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Sunday July 9, 2006
Book Review: Matt Furey's Combat Conditioning
As promised, here's a review of Matt Furey's Combat Conditioning: Functional Excercises for Fitness and Combat Sports. Let's start with the title:
Furey is using a very wide, Darwinist definition of "fitness" in that subtitle. This is not a book that will make you fit for body-building competitions, nor for clean-and-jerk record-setting. This is a book that will make you fit for surviving in harsh conditions, and that will condition you for the martial arts. In Furey's own words, "that means strength, endurance, and flexibility."
Before I go much further, Furey has his detractors, and they make good case against some of his personal claims. I've read it all, and found that none of it changes the validity of the principles taught in this particular book.
Simply put, calisthenics and kata are the most effective fitness programs you can find. If you've trained with a personal trainer lately, there is a greater focus now on what they call "core strength." The world's militaries have known all about this for centuries, and the exercises they use to train recruits are -- you guessed it -- calisthenics and kata. Furey's book features what he believes to be the most effective calisthenics, and based on what I've been able to do so far, it's good stuff.
I spent about eight months studying karate back in 1999. The calisthenics and kata we did worked me harder than any weight training I'd ever done before, or have done since. Looking back I regret not making the time to keep with the program. In starting Furey's Combat Conditioning, muscle memory took over quickly, as my body "remembered" how good this kind of stuff is.
It also remembered how HARD it is. Yes, my legs and arms are in better shape here three weeks later, and my back is more flexible, but I still can't do the bridge properly, and many of the supplemental exercises in the book still defy me.
This is a good thing. While it's certainly not the only fitness book you'll ever need, mastering what's in it will take a while. If you're up to the challenge, you will end up in fantastic shape by the time you're hitting the suggested goals for form and repetition.
The best part about these exercises, though, is that you can do most of them almost anywhere. You need no special equipment... just enough space to swing a small cat. As a cartoonist on a tight budget, that really appeals to me. Furey does suggest the use of an exercise ball (as a "crutch" if you're really having trouble with the bridging exercises), and one of the supplemental techniques requires a towel and a smooth floor, but that's it for stuff you're unlikely to have handy.
Furey also offers a free daily emailing... I haven't subscribed yet, but I've heard from others that a reminder in the mailbox goes a long way towards helping them get off their butts and onto the floor for a workout.
On the downside, the book needs a good editor, and some of the photgraphs don't work well at clarifying the form you should be shooting for. Ideally a book like this would use illustrations and diagrams rather than just photographs. Still, most of the exercises are simple enough that you can figure them out from the pictures and text provided.
Yes, I got paid for running the ad for this book, and I also accepted a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for writing a review. I can now put "paid in full" on my obligations, and move on to other things, but I'm not going to. This book will be kept where it's handy, and I am going to keep doing workouts from its pages.
(I'm also going to have another pass through Karate-Do Kyohan, and see if I can find room in my living spaces for some of those kata I've all but forgotten how to do.)