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    « Decisions Become Habits | Main | Visualize the Body You Desire »

    Brown Belt Fitness

    According to, martial arts style fighting can burn up to 931 calories per hour.  It's one of the best forms of cardio training, and it's fun.

    Most of the time.

    Recently I tested for San-kyu (third brown belt) in Isshinryu Karate.  I have to say that it was the longest and most exhausting hour and 45 minutes of my life.  Video is below.

    The first 80 minutes of the examination were spent demonstrating various kicks, blocks, punches, falls, rolls, and forms (called kata).  There are 9 basic kicks, each performed multiple times with each leg, plus 15 upper body basics (punches and block/punch combinations) that are also performed on left and right sides multiple times.

    After basics, I was required to perform 6 empty-hand kata and a weapon (bo, or long staff) kata.  Each of those forms is a workout in itself.  Here is a video of me performing 4 of the 6 empty-hand kata.  The first is Kusanku, followed by Naihanchi, Wansu, and Chinto.

    Once I was beyond all of the demonstration, I was set up for 4 rounds of sparring.  In an ideal world, these were supposed to be 5 minute rounds.  Some were a little shorter, but the last one was considerably longer - closer to 10 minutes.

    Round 1 against Mr. Allen Taylor, Ik-kyu (First brown, or 2 ranks ahead of me).  As you might notice (after the 2-minute delay at the beginning of the video), he sports a considerable size advantage over me.  He also hits hard.  I asked my instructor before the test if I would need mouth protection.  I was assured that there would be no contact to the head.  Please observe where Mr. Taylor hits me first. :)

    Round 2 - Mr. Nick Baker, Ni-Dan (2nd-degree Black).  Mr. Baker is wiry and FAST.  Had he wanted to, I'm sure he could have cleaned the dojo floor with me.  By this time, I was feeling almost dead.  I was physically at my limits with this fight and 2 more rounds to go.

    At about 30 seconds into the video, you'll see that I started running around the dojo in pain.  Unseen to the casual observer, Mr. Baker had incidentally helped me re-injure a severely damaged left thumb.  Every time I've injured this thumb, it's almost a religious experience.  I've never had such a reaction to pain, but the experience was so intense that I truly felt other-worldly when it happened.  It's been 4 months since the original injury, and it's still painful.  I digress, however...

    Round 3 - Mr. Christopher Duke, San-Kyu (3rd Black) and MMA fighter.  In reality, if Mr. Duke had wanted it, I would have been dead in this fight.  He hits hard, as you will see when he puts me on the ground, writhing in agony, about 2/3 of the way through the video.  The punch was a perfect shot to the solar plexus.  I spent 30 seconds on the floor trying not to puke.  I think I tasted my breakfast when I was down there.  It sucked.  Hard.

    Round 4 - Sensei Tim Cunningham, Nana-Dan (7th Black).  The best comparison here is a cat playing with a nearly-dead mouse.  I could barely see, couldn't breathe, and was soaked from top to bottom in sweat.  Just holding my hands up was a monumental effort.  He was being nice.... thankfully.

    Between loss of water weight and burning who knows how many calories, I lost about 3 pounds during this test, proving that martial arts training, kickboxing, and open sparring do, in fact, burn a BUNCH of calories.

    Some might watch those videos and wonder why on earth I would ever willingly subject myself to such treatment.  There are several reasons.

    First, I've wanted to be a Sho-dan (Black Belt) since I was 14.  I never gave up on the goal, and I'm within 18 months of achieving it.

    Second, martial arts is a physical challenge.  I want to prove to myself and everyone watching that age is NOT a factor.  I was 41 years 4 months old when I took that test.

    Third, the test is a mental challenge.  When my body was screaming for me to stop, I had to dig deep into myself to find the will to push forward.  Under different circumstances, quitting means dying, and I'm not willing to accept death as an option.  If I won't quit under the exhaustion of the testing environment, I won't quit when it really matters.

    Finally, believe it or not, the whole experience is fun.  Granted I wasn't really having fun at the time of the test, but getting to that point (and getting to the next level) is enjoyable.  The tests are just points of discomfort in the road to Sho-dan.

    Keeping fitness fun and engaging is an important part of success.  Find something challenging and fun, and you should have no trouble sticking to the it as part of your fitness regimen.

    **Thanks to Kaitlyn, my student at the Early College High School, for shooting the video and posting it on her youtube profile.


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    Reader Comments (1)

    I have never been too much of a fan of practicing martial arts myself but I am very aware of the benefits of it; some forms of it almost seem to be on the same level with advanced yoga. I support all forms of fitness whether I participate or not. If kicking and punching things (in a non-confrontational manner that is) is gonna help someone burn more calories and be healthier, then they should definitely get their Bruce Lee on!

    January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBodyBldrMarcus

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