Notepad (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recently I was sorting through old storage boxes and found a few pages from an A4 notepad. The pages weren’t dated, but their contents gave me some very good clues. It was interesting to see the fledgling ideas that were going my head at the time. The front pages were a synopsis to a fictional story I had in mind, based on the then recent events in my parents’ company. Other pages revealed two first drafts of my first two letters to Geoff Thompson. However, for the purposes of this post the final page was most telling and made me the most reflective. It was a standard plan for my week’s training.
Saturday: 10:30 a.m. Kickboxing
5:00 p.m. Swimming
Sunday: 12:00 p.m. Gym
4:00 p.m. Taekwon-do
Monday: 7:30 p.m. Taekwon-do
9:00 p.m. Swimming
Tuesday: 5:00 p.m. Gym
7:00 p.m. Kickboxing
Wednesday: 7:30 p.m. Taekwon-do
9:00 p.m. Swimming
Thursday/Friday: 5:00 p.m. Gym
The year must have been 1995. It was a year of big changes. Earlier in the year I had recovered from an appendicitis operation and a reality-check would drastically alter my view on martial arts training. These are reflected in the three swimming sessions and the presence of kickboxing. The previous year I had finished full-time education and I was in a part-time job at my parents’ zoo, allowing me more time to focus on my training. My objective had been to learn martial arts so I could perform an act on a circus, becoming an eighth generation professional performer in my family. However, a “sparring” bout with people outside of the martial arts world had given me wake-up call. I had done well in the encounter, but the whole thing had made me reassess what I was training. I might have wanted to be a performer, but I had always taken it as a given that my art would give me a large advantage in a real fight. Learning the error of making such assumptions would lead me to coin the term “The By-Product Myth”.
After getting my black belt in Sakiado in 1993, I had been working my way up the ranks of Taekwon-do. The theory was I would get a black belt pretty quickly in Taekwon-do due to its similarity to Sakiado and, inspired by Chuck Norris’s business plan in his autobiography, I hoped success on the tournament circuit would give me credibility as a performer. Despite still being passionate about my circus act, I suddenly became concerned about my ability as a fighter and the simple fact that my ability to adapt my training to reality was wanting. The writings of Geoff Thompson inspired me and I wrote to him, ordering a couple of his books. One was “Animal Day”, which first introduced me to the concept of pressure testing, and the other was “Weight Training for the Martial Artist”, which made me think about the functionality of supplementary training. Geoff replied to both my letters, offering kindly advice and saying I was welcome to train at his club in Coventry. It wouldn’t be until 2004 that I met and befriended Geoff at a seminar, but his writings made me reconsider the path I was taking with Taekwon-do at the time and the whole concept of realistic training.
Some of my fellow students at my Taekwon-do school had started training at a local Kickboxing club. Sakiado had given me a taste of full contact, as they staged these bouts throughout the year in addition to their regular semi-contact tournaments. I took to Kickboxing very quickly and, as you can see, I started attending that as regularly as I was training in Taekwon-do. A year ago I had got my driving licence and was bought a car as a birthday present. Living out in the sticks, a driving licence was pretty vital if you wish to be independent. I didn’t have much money at the time, but I was living at home rent-free with my only commitment being my morning job. So, I was able to indulge in my training. I was fairly quickly talent-scouted by the owner of the kickboxing classes and became one of his instructors. This would lead to some huge changes in my life and I would also have my eyes opened wide to the business of martial arts.
The gym membership had also been part of an ongoing birthday present. I had got into physical training before I hit my teens due influence from my circus life. An old shed used to store circus tents had been my childhood play area. The place was in disrepair throughout my childhood and into my adolescence. The front door couldn’t be shut and there were great gaping holes in the ceiling. My cousins and I called it “The Swing Shed” due to the ropes attached to the rafters that we used to swing from to the tops of the piled canvas. Later a trapeze bar was hung in there in addition to bench with weights and an old piece of canvas was hung up as a makeshift punching bag. The area was used to practise circus acts and to train in addition to being used as a workshop. I had moved out there by the time of this routine and was doing a good deal of my supplementary training in the local town gym. I also used the shed my mother used to keep the dogs of her dog act. Long after the dogs had all passed on I still use the same shed to this day and it still bears the old title “The Dog Shed”.
The routines I had been doing at the gym were developments of the routine I had been given by the gym’s trainers when I first joined, aged 16 (the youngest age the gym would permit membership). These were very generic exercises varying between compound and isolation exercises, using a lot of machines plus the treadmill and stationary exercise bikes. The routines were supposed to aid my martial arts training, but were really no different from just about everyone else’s routine from what I could see. Once a week, we would do a circuit session, which would only differ in that each station would have a one minute time limit rather than repetitions. Within a year of writing this routine the gym, which was part of a squash club, would change locations before eventually closing down. I would stay with it almost until its closure before joining two free weights gyms and then training at home. As I learnt more, my training became more focused on my objectives. My newfound kickboxing instructor and old circus friends would introduce me to heavier free sessions. I would train with a lot different people and a lot my weight training became bodybuilding influenced and days would be divided up into routines targeting different body parts. It would take a while before I started drawing a stronger connection with my martial arts performance and my gym sessions, eventually arriving at sessions that fully reflect the objectives I am aiming for as a martial artist.
The swimming sessions are most interesting. Despite having a grandfather who was president of Dartford Swimming Club, I cannot say I was ever a great swimmer. I did like swimming, but did not take to it naturally. I never took to any sport besides long and middle distance running naturally. I had to train long and hard at everything. Nevertheless, when it came to having to recuperate after injuries I sought out this great form of exercise. It has very low impact and is great for improving strength, flexibility and stamina. A local hotel had a small pool as part of a three month leisure club membership. The “club” really consisted of a room with a few bits of consumer end equipment – a stairmaster, a sit-up frame and a bow machine (which I found interesting from an early “functional fitness” point of view), a trampette and the swimming pool. My appendicitis operation brought my attention to the pool when I pretty much couldn’t do anything else. After that it became my rehab clinic.
Looking back at this routine fills me with nostalgia. There was plenty I did then I wouldn’t dream of doing now, but I learnt a lot then and see that it was the dawning of so much I teach today. I had more time on my hands, but I am impressed with the structure I adopted. I was also embracing cross-training for the first time, not only in another martial arts discipline, but also via supplementary training and swimming. I was also training outside of the club with a group on the Sunday. This was an informal gathering between friends from the Taekwon-do class who wanted to spar. Such ideas would influence my ground-up approach to teaching and encouraging personal research. I saw the benefits of small group learning. It was also when I was rapidly engaging critical thinking. Of course, this was also an early example of my mapping out and recording training data. From 2003-2013 I would keep a training diary of single routine, lesson and martial arts experience I had in order to track progression and develop ideas. I would like to encourage you all to look back at whatever information you have on your old training routines and compare them to now.