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This phenomenon occurs in many martial arts classes, mostly in the western world. Think about the standard structure of a class. There is usually some introductory activity at the beginning to prepare the body for vigorous exercise: the warm up. Most instructors, in this part of the class, will get their students to do things like shuttle-runs, press-ups, sit-ups and so on, lot’s of pure fitness activities, but no combative movements.
In fact, many instructors will consider these purely fitness activities to be essential to training and completely unavoidable. The reasoning being that in order to do martial arts, one must be physically fit, therefore fitness exercises are essential. This is not true.
It is completely possible to incorporate vigorous physical work into martial arts inspired drills, such as complex or challenging kicking routines. Often, such activities are more intense than the simpler, general sports ones. It just requires imagination in teaching.
All you have to do to increase the workload of combat movements is increase the physical strength, endurance or speed needed to perform them. This could involve designing lengthy or awkward combinations of movements to push to students to their limit. You can even derive warm-up routines from prepared sparring routines.
Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with doing purely fitness exercises, however it’s important to remember that your students are there because they want to learn martial arts. This does not necessarily mean that they want to do general fitness.
Nowadays sports lessons in schools are infamously off-putting, and physical activities outside of the education system are important in an increasingly sedentary society. Therefore the less you do to remind your students of general sports, the better it is for your student retention statistics.
There’s also an element of purpose to martial arts specific exercises. Some people, when they do general fitness exercises, will gain no sense of purpose from it. They are doing fitness for the sake of being fit, which they don’t see the point in, particularly as simply being fit requires never-ending regular effort. If you want an example of this, think why so many people join gyms and then give up shortly afterwards. They get bored with no sense of purpose to the activity. If fitness is merely a by-product of combat training, students get two things out of it: the fitness, but more importantly, the ability to do the moves. Martial arts specific exercises will generally reward students with increased flexibility and control as well as fitness.
Fitness is best left as a convenient side-effect of martial arts. If fitness is specifically taught, it seems like a requirement and is then tedious and eats away at motivation.
It’s also somewhat of a waste of valuable time. Some instructors run their classes on the principle that in every lesson they should have a decent proportion dedicated to fitness. Given that most classes are one hour long once or twice a week, and considering fitness can be gained without specifically training in it, you’re compromising the quality of the martial arts unnecessarily.
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