite pull ups.  Ideally performed on a set of olympic rings, you want to, from a dead hang, bring yourself up to a full pull up, with your chin above your fists, and then explode or twist up and push yourself up to a superior position, so that the bar or the rings is at your waist; then lower yourself as if you were doing a dip, and let yourself slowly descend into a dead hang, controlling the negative resistance.   This is a fucking difficult exercise.  If you’re not there yet, work on getting to one arm pull ups, and keep doing dips and chin ups.  To increase the resistance on dips and chin ups, you can try supporting a weight with your legs as you do them.

Climbing.  Not much to say here, rock climbing, wall scaling, rope climbing, kind of the best shit you can do for your grip, for strength, for endurance, not to mention the inherent survivalist benefit, and the obvious consequences for failure.  Don’t be an asshole and climb shit you can kill yourself by falling off; and I don’t know the first thing about free climbing, so don’t look here for advice on that.  You know I’m not big on disclaimers, so assume that theres one in every paragraph, and it’s this: If you’re an idiot, you’ll die in a survival situation, so teach yourself not to be one every day, take all reasonable precautions at all times.  Being able to spot a potential hazard and avoid it is as important to survival as the technical know how to deal with the hazard should you encounter it.  Don’t intentionally put yourself in danger, and try to figure out what can go wrong before it does.   If you can’t do that, you won’t make it through the first 48 hours anyway.  Meanwhile, climb shit whenever you train, the theme, if you haven’t already noticed, is to keep changing it up.

Okay, without all the words, part 2 is: Do things holding weights, do muscle ups, climb shit.

Part 3, Accuracy and precision.

Revisiting the lessons of basic chemistry, we learn the difference between accuracy and precision. Accuracy is how close you come to the mark, and precision is how often you hit the mark you intend to hit.  When you’re fighting for your fucking life, accuracy and precision are the difference between a quick and decisive kill and a drawn out melee.  Accuracy comes from identifying your target and reaching it, and precision is the effectiveness of your blows.  If you’re accurate, you can find the opening and exploit it, and if you’re precise, you can take advantage of that opening to kill or incapacitate your opponent.   The exercises are kind of fun.

The Kime bag.  To train accuracy, again we look towards the old masters for this classic martial arts training technique.  Fill a pouch anywhere from the size of your fist to the size of your head with sand, ball bearings, iron filings, or whatever heavy material you have around.  Hang it from a rope attached to a low tree branch so it hangs around throat level, and get striking.  Shadowbox with the bag, dodging it or deflecting it when it swings towards you and striking it when you have the chance.  It will swing around like crazy, and it will fucking hurt if it smacks you in the face; but just train with the bag a little every time you train, I shouldn’t have to explain the benefits here.  You can also work on knife-strikes with a suitable knife substitute.

Repetition.  This is what we’ve been avoiding the entire time, until now.  You cannot rely on endurance, strength, precision, accuracy, footwork, balance, or coordination alone to win fight, only to help you not lose.  If you want to win a fight, you need a weapon. You’re going to need to practice your strikes incessantly until they become fluid reflexes.  That thing at the beginning about practicing one strike a thousand times, well, lets make it two thousand, hell, lets shoot for ten thousand.  Every weapon in your arsenal is only as good as your ability to employ it without hesitation, and the best way to do that is to turn it into a reflex akin to instinct.

The practice of Tai Chi is the model for this step of the brawler.  You want to ensure that your movement is perfect before you commit to internalizing it, so whatever method of fighting you have chosen to learn, you can apply this technique, universally.  If you want to be a great baseball player, you spend a big chunk of your life swinging a baseball bat, learning all about the plane of your swing, lining it up with the ball, pivoting your feet the right way, and delivering the maximum force to the ball in a fluid stroke.  When you learn how to swing a baseball bat, you’re not practicing to hit one static unchanging pitch, but to blast a fucking ball that comes anywhere in your strike zone.  Bam, metaphorical home run.  Thats what you’re learning when you practice a strike, any strike, whether it’s a tiger claw, a jab, slamming a hammer, or swinging an axe.  The best way to do it is by perfecting your technique and repeating it at nauseum until it’s automatic.  Start slow, like in tai chi, paying attention to every movement in your body, and adjusting until it’s perfect; then hammer that fucking technique at everything from slow-mo to full blast.  Whatever it is, do it over and over again until it’s as good as a loaded gun.

So, without all the words – Fight a kime bag, drill.

Wrapping this up, this was a long one; The brawler training regiment will condition you to help defend yourself. You’ll be quick on your feet, and sure footed, able to get into and out of tactical distance, while assuring you don’t mis step or lose balance.  You’ll be strong enough to do some damage, and you won’t tire out too fast in a fight.  You’ll know how to spot an opening and you’ll be able to take advantage of it, in theory.

The only real way to practice fighting is to fight, but the only sure way to survive a fight is to avoid it. This isn’t about winning fights. This about survival. If you want to be a bad ass, go join a fight club, or a boxing gym, if you want to survive, practice running, run fast, run long, and run well.

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