Physical Endurance in the Martial Arts

Physical endurance – Learn about this quality which is so important to any martial artist and understand how to improve it...

Physical endurance is one of the elements trained and improved in our martial arts physical training

Physical endurance is a vast subject which people refer and understand differently.

This endurance can be rightfully related to:


• Pain endurance

• The ability to absorb - a strike, submission hold, take down and so on… without sustaining an injury and with it having as little effect as possible.

We will refer to the second and third elements - Pain endurance and ability to absorb.

Pain Endurance

Pain endurance is dependent on 1 condition:

1. Not feeling it –

• Some people are born with less sensitivity to pain – pain is a subjective feeling (some one can experience a scratch as “nothing” while another can feel that he has been cut by a samurai sword

• There are methods with which we can damage and some times even kill our outer nervous system in a certain area – such are shin training exercises.

• Building large and strong muscles which reduce the amount of pain we feel when being hit, training with a medicine ball body shots, exchanging low kicks on the thigh (quadruple muscle) and more…

2. Feeling it – this takes us straight to mental endurance and our minds ability to ignore and overcome the “electrical signal” which is pain…

Ability to Absorb

The ability to absorb is a capability which coincides with the pain endurance one, only now we will refer to the objective aspect of being hit or attacked rather than the subjective aspect of it - which is the pain part.

For example if a person gets a body shot to the kidney the damage which is caused from this hit is what we examine – for one the kidney stays unharmed while for another an operation in order to remove it is needed – the amount of pain felt is not the point…

This ability is dependent on 3 elements:

1. Muscles which protect our internal organs, bones and joints.

2. The strength of our internal organs.

3. The strength of our bones.

Muscles which protect our internal organs:

Although similar to the pain aspect – big and strong muscles help protect our internal organs from being damaged when struck and not only reduce the pain felt.

As mentioned above there are many methods of achieving this – medicine ball, weight lifting… (for more drills and tips…)

Muscle building and strengthening is done through microscopic tears we create when exercising. When the body repairs these tears it actually builds the muscles to be stronger than they were before.

3 methods for building and strengthening muscles -

• Striking the muscles (composed of contracting and hitting)

• Contracting them:

1. low repetition 2. high repetition

• Massaging

We will review these points in future articles.

The strength of our internal organs

A lot has been said and written about our ability to strengthen our internal organs through proper nutrition, stress reduction and a healthy life style in general.

Aside from these conditions trainings such as yoga, chi-gung; therapies such as acupuncture and herbs, are said to improve the organs strength and ability to withstand harm and damage both external and internal..

Other chi-gongs like - iron shirt, and energetic ki kata’s in karate improve our ability to withstand strikes.

However the ones we’re referring to, do not do this through strengthening the muscles, but rather through concentrating energy or air (depending on what your views are on internal energy…) in certain areas.

* Note -This techniques are deeply debated in the martial art world and inside the Warriors Project itself – whether or not they exist, and if so what are they, and more importantly, whether or not they can be applied in a fight is still controversial.

The strength of our bones

In order for our bones to resist strikes and take downs, they need to be protected with muscle, however in some cases this is not enough.

Shins break, ribs crack, and knuckles are damaged. All of this can be reduced with the help of proper nutrition , a healthy life style and wolfs law.

Wolff’s law – states that the more pressure we put on a certain bone the more it grows both in size and in density. Naturally if the pressure, for developing the bone, is applied in an uncontrolled and uncensored fashion it can lead to damaging effects.

This is a major concept behind drills such as wall bag and makiwara training for the fist, or strengthening the shins with a heavy bag or young banana tree.

We will deepen into this subject in a future article. However we want to point out that the material which we strengthen against should be softer than that of our bones to prevent injuries and a reverse effect

Building and strengthening muscles for improving physical endurance

While building and strengthening the muscles are very important for our physical endurance ability, it can affect our reaction time, agility and more…

The pros and cons should be decided upon in the theory and martial art training system

Nevertheless, in general it’s customary to build muscle mass upon our body core (stomach, back, neck…) the main places which protect our internal organs, and leave the hands and sometimes the legs with less muscle mass and more bone strengthening. However this is a broad “rule of thumb”.

Physical endurance in fighting

As we reviewed in many section in this site – our body activates many “fight or flight” mechanisms during a fight or combat situation, the adrenaline hormone produced and deposited in our blood is a key player in these situations and has positive and negative effects on our body and mind.

One very important positive effect it has is on our physical endurance which improves dramatically in fight and combat situations.

It is common for fighters and warriors to keep on struggling despite having injuries such as broken limbs, cracked ribs, knife stabs, bullet holes and so on…

These phenomena’s are due to many attributes, mainly though, are the physical and mental endurance, which the adrenaline and other such “fight or flight” mechanisms helps boost.

In these situations our body becomes:

• More tense which allows for better muscle protection.

• Less sensitive to pain

• More explosive and so on…

Nevertheless, having good physical endurance is important despite the “fight and flight” mechanism, because in many situations these attributes allow us to win or at least walk away from the situations (which is most important); but to find later on that we sustained serious injuries.

These situations can be reduced if the “absorbing” capabilities are there to begin with (and the mechanisms act as an enhancer of them…)

Thing which affect our physical endurance

Like anything which is not a laboratory, our physical endurance never “stands on its own”, many things can affect its effectiveness.

Some situations which are important to beware and aware of during a fight, and which can deeply affect, among other things, our endurance capabilities are:

• Breathing – when exhaling especially just before the changing point, our abilities to contract, reduce substantially, thus making our muscle capabilities to protect us drop. This is something very important to notice on the defending end and also when timing our attack.

• Surprise – When a take down, submission hold and especially strike catches us by surprise, we can find our muscles un-contracted thus making them a lot less effective (like a shield we didn’t raise).

These “timing”s happen usually when someone is caught during an attack, or when some one strikes when we didn’t “pick up” on the signs and surprises us.

We also mentioned this point in the punching article. A “strong chin” is definitely categorized under physical endurance (ability to absorb), and can be oriented partly to strong neck muscles.

Nevertheless it is very common to see a fighter get knocked out from a weak punch just because he didn’t “see it coming”.

Conclusions for physical endurance

Physical endurance is an important element in any martial artist who is interested in fighting whether for self defense competition, combat, personal growth ext…

Many exercises and drills train it together with other elements, but training it on it’s own is very important as well (see improvement and development in the martial arts).

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