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Solo Training: Callisthenic Strength

In Kung Fu there is an old saying: "Yi dan, er li, san gung fu".

It means "First be brave, second be strong, third be skilled in fighting". While most people rush to learn the latter, without strength and bravery (the dedication to hard work) ones skill is flawed. If you have only one of these three things probably you should not fight, if you have two then you have a chance (a gamble), but you need all three for the higher level.

Most of us are doing our training solo these days and calisthenics is something that you can do almost anywhere in addition to your technical training on the double end bag, boxer's speed bag, etc. It's a great workout and I feel the physical control you learn in moving your body through space is more beneficial for martial arts than using machines for strength training.

I'm a big believer in mastering the basics first and then adding in variety to hit different muscle groups and keep things interesting. For example, there are scores of variations to the pull up but until you can do good sets of solid pull ups there's not a lot of point in trying to learn them.

To use an old phrase, it's putting the cart before the horse. It's also an easy way to tweak something by trying a move you're body is not prepared to do yet - particularly anything that is dynamic in nature.

If you're just starting out there is nothing wrong with the simplest of routine. My suggestion? Just do pull ups, push ups, and squats. That's it! There's no need to get fancy until you can nail these basics cold and in good number.

Though I have everything here at the school to work out, I like going to the local park in Watkins Glen twice a week early in the mornings before I go in to take care of cats at the Humane Society. Getting there around 7am it's very peaceful and as cool out as it will be for the day. The view of Seneca lake is always beautiful too.

Lately I've been doing 10 sets consisting of 10 pull ups (each set a different type), 20 push ups, and 15 Bulgarian split squats per leg each. I set the timer for 6 minutes and however much time is left after the set is the rest period. Usually this is about 2:40 of work and then a little over 3 minutes of rest before doing it again.

To mix it up, one day a week I work out here at the school doing things I can't do at the park. Sometimes this involves weights but yesterday it was doing a Half-Murph workout. I've written about this before on the Alliance site and it is an excellent baseline of your physical fitness and mental determination.

The half-scale requirements are to wear a 10 pound weight vest, run 1/2 mile, perform 50 pull ups, 100 push ups, and 150 squats as quickly as possible, and then run another 1/2 mile.

You can break up the calisthenics any way you like, for example 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 squats x 10 sets. Your score is your total time.

Since the elliptical machine in the school doesn't track distance I just run 10 minutes on either side of the calisthenics. Yesterday it took 47 minutes which was not bad in 90 degree heat. Could have shaved off some time but didn't want to completely trash myself plus took the extra luxury of a 3 minute rest before the final run.

Without the vest and the time factor this would be an easy day, but they quickly combine to make this a challenge. Even when you've done it before and know intellectually that you can do it again there is no thinking it will ever be an easy day.

The real trick to this workout is to pace your self so you don't burn out too early. You need to rest as little as possible, but still long enough to nail your next set. Deep, full breathing is essential as is mental focus to get past any difficulty you experience in the current moment.

One final tip for anyone starting into calisthenics is to get a pair of lifting gloves to wear. I find my hands sweat so much that I end up fighting for grip on the bar but with the gloves it's easier to fully engage the exercise. They are wrist-wrap gloves as well so the small bit of added stability is nice.

Hopefully this gives you some new ideas you can incorporate into whatever your routine is now or just inspires you to get started. YouTube is full of videos on how to learn the basics, so the information is there for you. Now you just need to add the work and time (hard work over time = Kung Fu) to make it your own!

All my very best to you,

Pete Kautz

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