Training for combat whether for ring fighting, law enforcement, military or just practicing traditional methods can be split into three must have categories: physical preparation, skills and simulation. These aspects tend to be trained in their respective order, however they are also revisited on a regular basis to continually maintain or improve each one. All combat training emphasizes physical preparation at the beginning. This is for good reason as combat training requires general and specific physical attributes. General attributes are overall stamina, agility, coordination and strength. Specific attributes would be leg flexibility in kicking styles or core strength in wrestling and jiu-jitsu. These are attributes that vary depending on the style or intent of the combat training. There various methods for accomplishing this across all disciplines. Many methods are shared, but there are unique methods specific to each discipline as well. Here’s comparison of ring fighting, traditional martial arts, law enforcement and military methods of physical preparation. This is just a sampling of the wide variety of training methods used.
Boxing and and other combat sports commonly use running and skipping rope to build stamina. There are videos of almost every well known boxer out on morning runs and doing intense jump rope workouts. Here’s a few videos of famous fighters skipping rope. An old school exercise for building striking power is to chop wood or hitting a tire with a sledgehammer. Although it’s thought as an old school training method, Floyd Mayweather included chopping wood as part of his training for the Pacquiao fight. In this video, you’ll see Fedor Emelianenko running, performing body weight exercises, hitting a tire with a sledgehammer and doing some unique exercises (holding weights in hands, spinning in circles,etc.) In the early days, many trainers were against lifting weights as they thought it would make the fighter slow. Although there are some that still feel this way that mindset has changed and most fighters include weight training in their training regimen to build strength and power. A well-known case of switch to the modern method is when Michael Spinks trained to fight Larry Holmes. Here's an article from the LA Times showing some of the reactions to his training methods which are now standard in combat sports today.
Traditional martial arts use their own varying approaches to physical preparation. Most schools include a fair amount of basic calisthenics (jumping jacks, push up, situps, squats, etc.) to build strength in addition to stretching for flexibility. A method that is unique to traditional martial arts is stance training. Stance training is commonly used build up leg strength in various positions and ranges of motion. There is also a secondary aspect of building mental toughness since holding a deep stance for a length of time can be quite intense. There are many other unique training methods across all the various martial arts. Shuai Jiao is a great example of a style that has many unique exercises and tools for its training. Karate for a long time has been associated with physically intense training. Here’s a video of some Karate tools and exercises that are quite similar to those in the Shuai Jiao video.
A common misconception is that intense physical training is not a requirement for internal martial arts, however I would argue that physical training is even more important for internal martial arts. However, the type of exercises is very different from other martial arts and combat sports. Internal martial arts have a number of unique exercises for increasing strength and flexibility particularly in the waist and legs. In addition, internal martial arts include many exercises to improve circulation, massage the internal organs and control the breath. These are all critical to internal martial arts and are many times neglected or perceived to be only for health and relaxation. Diligently training the body using both types of exercises is critical for executing techniques with the proper body requirements of internal martial arts. A well known strength building exercise used in Xingyi and Taiji is pole shaking . This Taiji video shows a number of additional strength building exercises some which use weights but in a manner to build internal strength and power. There are also various qigong methods for improving breath control, circulation and increasing range of motion. All of this gives internal martials arts a large foundation of physical preparation.
Military and law enforcement have standardized physical tests and requirements for all new recruits. Both have a training period that emphasizes physical training (“boot camp”). Typical requirements are mile runs, situps, push up, chin ups and other exercises used to demonstrate strength and stamina. An example of unique training methods in the military and law enforcement are the use of obstacle courses for agility training and long hikes with heavy loads for endurance and mental toughness.
As we see all combat training places heavy emphasis on physical preparation. Although the training methods are varied, the intent is the same. In addition to being a critical phase at the start of training it is also something that cannot be neglected afterwards. Ring fighters must stay in top physical condition or risk being out worked or simply overpowered by their opponents. Active-duty military have ongoing physical requirements to meet and police need to maintain a level of fitness to protect themselves and others. If you train martial arts for self-defense this requirement is no different. Technique is not effective in the absence of the necessary physical attributes. The fact that putting physical training at the forefront has endured from the old traditional methods to modern day military training shows its importance.