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Fitness and Personal Protection: The Obvious Link

As a martial artist with over 45 years’ experience, I have also managed to become a certified Specialist in Martial Arts Conditioning (SMAC) and an FBI F.I.T. Instructor, I think the connection between fitness and physical ability is easily seen. Take for example, the athletes we see who are exceptionally fit and consequently able to perform their skill sets naturally and smoothly. While many of us may never reach these elevated physical levels, we should all strive to attain and sustain reasonable levels of fitness. Besides the health benefits, there may be some unseen advantages as well. Being fit (strong, flexible, etc.) will also help you protect yourself or your loved ones, if the need ever arises.

Consider professional boxers for a moment. The conditioning programs they endure may seem brutal but consider the alternative. They must be able to absorb tremendous punishment and respond effectively or their lives could actually be in danger. In fact, referees caution both fighters before bouts by saying, “Protect yourself at all times.” Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of having rules to follow or a referee with us when we venture forth in our daily lives and find ourselves on our own when it comes to personal protection. There are many who never give much thought to their personal safety and what it may take to prepare for a confrontation. Besides the mental training and awareness, there is also the need for a fundamental level of fitness.

Under the stress of a violent attack, your body exhausts its energy stores very rapidly, and studies have shown short-term energy stores are reduced by as much as 55% in 30-45 seconds. This means your ability to generate 100% effort is significantly reduced as well. You have probably already experienced this at lower levels. Think about the last strenuous physical exercise you took part in. At the beginning, you probably performed the skill with ease. However, after a period of exertion when you became tired, your proficiency decreased. This all probably occurred without the added stress of being seriously injured or killed. Now, think about having to defend yourself or a loved one against a determined attack by someone who is not afraid of injury. The skill set of moving, striking, blocking, and disengaging from an attacker all require a level of physical skill. Again, the relationship between personal fitness and personal protection is clear – the more fit you are the more effective you can be when protecting yourself – as the physical movements will be easier to perform.

Individuals who are physically fit can manage the stressors that come with extreme physical exertion including increased heart rate. A high level of fitness allows for the rapid stabilization and the decrease of the heart rate allowing for quicker recovery and reacquisition of fine and complex motor skills. Being physically fit also improves blood flow to the brain bringing additional sugars and oxygen to flush out the toxins that accumulate during elevated levels of stress and physical activity. In addition to the fitness aspect, individuals also perform better because of a more confident mental attitude as well.

Many individuals do not have jobs or engage in leisure pursuits requiring much physical activity and therefore may lack the desire and motivation to maintain a high level of fitness. There are also lifestyle choices – smoking, over-eating, and alcohol use – which have dramatic influences on health and performance. What kind of fitness program would be most beneficial? Just about anything that will increase your heart rate for a period of time will be of some benefit. However, in my experience I believe that a total-body circuit program would be most beneficial. A program of this type would enhance overall strength (balance and power) as well as having some cardio benefit. Additional cardio work such as running/walking, swimming, riding a bicycle or similar exercises would contribute to an effective total program. Your training program should be whatever your lifestyle will allow with three days per week being a minimum for a circuit program with some cardio sprinkled in for good measure.

Beginning with small changes and increasing your commitment over time is the best way to ensure continued success. Making the investment toward your individual fitness and personal protection will offer a multitude of dividends in the future. It’s a no-brainer, so get started!



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