The Wisdom of Steve Cotter....

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The Wisdom of Steve Cotter....

Post by Dave » Sun May 08, 2005 4:35 am

Hi Chris,

I wanted to get back to you on your question from the other day. I'll repost your question here and then my comments below it. As I started to write my response, I realized there is a lot of directions that your question can be taken, so below is really a compilation of various thoughts addressing the theme of your question:


Steve, and anyone else who knows,

Could you give your thoughts on the role physical conditioning plays in the internal styles of kung fu? Things like strength training, endurance training, hitting things like heavy bags or focus mitts, etc? What did you do to prepare for your fights?

I've had a few kung fu guys tell me things like: "Strength training is not necessary because our style uses our opponent's strength against him", or "Size and strength makes no difference", or "A high school girl can easily throw a larger attacker down and hold him there." My observations don't support those opinions and, after she trained in aikijujutsu for 4 years, my wife would agree. I don't know how fighting can be anything except an athletic activity so it seems that strength training and stuff can only help? I am really interested in your thoughts on this.


Sensitivity is more important than strength alone, and moreso as one’s level advances in the MA. This is so in all effective fighting systems. The difference between the phenoms and the also-rans is the degree of flow. More important than strength even.

Application of existing strength is more important than more strength, applied inappropriately.

Even still, as evidenced by the progressions in the MMA game, when correct base and skill in movement is established, and integrated with a sensible strength training practice, the stronger skilled fighter will overcome the equally skilled fighter with less strength

My take is pretty opinionated and I do not claim to be a historical scholar, but here is my commentary on your question about internal martial arts.

When you are speaking specifically of the ‘internal martial arts’ by definition this means the four Taoist systems of hsing-I, bagua, tai chi, and liou he ba . There is some confusion, and sometimes the term internal is used by people to include all of ‘the soft arts’ such as aikido. I say this only for edification. The differentiation is largely a political/cultural matter, and often the terms internal/external are used interchangeably with hard/soft. In strictest term, ‘internal’ and ‘soft’ are not the same meaning.

Let’s look at a couple of factors that are involved with martial arts in general, and fighting in specific:

-Weight distribution- can range from 100/0, 50/50, 70/30, 30/70, or any other ratio

-The degree of muscular effort in a given movement— ranging from total effort to effortless

Now, just looking at those two factors, one can see that both involve mastery of the body—body control, acquisition of what you might call ‘flexible strength’. So, it just seems that the whole process there IS conditioning.

Every martial artist, however they are labled, internal, external, Chinese, Brazilian, etc trains with resistance. The most important is resistance from a human body. So, anyone who does no resistance training is by definition, not a martial artist. We deal with impact, we deal with moving bodies through space. If you becomes more efficient at doing these types of things, I call that getting stronger, and am less concerned with whether it was achived via lifting KBs, doing standing meditation or from metabolic conditioning of one form or another.

Martial artists, throughout history, have been concerned with improvisation. One must continually adapt to deal with the stressors at hand. In that regard, the UFC fights are a social commentary in modern times, as all who have been following can clearly see the various stages and progression that the prevalent fighting styles that are successful, over time. One can also see, that it is only still in its infancy, which means that there is tremendous room for growth and refinement of skills. And that REALLY excites me, because I can see what the majority of these athletes are lacking, and there are better ways of training than how most folks are going about it.

BTW, this would be my response to each to the statements of your kung fu friends:

“Strength training is not necessary because our style uses our opponent's strength against him"
Every style believes and teaches that in theory. In practice,the people I've met who say that have always been easy to walk through. There is too much discussion of theory in the training halls, and kung fu stylists are among the worst offenders. What happens for real is that either the little guy gets knocked around pretty bad or the big guy either gets injured, or has to eventually bow out due to fatigue. If you want to call that using the opponent’s force against him, fine, but power is ALWAYS a factor. Soft does not work alone. Soft works in balance with hard. Whoever can best develop that balance within the training protocol is going to win most of the time and will always be hard to beat.

“Size and strength makes no difference"
To the master, yes size and strength makes little difference. There are a number of 140lb bjj experts that can easily take out men twice their size and 4 times their strength, and that’s one on one. But to the guys standing around the dojo talking about fighting, strength and size make all the difference. Anyone who is smart respects size and strength and the havoc that it can bring in the proper hands.

“A high school girl can easily throw a larger attacker down and hold him there."
Why would a high school girl do this? The only thing I can think of is the occasional girl who wants to be on the wrestling team. This does occur from time to time nowadays, so at least a girl could get some points for that!

But in any real-world, self-defense scenario, the purpose should be to strike or throw and then GET AWAY from the attacker. I teach my daughters to step into the eye of the storm, do some quick damage while they are in the zone of opportunity, and then get out quickly. Mobility is the key for survival and longevity, not ground and pound!

Yes, fighting is an athletic activity. In fact, if you study the roots of our common sporting events, most have their foundation in some form of preparation for warfare.

Look at the early Olympics, as practiced by the Greeks: sprinting, jumping, chariot racing, javelin, wrestling, pankration---these are all forms of physical preparation for battle. In times of peace, the various societies would use these games to determine who were best prepared for victory in battle. The stronger, faster, more accurate competitors had the makings of a great warrior. In as much as real fighting (as contrasted to sport fighting) is a ‘fast-twitch’ activity, an athletic nervous system will respond with faster twitches than the non-athletic.

I dawned on me about 9 years ago that the large majority of martial artists did NOT train as athletes and I though that erroneous. My training subsequent to that has changed to reflect the athletic nature of martial arts and ‘self-defense’ in general. Movement is the central element. Every time I see or interact with a great fighter, in any system, they are inevitably masters of movement.

Movement is movement. There are basic mechanics that all highly skilled athletes share, whether you are exerting force over 40 m or 4 ft (as in a punch).

These include, but are not limited to:

-center of mass over base of support
-elbows and knees serving as ‘pistons’
-strength throughout the full ROM
-a shorter loading (eccentric) phase results in greater speed/force production
-ambidexterity or the ability to move equally well in all directions

All of the above variables can be trained and improved with general training.

I view a portion of what I do with Full KOntact as introducing a piece of the rich traditions that real martial + art training (not wushu, not MMA) can offer to round out the western athlete. It is not feasible to expect modern athletes to train all day every day, for the purpose of a better life through the development of warrior skills. But, the key lessons learned through these traditions can be distilled and relayed in less complex terms, and has applications for everybody.

In certain respects, imo, our nation is more in lines with the Roman view toward martial arts and sport. That is, we are largely a nation of SPECTATORS. Look no further than the increased incidences of spousal abuse on Super Bowl Sunday---in the losing team’s city! And how many pay-per-view UFCs have their been? 60 or so. We sit around a lot, as a culture.

When it comes to internal martial arts, here’s the rub. The martial artists were also mystics and were able to ascertain that blending basic fighting techniques with energy producing postures and movements would build the body’s energy to such a degree that it literally would become impervious to damage (granted these discoveries predated and were disproved by the advent of the firearm, but still work damn well against punches, kicks and other mere bludgeon trauma) . In other words, the geniuses of those times saw the benefits of mixing soft with hard to create a powerful system of fighting and health.

Another important thing to consider:

How would you answer this question?

Is the act of fighting primarily a gross motor or a fine motor activity?

The can be answered accurately either way.

Where the art comes in to martial arts is that, over time, fighting becomes less of gross motor and more of a fine motor activity. That of course, is the only hope for the smaller foe. Conditioning or no, one cannot make up a 120 lb BW difference by using strength alone, so skill is always the emphasis.

I think what should be considered, is the OPTIMAL ratios of strength to speed to conditioning to movement skill to intent. In other words, balance. We’ll see the out of shape guy with intent take out the bodybuilder type with one punch. So, of course, conditioning alone is never the single most important factor. All things being equal, conditioning will make the difference.

Who will win, the 250lb guy with a Claymore or a 130 lb guy with a rapier. That is really what is fun to find out!

from DD
Fat Cat wrote: People have never really seen true mastery, so they don't even know that they don't have it.

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Post by Dave » Sun May 08, 2005 4:36 am

=D> =D> =D> =D> =D> =D> =D>
Fat Cat wrote: People have never really seen true mastery, so they don't even know that they don't have it.

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