Weekly Warfare Fitness – 1 – Terminology & Getting Started

Ed: This week brings the start of a series of articles from Baron Iskender (formerly Alejandro).  Mundanely, he’s coached and coaches college fencing and rugby.  Now, he’s agreed to share some of his knowledge with us.

In the far misty time of our ancestors, say about 1980 through 1995, concepts of preparing your body for any discipline of fighting in our Society were simple. You made sure your armour was in the car, you went to practice, and you fought once a week. 

These days,  in all areas & disciplines of the Society’s martial endeavors, the bar is much higher. And thankfully so. In order to excel, you need to go to practice, study historical manuscripts, ensure that your armour is as historically contiguous as possible (not to mention clean & in good working order), and ‘get in shape’.

Let’s talk about the phrase ‘get in shape’.

The first problem with that phrase is that it means different things to different people. For some people, there is usually some aspect of ‘losing weight’. This is reasonable, advisable, and fine. It could be argued that practitioners of the armored discipline must balance out padding the blunt force trauma they receive by retaining a higher level of, um, padding, but even if that’s the case I would argue that replacing fat with muscle provides a tougher, more functional padding. Additionally, unarmored fighters are not interested in generating power – they are interested in generating speed. Mass being a factor in speed, it behooves practitioners of that discipline to lose as much mass as they healthfully can.

Archers, scouts, and siege engineers have specific needs to their disciplines involving specialized muscle development as well as development of sustained cardiac capacity, but may be addressed in a later article which I will educate myself enough to write one day.

Another take on the phrase ‘get in shape’ can be taken to mean development of what’s known as ‘general physical preparedness’ (GPP). Basically, this means that your body has the capacity to do what you ask of it. Naturally, this is a subjective measurement. But it can be objectively benchmarked by taking a specific look at what it is you want to accomplish. Someone who is setting out to be a Provost may have a different concept of GPP than an aspirant to the Chivalry.

However, for most people, when they say ‘I want to get in shape’, it can reasonably be assumed that they mean some mixture of losing weight, developing greater strength, and developing a capacity to perform for a longer period of time (e.g., cardio).

Weight Loss vs Fuel for Fighting

At its most base form, weight loss is a simple numbers game. You put out more calories than you take in, and you will lose weight. If you are decidedly unconcerned with nutrition, athletic performance, or having your doctor yell at you, your eating plan could consist solely of offerings from fast-food establishments in carefully managed portions. You might suffer general malaise as well as some liver damage, but you would be thinner. You would lose weight. I don’t advise this as a strategy.

On the other end of the spectrum, the number of pills, stridently-advised diets, and amount of nutritional advice out there is both dizzying & contradictory. A number of experts have made careers of contradicting one another. This leads to the perfectly reasonable response of, “I’m just gonna eat cheese forever.”

However, there are a few guidelines that can be relied on in the face of insistent advertising or overweening nutritional devotees. They are relatively simple, and chances are high that you learned them from your momma. Eat more veggies. Cut out or avoid as much sugar as you possibly can. Eat several smaller meals in a day, rather than a few large ones. Try not to eat portions that are bigger than your fist. And drink lots of water. Other, specialized diets such as gluten-free, vegan or paleo, should be weighed carefully in conjunction with your individual metabolism.

Changing the way you think of your food and weight can be the psychological key in helping you have a long &  victorious martial career. That key is simply to de-assign a moral value judgment to the things you eat. “It will be good if I eat this.” “It will be bad if I eat that.” Rather than your self-dialogue relying on a positive identity attached to a nutritional value in your food, it may be more beneficial to think of food as fuel. “Will this fuel me adequately for what I want to do?” Remember that old adage – you are what you eat.

Easy to say, hard to follow through on. However, enforcing that sea-change in your thinking is a requirement of discipline. It could be argued that you cannot be successful at any martial endeavor if you lack discipline – developing discipline will not only make you effective on the field, it will make you more effective off of it as well.

Part of the de-assignation of moral values for food applies to judgments applied to foods that might not be the wisest choice. In other words, don’t beat yourself up if you have a cupcake or a burger. Just get back to making healthier choices, and move on.

Magnus, Melius, Celeris, Amplius

Bigger, Better, Faster, More

There are four principle aspects of general physical preparedness which should be considered by any practitioner of the martial disciplines. These are strength, endurance, speed, and flexibility.

Strength is fairly self-explanatory, although it should be said that armored & unarmored combatants specifically should be concerned with varying types of explosive strength. Not just how much you can move, but how fast you can move a certain amount of weight – whether that weight is your body, your shield, your sword, or your opponent.

Endurance, or wind, can be further subcategorized as aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity. Aerobic capacity for a fitness industry specialist can be very specific & involved, comprising an incremental exercise on a treadmill sorcerously combined with mathematical equations. However, more practical, layman’s definition of aerobic capacity can be loosely termed as ‘Can you fight for as many bouts as you wish?’

Anaerobic capacity also has a specific definition within the fitness industry, but can also be loosely termed as how hard you can fight for however long you need to. Can you go sixteen passes in one bout with the Uber-Duke?

In other words, your aerobic capacity is your ability to last an entire fighter practice, and your anaerobic capacity is how long you can fight each individual opponent before you need a break.

Speed, for our purposes, isn’t just how fast you can move, but how fast you can accelerate. Someone who can get their weapon moving faster than their opponent will have a real advantage. There are ways to train for both acceleration and total speed. In some views, speed and strength are closely related – you need muscle to build and maintain speed.

Flexibility is the most under-rated value in martial discipline, but its importance can be partially observed in the number of blown-out joints among high-end practitioners.  It could be posited that failure to attend to your flexibility (or range of motion) means that without specific attention to that attribute, the limit of your range of motion will also be the end of your blow or action. So if something goes wrong, you will exceed your body’s accustomed range of motion and injury may occur. Whiff the shot, blow your shoulder or elbow. However, if you have put  time into increasing your range of motion, when your body encounters an unfamiliar range of motion, chances are good that you will survive with no injuries and a good story.

Putting It All Together

There are only so many hours in the day – and given the demands of trying to ascend in a hobby that’s already pretty time & effort intensive,  you don’t have hours and hours to devote to the adjunctive things that are conducive to martial greatness. Therefore, it behooves any practitioner to get the maximum return for the time they invest in their training. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much investment to see clear  gains in performance, especially for someone just starting out.

The first thing to do, unless you are young and in good health already, is to get clearance from your chosen healthcare professional. This isn’t just a lawyer-induced disclaimer – the damage that you will do from embarking on a fitness regime without knowing if there are any hidden injuries or illnesses your body might be harboring may be an avenue to spending your life on the sidelines.

Secondly, choose carefully an eating plan that fits your metabolism. Don’t ‘go on a diet’, change your habits. Stick to it. If you fall off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up. Climb back up again.

Thirdly, examine carefully how you can enhance your overall level of fitness – what can you do, and what are some avenues that you can do it better? One of the great things about the martial disciplines are their egalitarian properties. Anyone has the White Belt or the White Scarf in their reach, no matter what fitness level they started out as. It takes time, study, and effort – but nothing is beyond your reach.

– Iskender

4 comments to Weekly Warfare Fitness – 1 – Terminology & Getting Started

  • Ruairc

    A lot of this jives with what Gawin and I have been learning and doing for the last nine months. I’ll write up a post on how we put this information into action, the benefits we’ve seen, and the challenges we’ve faced.

    Getting fit is a fantastic side benefit to what we do.

  • Wistric

    I have never been able to diet beyond the “eat less” stage. Vegetables and I don’t get along (I’m allergic to some of them). The Pennsic Woods, though, is the best motivation for portion control. I’ve still got a weakness for chocolate chip cookies, but almost all other dessert I can resist by imagining running with it to rez and back.
    Also, I’ve recently taken to sacrificing a portion of each meal to Mithras (god of warriors. Even if I am an atheist, I want him on my side). It’s mostly done ironically, but it puts a check in my mind as I get past the halfway mark of a meal as to whether or not I want to finish eating that food, or fight better next time I’m in armor.

    • Ruairc

      Having run into exactly the problems that Iskender describes here (“lots of contradictory advice, no real consensus”), my approach to food is pretty much “don’t eat crap, pay attention to feedback, and exercise sufficiently.”

      The first point, he’s already touched on. The second is pretty self-explanatory – your body is a special snowflake, so listen to what it’s telling you about your food decisions. Feel free to experiment, but don’t trust a diet just because it calls itself “scientific.” The third is, of course, a separate topic entirely.

      Transitioning from bad habits to good habits is a matter of understanding human nature – namely, your habits, whatever they are, accrue significant inertia and your brain won’t want to change them, but once you’re there it’s easy to sustain. So: Going New-Year’s-Resolution cold-turkey on your present food (or exercise) habits isn’t going to work. Take a small step to begin – tiny, even, like skipping one desert a week or replacing one meal a week with a salad – listen to feedback, and if everything checks, make it habitual before moving on.

      • Ruairc

        I think it was Randy Packer who said that people don’t trust improvement that doesn’t hurt. They want to sacrifice and suffer, whether it’s with food or exercise. Being of Catholic heritage, I can understand the instinct to self-flagellate, but this approach inevitably leads to your brain screaming “I’m starving!” or your knees giving out. Either way, your regimen comes to a halt.

        Small, gradual change is safer and easier to sustain. Nobody playing this game is competing for a medal or setting world records, so take care of yourself first.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>