Two Reasons To Lift Weights. Plain & Simple. In the martial arts community, there are two eternal debates. One: Could Chuck Norris have defeated Bruce Lee in “Return of the Dragon” if he had the Gift of Beard? And two: How should a martial artist exercise when they are outside the dojo? I’ll ride the Norris bandwagon until the end of time on the first point. But for the second, I just might have some reasonable ideas. 1 – Get Stronger, Faster, and Bigger (if you’re into that)In all my years of being a student of strength, fitness, and the martial arts, I can’t think of a more clear testimony to the advantages, nay, the necessity of weight training for the martial athlete than I saw in the 2004 PRIDE contest between MMA pros Kevin “Monster” Randleman and Fedor Emelianenko. Even though the entire match lasted less than two minutes, it has become singularly defined as the suplex heard ‘round the world. Caught on film: The exact moment Fedor’s chiropractor considered buying a Bentley. Now, do we truly believe that Randleman developed the strength to suplex a 230+ pound man and violently deposit him like a sack of empty beer cans, and “The Monster” never did a Power Clean or a heavy Back Squat? Conversely, the inspiring (or discouraging, if you’re Randleman) ease with which Fedor shakes off the attack and continues with aggression was certainly a testament to a lifting diet rich in heavy Shrugs and Deadlifts. We can agree that being just a bit stronger and just a bit faster than your opponent is a good thing, correct? I believe that we can safely extrapolate this to say that being much stronger and much faster than your opponent is a very good thing. It’s a given that technique and conditioning will either remain constant, or will improve accordingly. And that’s easy enough to ensure though consistent practice. But it’s that oh-so-scary path towards Muchstrongerville and Muchfasterburg that too many martial artists are tentative to travel. Those pesky Fiction Fitness magazines have unfortunately popularized inefficient, borderline-archaic strength training theories that simply are of no use to competitive or recreational martial artists. It’s become a sad fact that a great number of practitioners equate strength training with bodybuilding. We need to be smarter than that. In all the world of sport, from ice skating to tennis to rugby, athletes use well-designed strength training programs to improve their performance. The world of martial arts, from Sumo to Shotokan to Aikido, has no legitimate reason to think that it deserves special treatment. My battle cry is, has been, and will remain: Intelligent strength training builds better athletes. Period. 2 – That Whole “Book, Cover, Don’t Judge” Thing So you’re out clubbin’ one night, gettin’ your groove on, when you’re bumped into by a stranger. You turn around to confront the fiend that interrupted your boogaloo. Standing in front of you is retired UFC pro “The Smashing Machine” Mark Kerr, lightweight Olympic lifting phenom Naim Suleymanoglu, and fitness guru Richard Simmons. Of these three gents, which are you hoping bumped into you? The Smashing Machine: Scary big. Pocket Hercules: Scary strong Sweatin’ To The Oldies: Just scary. Based on nothing more than their appearance, there’s likely to be a little voice entering the back of your mind saying “Please be the little guy, please be the little guy, please be the little guy.” It’s this type of preconceived notion, and the psychology behind it, that can provide a rarely discussed advantage of strength training. Hypertrophy, that often-dirty word, is the unfortunate victim of hurtful stereotypes; just like male ballerinas and female softball players. While the term means literally “to increase a muscle’s size”, it should not always be of last concern to martial artists. Competitive fighters who abide by weight class restrictions actually need to give this concept their full attention. For those of us who don’t need to step into the ring or onto the mat on a regular basis, a healthy dose of muscle can help one extra board break, or make your neck just a little bit harder to choke, or help you look great in a tank top when you’re flirting with the store clerk at the Vitamin Shoppe. Okay, so that last point may be a tad superficial. And that’s where the dark side of hypertrophy comes from; seeking muscle for the sake of having bigger muscles. It’s a fine line, for sure. But if it wasn’t, how interesting could it really be? Back to our original example…why was the little voice in your head hoping against hope that it wasn’t Mark Kerr you’d have to confront? Because Mark Kerr is built like a concrete outhouse (or something like that). He’s a big, mean-looking mammer jammer, and without knowing any more about him, your primal instinct tells you “That guy hits hard. Don’t tick him off.” A physique along those lines (not necessarily taken to that level) can be physically imposing enough to the point of, even momentary, distraction. Granted, this “trick” may not appeal to female martial artists. But a variation of it may. Look at Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, or Demi Moore in G.I. Jane. Both of those hardbodies have inspired countless women to work on their Chin-ups and 1-arm Push-ups. (I once had a co-worker who went to see G.I. Jane and said “I’m totally going to shave my head now.” She never did…but I digress.) Hi, I’d like two tickets to the gun show, please. Thank you. The actresses specifically increased their muscle tone to give off a seriously badass vibe. And it worked. More muscle, on any body, is almost always a good thing. I say “almost” because for weight-class athletes, the additional muscle needs to be with respect to total bodyweight. This starts making things like bodyfat percentage and lean body mass some important variables to track. However, that’s a whole different egg to crack and we won’t get into it here. But I don’t mind teasing you with a scenario: a 400-pound Sumo wrestler with 20% bodyfat competes against a 400-pound Sumo wrestler with 40% bodyfat. Who’s likely to win and why? I’ll bet my salmon sashimi that it’ll be the 20%’er…because he’s got more muscle. But enough on that for now. Back to Suleymanoglu. Pocket Hercules indeed. Four feet, six inches tall, no heavier than 65 kilograms (62 kilos at most competitions.) Under the wrong circumstances, the guy might be charged for a kid’s ticket at the movie theater, but he’s put more than three times his bodyweight over his head. Imagine that for a second. Let’s say you were born as quadruplets and one day, just messing around, You-2, You-3, and You-4 sit on a couch and You-1 snatch the whole lot into the air. Mom would be so proud. Now imagine performing this feat so often, that you become the 4-time gold medal winning Olympic World Champion. That’s what it’s like to be Naim. While we’re in an imaginative mood, let’s picture Naim at the horsetrack, enjoying the ponies running. Things take a dark turn, and he finds himself cornered by several big, mean, evil jockeys mounted on their terrible steeds. Fortunately, Suleymanoglu is able to strike first, and he lays out the first evil equine with exquisite ease. That’s the power we’re talking about. Genuine horse (-punching) power. And the best part of it is that that didn’t even expect it. Let’s face it. He’s a little guy, and little guys are rarely intimidating. But smart little guys (and gals) can capitalize on this prejudice and seize the opportunity if they’re prepared. ‘Prepared’, in this sense, means that you have an above-average strength-to-weight ratio. And the best way to do that is (drum roll please)… weight training! If a person of smaller stature can lift a bodyweight 2-dumbbell Military Press, for example, they’ll be a step closer to finding that surprise K.O. strength. (Caution – Please wear a hardhat for this next paragraph. Name-Dropping is in progress.) In a recent correspondence with Martial Arts Conditioning Expert Charles Staley, he pointed out another logical reason behind strength training for the smaller martial artist. To quote Staley “…The whole idea of Martial Arts is that a smaller guy can beat a bigger guy…IF his technique is good enough…which is true of course. I’d simply add to that that if weight trained, that smaller guy could beat an even BIGGER guy!” So, for the shorter crowd, consider weight training to be the first step in your quest for global domination. All shall fear you, and tremble in your path. None shall be safe. Unless they hide on a tall bookshelf. And what about Richard Simmons? All I can say is this: He’s been an advocate of low intensity, long duration cardio exercise and lightweight lifting for over two-and-a-half decades, and…he…looks…like…this. Still just scary. Would you be scared to take a punch from this guy? Or a kick? Or let him mount you and do some serious ground and pound? Okay, that last one could scare just about anyone. Bad example. But the point remains, if you believe that 10-mile jogs and punching with 3-pound dumbbells will make you a better fighter, then you and Simmons will get along just fine. To Conclude, After Having Opened Some Eyes (Hopefully) You’re a martial artist. You learned your punches and kicks. You practice stances and breakfalls. In class, you warm-up with jumping jacks, push-ups, and crunches. Weight training is an extension of the martial arts lifestyle that can add snap to your punches, help you bounce up from a breakfall, and make those torturously dull push-ups seem easier. By neglecting the weight room, you’re making a declaration that you do not want to be the most efficient, most effective practitioner possible. Make a choice. Open your mind, train right, train smart.