Functional Fitness

As the new year begins, I am excited about reviving my cardio training and getting back in shape. It took a back seat last year due to some other priorities (life, it happens). With the new year in mind, this post will provide an overview of a central part to my fitness – high intensity interval training.

Exercise theory and techniques have evolved considerably since I started martial arts over 20 years ago. Back then, stretches were done in a static manner as a way to warm up the muscles, rather than dynamic once the muscles were already warmed up. If you wanted to get flexible, you stretched for 20 minutes. If you wanted to get strong, you lifted weights for 2 hours a day / 4 times a week. If you wanted cardio, you went running or rode a stationary bike for 30-45 minutes a day. Working out was a tremendous time commitment, focused on isolated muscle groups, a trade-off between aerobic vs. anaerobic, and quite honestly very boring. People got strong, yet had no flexibility or stamina – or they had stamina that was limited to certain movements (e.g., running, cycling) without a full, dynamic range of motion. Similar trade-offs also applied to martial artists which followed training routines still from the 1960s-70s (e.g., great flexible kicks vs. strong deep stances), and new techniques would often turn an experienced karateka into a beginner as their body struggled to break out of ingrained movements.

The exercise world began a transformation in the late 1990s following a landmark study by Dr. Izumu Tabata on training techniques pioneered by Irisawa Kochi, head coach of the Japanese Speed Skating team. Initially coined the “Tabata Protocol”, it proved a new form high-intensity interval-training was far more effective than traditional workouts in only a fraction of the time. Interval training has been around for years. What was different about Dr. Tabata’s methods is that it focused on maximum exertion, short-burst sets that alternated muscle groups with very minimal breaks between sets. This was based on the understanding that your muscular endurance will fail before your cardiovascular endurance, or in other words, keep at maximum exertion by switching between muscle groups just before they reached failure. A four-minute Tabata program was as effective as a 20-minute traditional workout; a 20-minute Tabata program replaced a 2-hour traditional workout. Along with many others, the American Council on Exercise endorses the Tabata Workout Protocol as a highly effective, evidence-based exercise method.

This evolved into High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which is now the standard for professional athletes and fitness experts. Traditional weight lifting and isolated cardio is still important, however it is now viewed as a supplement to HIIT. HIIT exercises can be simple – such as plank holds, push-ups, sprints, v-sit ups, squats, and jumping rope. To get maximum effect, working multiple muscles and dynamic ranges in a single set, they are combined into compound movements – such as burpees, spider push-ups, jump squats, side-to-side c-sit ups, mountain climbers, and high knees. 30-60 second sets rotating exercises through various combinations, with or without a 10-15 second break. Shaun T calls it “max interval training”; Tony Horton calls it “muscle confusion”. The benefit of these hybrid exercises is that they integrate cardio, core, plyometrics, strength, agility, and flexibility into a highly functional form of fitness.

What do you need? Very little as you are primarily using your own body’s weight. Of course, check with your doctor first to ensure you are physically able to handle this training and go at your own pace (legal disclaimer).

      Keep it simple:       Add over time:
  • Court or cross-fit sneakers (need to be handle lots of lateral movements; not running shoes as they provide little-to-no lateral stability)
  • Jump rope ($5 at Sports Basement)
  • Towel
  • Chin-up bar
  • Medicine ball
  • Kettle bell
  • Dumbell weights (rubber padded hex weights in pairs)
  • Yoga mat
  • Speed ladder (for speed & agility drills)
  • Tabata timer ($4 phone app)

Here is a sample routine that really works the whole body and only needs a small space to do it in. Keep your form, take a short 2-3 second break if your form ever suffers, and then get right back into. Let’s go!

Sample HIIT Workout (Total Time = 14 minutes)
Jump Rope
Warm-up pace

2 minutes
20 seconds each

  • Standard feet together (in place)
  • Jumping Jack feet (in place)
  • Squat feet together (in place)
  • Ski feet (forward-back shuffle like a Nordic track)
  • High knee jog (in place)
  • High knee sprint (in place; double-speed rope)
Break: 60 seconds / drink water
Round 1
Moderate pace

30 seconds each
No break between

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Side-to-Side Lateral Sprint (bring knees above waist)
  • Jump Cross Squats (jump high, squat to touch floor, touch opposite foot; repeat)
  • Burpees (jump up, squat down, plank, push-up; repeat)(or Plank In/Out as modifier)
  • Suicide Sprints (one-two-three sprint steps, touch floor; repeat other direction)
  • High Knee Twist Run (bring knees above waist, twist body side-to-side / elbows in)
Break: 60 seconds / drink water
Round 2
Intense pace

30 seconds each
No break between

  • Repeat above
Break: 60 seconds / drink water
Round 3
All out, everything you have

20 seconds each
No break between

  • Repeat above

Keep going! Breath and go!

  • Jump Rope Jog (imaginary rope)
  • Plank In/Out (in place)(or Up/Down Plank as modifier)
  • Spider Push-up (in place)(or Spider Plank as modifier)

While I could script my own workouts, I find it much more rewarding and ultimately fun to follow a DVD workout program, such as Insanity or P90X. The quality and variety of these programs are simply incredible. After a long day at work, it is great to pop in a DVD and have my own professional trainer. It keeps me motivated, focused, and gets me to push harder (or dig deeper, to quote Shaun T) than I could on my own. The planning and experience that goes into the overall curriculum, which typically includes between 6-12 different workouts, is top notch, and it shows. Beachbody is the main production house for these programs, with the most popular trainers being Shaun T and Tony Horton. As far as which program, that is ultimately a matter of personal preference as each trainer has a different personality and fitness focus. There are also great reviews online that walk through every part of these programs and even compare them side-by-side (check out Dysfunctional Parrot’s website).

As far as the DVDs go, I really like Shaun T’s Focus T-25 and Insanity series. Tony Horton is also a great coach, and I may try one of his series someday, however the energy and cardio/core/strength focus of Shaun T’s programs really click with me. Muscle and Performance published a lengthy article in 2013 profiling Shaun T’s Insanity DVD and this approach to training, explaining in depth the high-intensity compound movements, as well as a sample workout for those looking to try it out. Men’s Health has a January 2015 cover story on these programs, albeit the Muscle and Performance article is much more informative. Men’s Health also did a story on Shaun T, as a trainer, in June 2013.

Comparison of DVD-based Fitness Programs

Series Shaun T Tony Horton
Style Comparison Cardio and Core with Strength Strength and Core with Cardio
Foundation Focus T-25 / Alpha P90
Intermediate Focus T-25 / Beta & Gamma P90 X3
Advanced Insanity
P90 X
Elite Insanity:Asylum Vol 1
Insanity:Asylum Vol 2
P90 X2
Focus T-25
P90 X3
P90 X

Recommended YouTube Channels

  • Tony Horton – Great collection of 5-10 minute programs that are added to regularly
  • Shaun T Fitness – Periodically posts short add-on routines and longer-length routines
  • Functional Patterns – Collection of cross-fit, kettle bell, and general training videos
  • Brad Gouthro – Collection of tabata-oriented training and nutrition videos
  • Fightmaster Yoga – This channel has many yoga routines, however I particularly recommend the routines by ‘Tim’ (Yoga with Tim) as they are narrated with very helpful instructions throughout, demonstrate wonderful form, and a bit more athletic than most yoga sets
  • Yoga with Tim – More sets by Tim
  • Mark Gonzalez – Yoga with an athletic bent, specially a set of three routines in progression; requires a general familiarity with the yoga movements as it is not narrated


Collection of great quotes:

“Tactics flow from a superior position.” — Bobby Fischer, chess master

“The defensive power of a pinned piece is imaginary.” — Aaron Nimzowitsch, chess master

“At least one time in your life, train with the will to die.” — Enson Inoue

“Day after day train your heart out, refining your technique. That is the discipline of the Warrior.” — Morihei Ueshiba

“Our fears don’t stop death, they stop life.” — Rickson Gracie

“It only counts when you are exhausted. Train until you get tired and see what you can do then.” — Kron Gracie

“Advanced techniques are fundamentals done really well.” — Matt Thornton

“It is easy to kill someone with a slash of a sword. It is hard to be impossible for others to cut down.” — Yagyū Munenori

“Don’t be rushed, be sure.” — Rickson Gracie

“My strategy is not to give them a chance to hit me.” — Royce Gracie

“Rule your mind or it will rule you.” — Horatius, 65 BC.

“In randori we learn to employ the principle of maximum efficiency even when we could easily overpower an opponent.” — Jigoro Kano.

Chōshin Chibana – Rare video footage of a direct inheritor of Anko Itosu karate

Chōshin Chibana (知花 朝信 Chibana Chōshin, 5 June 1885 – 26 February 1969) was an Okinawan martial artist who developed Shorin-ryu karate based on what he had learned from Anko Itosu. He was the last of the pre-World War karate masters, also called the “Last Warrior of Shuri”. He was the first to establish a Japanese ryu name for an Okinawan karate style, calling Itosu’s karate “Shorin-Ryu” (or “the small forest style”) in 1928.

Ankō Itosu had many students who later became famous martial arts as karate grew spread from Okinawa to Japan and then across the world, including Kentsu Yabu (1866–1937), Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957), Chomo Hanashiro (1869–1945), Choki Motobu (1870-1944), Chotoku Kyan (1870–1945), Moden Yabiku (1880–1941), Chōshin Chibana (1885–1969), Kenwa Mabuni (1887–1952), Kanken Toyama (1888–1966), and Shinpan Shiroma (Gusukuma) (1890–1954).


Choshin Chibana was born June 5, 1885, in the Torihori district of Shuri. At the age of 15, Chibana placed himself under the tutelage of Anko Itosu, the preeminent Karate master of the day. For the next 13 years until Itosu passing at the age of 85, Chibana remained a devoted pupil. He then practiced further austerities alone, until he finally opened his dojo in Torihori district at the age of 34. There and at his second dojo in Kumojo district of Naha City, he worked to teach the tenets of Karate.

After a narrow escape from in the Battle of Okinawa, Chibana returned to Shuri from the Chinen Village and immediately began teaching again, first in the Gibo area. He taught then at 10 different sites in Yamakawa district of Shuri and Naha, eventually relocating his main dojo from Asato, then to Mihara. During this period from February 1954 to December 1958, he served as Karate Advisor and Senior Instructor for the Shuri Police Precinct. In May of 1956, the Okinawa Karate Federation was formed and he assumed office as its first President.

In August, 1964, in memory of the 50th anniversary of the death of his teacher Anko Itosu, Chibana Sensei erected a monument at the Itosu family tomb.

In 1960, the Okinawa Times newspaper awarded Chibana Sensei its first Award for Distinguished Public Service in Physical Education. In the spring of 1968, he was given the Fourth Degree of Merit Zuiho Decoration for survivors of the war. In 1966, he relocated to Tokyo’s Cancer Center, where treatment allowed a brief reprieve which he used to train with his grandchildren. At the celebration in honor of his Zuiho Decoration, Chibana Sensei surprised and delighted the audience by dancing. However, he was incapacitated again before the end of the year, and on February 26, 1969, he passed away in Omaha Hospital at 6:40 in the morning.

By Katsuya Miyahira, Chairman, Okinawan Shorin Ryu Karate Association, composed March 22, 1972


Kushanko Sho  (Kanku Sho)

Itosu no Passai (Bassai Dai)

Matsumura no Passai (Bassai Den)

Naihanchi Shodan (Tekki Den)

Naihanchi Nidan (Tekki Nidan)

Naihanchi Sandan (Tekki Sandan)

Ankle Pick… it is everywhere!

Ankle pick takedowns are everywhere in karate, and in kata from every lineage. Let me repeat that… ankle picks are everywhere.  Heian Godan, Kanku Dai, Bassai Dai, Shisochin, Kururunfa, and the list goes on. It is part of the basic toolset that every martial artist of every size should have.

Kata often executes the technique from a stationary stance, however in application the takedown can be done in any direction. Continuing to drive forward, turning to either side in a spiral, or stepping back with a pull. Staying high to throw or driving low into ne waza. Same side or opposite side feet. Stepping to Uke’s inside or outside. With so many options, it is important to remember three critical parts that apply in every variation: (1) off-balancing (kuzushi) and keeping this pressure continuously, (2) quickly picking the ankle and elevating it in a single motion, and (3) maintaining your frame (e.g., arm extension, posture). The actual takedown comes easy when these fundamentals are in place.

In Judo, it is referred to as Kibisu Gaeshi or Heel Trip Reversal. The Kodokan website provides a simple description and continues on with several variations and practical applications: “In the technique, Kibisu-gaeshi, Tori lowers his body and grabs Uke’s heel from the inside or outside with one hand and sweeps Uke down backward in a split second.

Kibisu Gaeshi is part of a newer series of 17 techniques called Shinmeisho No Waza (newly accepted techniques) that were added to the official Kodokan curriculum in 1982.  As such, it is not included in the older texts that are often referenced as the judo standards.  It is an incredibly effective takedown, however it is prohibited in the Kodokan competitive rules due to potentially dangerous to Uke.

Possibly the best illustration of the effectiveness of this takedown in a combative application is it’s prevalence in jiujitsu tournaments. As well, this technique is a staple in nearly every form of Eastern and Western grappling and wrestling.  The Jiu Jitsu Laboratory has a great post on the ankle pick, including multiple video examples from live jiu-jitsu competition and a tutorial by Judo Olympic gold medalist and coach Jimmy Pedro.  One of the better videos is a collection of clips showing Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza using this simple takedown over and over again.

Kosen Judo – A reference for Ne Waza

There are some good Kosen Judo videos now posted on YouTube that can be useful references for ne waza.

Kosen judo refers to a set of competition rules of Kodokan judo with particular emphasis on ground grappling techniques such as pinning holds, joint locks and chokeholds, referred to as newaza in Japanese martial arts. (Wikipedia)

Kosen Judo is often said to reflect how judo was practiced before the rules were modified for modern competition. Judo was introduced to the Japanese school system in the early 1900s and schools started holding their own judo competitions in 1914. The rules of a Kosen judo match were mainly Dai Nippon Butokukai and Kodokan rules prior to 1925 changes. In 1916, changes were made to Kododan rules that limited the use of kansetsu waza. These were further restrictions added to Kodokan rules in 1925, in direct response to Kosen Judo’s use of ne waza at the expense of tachi waza, to ban all remaining joint locks except those applied to the elbow, as well as prohibiting the drag down of an opponent to enter ne waza without the use of tachi waza.

The rules of Kosen Judo differed from Kodokan Judo in that competitive matches were allowed to use many types of kansetsu waza, shime waza, and continue in ne waza for extended times. Kosen Judo also allowed competitors to enter directly into ne waza without first applying tachi waza through an “arm drags” or “sitting to guard”. In many ways, this rule set is similar to today’s brazilian jiu-jitsu. In contrast, Kodokan Judo (post-1925) would reset competitors after a short time on the mat and required tachi waza (at least in clear attempt) before moving to the ground. Kosen Judo continued to be actively practiced in Japanese high schools and universities up through the 1940s, and is still used by some clubs today.

The importance of how a martial art’s rules of competition can shape the future of that art must be emphasized here. The techniques of Kodokan Judo and Kosen Judo are still the same and both follow the traditional Judo curriculum, only the rules of competition are different. It is worth studying how Judo has evolved since the modifications and restrictions to the Kodokdan rules were implemented in the 1910s-1920s. Additional changes continue to made, such as the new IJF rules for 2014 which now make many of the basic ways to break grips illegal (i.e., removing your opponent’s grip from your sleeve or collar). Some will argue that all of these changes were done to make the sport safe. Some will argue it was to make the sport more exciting for spectators. Others will argue that it limits how the curriculum is practiced, determines what is emphasized and what is ignored, and – over time – will change the applicability of the art.

Notes from the whiteboard | July 2014

Summer-cleaning of the dojo so it’s time to wash the whiteboard.  A strong theme over the first half of this year has been on position management and distance management. Manage your angles, manage your distance, and stay safe in your defense.

Burpees & Kettle Bells … Core Cardio & Functional Strength.
30 seconds on / 15 seconds off

  • Warm-up: double-hop turn, double-hop(turn) squat, single-hop turn, single-hop(turn) squat, single-jack(turn) squat
  • Standard burpees
  • Kettle Bell swings 1
  • Salutation burpees
  • Swim 1
  • Power knee burpees
  • Kettle Bell swings 2
  • Power squat (aka squat jacks)
  • Swim 2
  • Side plank burpees
  • Kettle Bell swings 3
  • Standard burpees
  • Burn out: Agility footwork (up/center/back/center/out/in/out/in)

We have also been practicing several ne waza self-defense sequences. Whether standing or on the ground, the techniques are the same.

Self-defense sequences
Study: Heian Godan – from the ankle pick / heel trip takedown (see 4m58s) (Kibisu Gaeshi) in the ending movements

  • A. Single-leg takedown
  • B. Pass guard to mount position
  • C. Cross choke from mount
    • i. palm up / palm up (hand in collar
    • ii. palm up / palm down (thumb in collar)
    • iii. palm up / palm down (hand cupping shoulder)

Self-defense sequences
Study: Bassai Dai – from the double tettsui ichi to floating ribs (see 5m29s) in the middle of the kata

  • A. Double-leg takedown to mount
  • B. Trap and roll (ups) [step B switches roles; or skip B and go from A to C to maintain the same role of who is Tori and Uke]
  • C. Pass guard to mount position
  • D. Take back (transition via technical mount)
  • E. Rear naked choke

Self-defense sequences
Study: Heian Sandan / Nijushiho – ne waza alternate to the ude guruma that can be an application at the beginning of Heian Shodan (see 2m47s) or the middle of Nijushiho (see 1m53s)

  • A. Sit to open guard, holding collar/sleeve and foot on hip
  • B. Flower sweep onto their back
  • C. Side control
  • D. Kimura arm lock from side control (finish leg over neck; opposite of Americana)
  • A. Sit to open guard, holding collar/sleeve and foot on hip
  • B. Pull into closed guard
  • C. Kimura arm lock from guard (finish leg over back)

Two words: Core Strength

Core coordination, flexibility, and multi-dimensional strength are very important for well-rounded martial artist. However, many traditional dojos often overlook these crucial components, rather favoring high-repetition or single-dimension exercises. We can learn a lot by studying the movements and training drills of yoga and grappling-based arts. Here are two videos to test those warriors among us:

I highly recommend browsing through the other videos posted by these YouTube contributors, Mark Gonzales and Jason Scully. All of their materials are top grade.