Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Friday, February 18, 2005

Training and Recovery

About 3000 years ago in India The Warrior Caste used a three part training regiment. The first part consisted of exercises to prepare one's body for the rigors of training, what we would think of now as "fitness" exercises.

The second part was training itself, practice with the weapons of war that included sparing, as well as wrestling and other exercises to develop the skills and endurance needed on the battle field.

The third part was "recovery" exercises to promote healing and balance from damage done to the body in the first two parts of training.

A lot of the understanding of this process has been lost over the centuries, but enough information was kept on the first and third parts of training through its incorporation into yoga that we have some idea of what was going on back in the good old days.

Of the three parts of this process the "recovery phase" has been most neglected in the West until recently. In the last five years, the most interesting and important work on this phase of training has been done by Coach Scott Sonnon, and I am borrowing one of the terms he coined "Active Recovery", for this article.

Neglecting the recovery phase of training leads to high levels of residual muscular tension, injury and burnout, but it is, as I said the most often overlooked part of training.

There are three parts to address in recovery, they are Passive recovery, Active recovery and Internal recovery (for lack of a better term).

Passive Recovery

Passive recovery includes rest, nutrition and body work.

Rest is obviously very important in that you need to give your muscles and ligaments time to recover from the stress you have put them through. Probably the most important area of rest is sleep. Regardless of how much sleep your body naturally needs to be healthy and rested (for instance I usually need six hours a night to feel rested, someone else might need nine) you really need to make sure you get enough after heavy training.


Nutrition of course is also very important. There are all sorts of dietary programs floating around these days, so if you find one that fits you, go for it. In case you have not found a diet you like I will give you the Traceless Warrior Non-Stupid Eating Diet. It is very simple.

1) Get as much of your carbs as you can from vegetables and go easy on grains. When you do eat grains go for oats and brown rice as first choices.

2) Eat sufficient lean protein to fuel your recovery process. Make sure you have protein for breakfast.

3) Avoid processed sugars as much as you can (this includes corn syrup) if you get a sweet tooth go for fresh fruit if available or a little dried fruit.

4) Do not do a lot of fat in your diet and make sure that as much fat as you can is from things like olive oil and fatty fish, but do not be fanatic about it, stay completely away from trans-fats.

5) Avoid processed foods as much as possible (that is all pre-prepared foods) Eat fresh whole food whenever you can.

6) Avoid "fast food" like the plague.

7) Do not overdo caffeine. Either avoid alcohol or drink moderately. If you like beer go for the micro-brews as they tend to have less in the way of additives. Don't drink cheap wine, go for the good stuff, it is healthier for you.

8) Eat less. Try to stop eating just before you feel full, go for smaller portions, take your time, eat slowly and enjoy your meal. Eating with friends is better than eating alone.

9) Eat three meals a day and a slow burn carb snack before you go to bed, Try to have breakfast within an hour of waking (Thank you Kathleen DesMaisons for a lot of this) try to spread meals out evenly and avoid skipping them. Make sure you get enough clean water each day.

10) Be flexible. A good multi-vitamin each day won't hurt.

This is what works for me, and if you do not have a particular way of eating you can use this as a place to start, but listen to your body, you want to be feeling good most of the time.


In India bodywork used to be (and in some places still is) an integral part of martial training.

A person who is training seriously should have at least one hour long bodywork session a month, more if they can.

A good bodyworker can help release lots of tension as well as break up adhesions, heal the effects of stress and get stagnant fluids moving. It can be one of the better things you can do for yourself.

Active Recovery

Active recovery means using specific sets of "body weight" exercises designed to help promote recovery from the stress of training.

One place you can find this sort of exercise is in some (but not all) hatha yoga. To be most effective in active recovery the yoga practice should be a "Vinyasa" (moving in a flow from one posture to the next driven by the breath) the more static postures do not work as well for active recovery. One example of what to look for would be the Sun Salutation from Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga.

Another place to find active recovery exercises is in Chi Kung. Generally the Taoist forms work better for this than the Buddhist forms, it is a matter of how the breath is worked in the exercise.

In general, active recovery exercises will be those that work "range of motion", coordinate movement with breath, encourage healthy joints by keeping them lubricated, and strengthen the ligaments and tendons.

unfortunately, I can't really recommend a lot of specifics in all these areas, but I can tell you what I use, and have found to work well for myself and my students.

I use two sets of exercises for active recovery. The first is called "Warrior Wellness", again from Coach Scott Sonnon. (You may have noticed by now that I refer to him a good deal. That is because he is a genus when it comes to human movement, I don't know of anyone who has done more useful work in the field in the last decade, and I know a lot of people).

Warrior Wellness is a progressive three level exercise set that works "range of motion" in every joint in the body, it is outstanding for recovering ROM and promoting joint health. I do one of the levels daily in the morning as a general "tonic", and use this program with my students as an important section of their warm-up. I have gotten remarkable results using this program, and like all the exercises that support active recovery they are quite energizing.

The Five Tibetians

The other exercise set I use is often called "The Five Tibetians", though they were introduced to the west in 1939 in a book called "The Eye of Revelation" written by a fellow named Peter Kelder under the unlikely name of "The Five Rites of rejuvenation".

The story that Kelder told about how he learned the exercises has more holes in it than a spaghetti strainer, and I suspect he sort of came up with it to align himself with the Theosophical movement. (much in the same way that we got a lot of writers in the style of Carlos Castanada after "The Teachings of Don Juan" came out in the sixties). But that does not matter as much as the effect of the exercises.

I don't know if they really are the "fountain of youth" that Kelder claims they are (ask me in another hundred years) but I do know that they have a remarkable effect when it comes to active recovery. I have been using them for several years, along with a few friends, and for active recovery they are superb.

There is one cravat though, Kelder never learned, or never wrote about the proper breathing method to go with the exercises. Others have attempted to graft pranayama breathing from yoga onto them, but got it very wrong. If you try the exercises from the link above, just let your body determine the best way to breathe.

If you want to explore the correct breathing method (which does make the exercise better) Check out the Five Minute miracle. It teaches both the proper breathing and the exercises with a number of variations for people at different fitness levels.

Active recovery exercises should be done every day.

Internal Recovery

Internal recovery is the single most neglected aspect of training. Internal recovery addresses mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of recovery in martial arts training.

In some ways this is the most important aspect of recovery.

competition, even at moderate levels can be very stressful, and when it is "combat" competition the stress does go up just a bit.

There are a couple of interesting things that happen when a person (at least a male person, I don't have as much data on women) wins or looses a physical encounter, The winner's testosterone level goes up and the losers drops. All manner of emotional and self image material can build around events like these. If they are not addressed, you run the risk of burn-out. The confrontational aspects of the martial arts can really stir up the human psyche.

Then there is the fact that in studying a martial art, at some level you are rehearsing causing grave damage or death to another human being. Even the most sport oriented arts have this as a foundation.

I have seen my students come up against this most often when we start addressing the knife. There comes a point where the student realizes exactly what they are doing, when this happens it will produce a crisis of sorts where the student has to answer some very important questions, Like "under what circumstances would I really be willing to gut another human being and look into his eyes as the light goes out?" If one of my students is not disturbed by what he is learning, I worry. There are two things that address this.


A few days ago a martial arts teacher said to me "when I talk about this subject I get angry!"

I am sure we have all heard this comment, I am sure we have all made this comment at one time or another. What is says though is that you are at the effect of your emotions, that they come as the response to outside (or inside) stimulus and that they control you rather than you controlling them.

Having no choice about how you react to a given stimulus is bad enough for regular people, but when you have spent several years learning the fine art of doing harm to your fellow man it takes on a whole new meaning.

To counteract negative emotional states and to remove yourself from being at the effect of your emotional states, as well as removing emotional toxins what you want is a meditative practice, one that develops "Zanshin".

A lot of people I have encountered tend to shy away from meditation because they think it has a religious connotation, it doesn't.

While virtually every religion has at one point or another grafted mediation into its practices, the techniques stand on their own (note to self: blog about Patanjali's Yoga Sutras soon)

The good news is that no matter what your world view is, you can find a meditative practice that fits you. The bad news is, that without one it is very likely that your emotions will continue to run you and produce toxic byproducts that will get in the way of your training.

(Please note that I have not said "don't feel" or "don't have emotions" what I said was "don't be at the effect of them").

The last major part of internal recovery is developing a "Spiritual discipline". Please note that I did not say "find a religion", though that is the most common way to start developing such a discipline. Even an atheist can work in this area (it is just a bit harder)

Your spiritual discipline is what helps you fine tune you conscience so that you can find the inner peace that is essential for the higher levels of the martial arts. Without such a discipline the internal stresses and conflicts (unless you happen to be a sociopath) will get in the way of your training.

One's spiritual discipline is a very personal choice, so I am just going to encourage you to find what works for you.


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