I expect to get two responses to my discussion of weight training for martial artists. One will probably cry, “Perish the thought. Martial arts and weight training are oil and water. They don’t mix.” To which I will say, “Oh contraire, young one. Sit down in a half lotus and prepare to be enlightened.”

On the other hand I have the supplicants who have bemoaned my previously shared wisdom on the subject. “Oh, most wise and wonderful luminary, grand Puba of the fighting disciplines and senior most master of all things martial; You have told us why but you haven’t told us how.”

Well, my young Hoppa Grasses out there; prepare to be duly amazed, informed and consider yourself told. I am going to share with you my own private system of weight training for the martial artist.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m completely sold on weight training. It is one of the core training systems of my personal martial art style. I love chi and I teach some aspects of the internal arts but I love physical strength. I am first and foremost an external stylist. If I hit you you won’t have to delve into the hidden power of my super secret technique. I’ll just hall off and knock the living you know what outa you. No hidden internal technique. Just raw brutal power. Oh, it’ll be graceful and thoroughly scientifically applied but you’ll have no doubt in your mind that you’ve been made the recipient of many hours of bench presses and tricep extensions. If I manage to hit you you’re going to stay hit.

Okay, to my secret style of martial art strength training. Several things you’ll have to take into consideration before you start your lifting regimen. First of all we’re looking for strength and power and not necessarily for bulk. A little muscle looks good on you and to an extent strength requires some size. As a rule big people are generally stronger. While strength is our goal here too much bulk will slow you down and in the end will be counterproductive. Secondly let’s keep in mind that unless you plan to get into power lifting or the ascetic aspects of physique competition lifting for the martial artist is a means to an end. We use it to improve our effectiveness as martial artists. And lastly strength doesn’t replace the need for skill and ability. You can be as strong as a mountain gorilla but if you can’t hit your opponent or twist him in knots you still won’t be able to fight. Skilled combat deals more with finesse than with brute strength.

There are two types of muscle in the body. There are what we call fast twitch muscle and slow twitch muscle. Probably this has to do as much with the nerves that activate those muscles than the muscles themselves but the way we train influence how those muscles perform. Heavy weight lifting will build slow twitch muscles. The end result is power and raw strength but that type of training doesn’t build speed or flexibility. That type of muscle may serve you well if you plan to lift an opponent over your head and body slam him on the sidewalk. That is if you’re able to get a hold of him in the first place. Those pesky little rascals don’t particularly have the courtesy to allow you to catch and deposit them broken and bleeding on the afore mentioned surface area. For that you’ll need fast twitch muscle. That type of muscle lends itself better to speed and flexibility. If you want raw speed you want to build that type of muscle. Of course while you may be able to catch your opponent your physical prowess probably wouldn’t lend itself well to body slams and other strength based techniques.

Actually how you train will depend on what you’re training for. A wrestler might be well served with bulk and raw physical strength while the karateka would probably be better served with speed, flexibility and mobility. From this you might decide that the wrestler should lift heavy and depend on building slow twitch muscle while the karate fighter would opt for a regimen that will build fast twitch muscle. There’s some merit to both schools of thought but I opt for the middle ground. In the system that I teach I advocate trying to garner the best of both training methods without overdoing either.

In my youth I was involved in bodybuilding. I leaned to natural supplements and avoided steroids but I had garnered some size and a pretty impressive physique. I lifted heavy for strength and size. I got pretty big. At 5’9” I was weighing well into the two hundred and forty pound range. At one point I was weighing in at around 247#. During that time I was still training and teaching the martial arts. I was scary big and probably looked like a shaved gorilla which served me well in my profession. I worked alternately in hospital security and as a psych professional. For a while I worked on a psych ward in the local penal system that dealt with, what they called at the time, the criminally insane. In both instances people might not have recognized or discerned my martial art prowess but there was little doubt about my sheer size.

Aside from the strain that such size had on my heart I had to reexamine the direction that my training was taking me and how it affected me as a martial artist. I could hit and kick like a mule but with the excessive size I had lost much of my flexibility and I sacrificed a lot of speed. I had slow twitch muscle to spare. I was strong as h*** but it was doubtful if I could actually hit or kick an opponent. I wanted the strength and some of the size but I wanted to be able to use those attributes to some good effect. Taking that into consideration I found the middle ground in my weight training. I have used it with some of my young students and they have developed some serious strength with good speed.

I’m not sure that it is possible to build both fast twitch and slow twitch muscles simultaneously but I have found that by following a mixed lifting regimen it is possible to be both strong and fast. I’ve experimented with heavy lifting, moderate lifting with high reps and light ballistic lifting that more accurately mimic the techniques that we use in martial arts. In the end I adopted a combination of the three.

My system is broken down into a three day a week cycle with three days left for martial art training, cardio and stretching. Of course at sixty nine years of age I follow a very whittled down aspect of this training but I do ask it of my serious students. Their lifting routines are generally on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. On Monday they do heavy lifting with multiple sets with low reps. On Wednesdays they’ll practice a ballistic lifting routine lifting relatively light weights with several sets and high reps. On Fridays moderate weights are used with relatively high reps and slow precise form. I have found that with this combination my students build muscle and some bulk but their bodies tend to have the lean musculature of a race horse rather than the muscular bulk of a bull. That’s what I aim for with the lifting routine that we use. Coupled with regular martial art training I’ve found the results to be really good.

Well, my friends and would be students of the arts I’ve dispelled any mystery in my super secret lifting regimen. Really no mystery at all and if there was a secret in the first place it was hidden in plain sight. You may find that my system of lifting doesn’t suit your purpose or compliment what you do. I’m not trying to make you a clone of me though I could think of worse things you could be. What I will encourage you to do is experiment with strength training and see what routine or combination of routines work for you. While I feel that my routine is superior to most you’ll have to decide for yourself. However you decide to accomplish it I encourage you to include strength training in your martial art training. Weight training is a tried and true method of accomplishing that objective.

So there you have it. You asked and I rose to the occasion. I have shared my method of training. However you want to apply it, have at it, Hoppa Grasses. You’ll be better martial artists for it.
The Right Wonderful Rev. Dr. Miskel


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Donald Miskel
Donald Miskel started his training in 1959 at the Jiu Jitsu Institute in Chicago and trained with several well known and respected martial arts instructors in a number of disciplines. He has attained black belt ranking in six different martial art disciplines. Sensei Miskel taught at several locations in and around the Chicago area for many years. His focus was self defense instruction for civilians and specialized, individual, training for law enforcement personnel and security officers. He worked in several areas of law enforcement, mental health and personal security as well as performing Pastoral duties at several churches and ministries for a number of years. e helped to create the Black Lotus Combative System and he founded the Dante Ryu Gojute Kenpo karate/ Ju jitsu fighting system. Dr. Miskel is an original member of the Black Dragon Fighting Society.