Martial Arts and fitness

Physical conditioning is an integral part of martial arts and combat sports training. It all depends on the discipline, the instructor, the objectives, the time spent on the tatami or in the boxing gym… the part of training devoted to developing physical skills is more or less important, depending on the criteria favoured.

There was a time when, in boxing gyms, beginners did a lot of jumping rope before donning the gloves. First cardio and footwork, then strikes and strategy. In the Chinese martial arts of the Shaolin current, tradition dictates that the novice spends time in a certain posture, for example in Ma Bu 馬步 “the horse stance”, in order to strengthen himself and gain good structure and stability before devoting himself fully to martial practice.

Sport Performance Pyramid

In the field of sport in general, we often speak of a performance pyramid, with 4 pillars on which to work in order to create a complete and optimized athlete with a view to winning a competition.

4 pillars for self-defense management

In my opinion, these pillars are totally transferable to an individual in a self-defense situation. However, I don’t think the pyramid structure is appropriate, as I attach great importance to the mind in such situations. Stress management is of paramount importance and will have a major influence on the outcome of the confrontation.

This circular representation of the 4 pillars is not set in stone; it varies according to our perception and the martial art or combat sport we practice. But also, and above all, according to our personal development. Perhaps at 30, I’ll be putting the emphasis on physical fitness, but at 70, I’ll be putting more emphasis on technique and tactics, without ever neglecting the mental aspect.


A Chinese proverb says Yat Daam, Yi Lik, Saam Kung Fu 一膽二力三功夫, which means “firstly courage, secondly power, thirdly Kung Fu”. According to this proverb, it is in this order that the martial arts practitioner must focus to reach a level of excellence ; first courage, the mental aspect. Then power, the physical aspect. And lastly, Kung Fu, the principles, concepts and techniques of combat. I invite you to read David Peterson’s excellent article on this subject, which offers a testimony to the thinking of his sifu, Wong Shun Leung, the renowned Wing Chun master. [1]

Poster for the film Yat Daam Yi Lik Saam Kung Fu in Cantonese, known as Fist and Guts in the West. A 1979 film by Chia Yung Liu, starring Gordon Liu.


Alongside martial arts, I’ve always tried to do activities to develop my physical and mental skills.

Martial arts training alone is not enough to become a seasoned practitioner. There’s a whole part of the training, particularly the work on physical condition, that can be done very well outside the weekly classes. In classical martial arts training, in group classes, the partners are there, so it’s wiser to take advantage of them and concentrate more on technique and sparring, for example.

Fitness takes on a life of its own outside conventional training. Activities can be varied according to individual tastes and the skills you want to develop : cardio, strength, power, flexibility, speed…

The same applies to mental conditioning. It’s largely for this reason that I practice the Wim Hof method and take cold showers every morning.

Bruce Lee doing body weight training in the set of Game Of Death, 1972.

After this brief introduction, I’ll talk more about fitness in the rest of this post.

Although I’ve been interested in developing my cardiovascular capacities, strength and power, recently it’s been mobility that I’ve wanted to focus on. The Wing Chun I practice is a close combat system, so there’s a whole range of movement that is not, or very rarely, used. One of the fundamental concepts of the system is to always face one’s opponent, so most movements of the upper and lower limbs are carried out in a sagittal plane, almost exclusively facing forwards. Movements in the frontal plane are uuncommon, although not totally non-existent (e.g. fat/fak sau 拂手 or man sau 問手).


After exploring exercises from Systema and Yoga, I finally opted for QMT (Quadrupedal Movement Training), which has become fashionable in fitness, bodybuilding and physical rehabilitation circles in recent years.


Decomposition of side kicktrhoughAnimal Flow

The benefits of quadruped movement

All human beings go through this phase from the very first months of life. The baby experiences the process of locomotion through the phases of crawling. These phases are extremely important for the development of neural coordination, while building the muscular synergies that will form the basis of bipedal walking.

On the other hand, quadruped movement plays an important role in the early stages of neurological development, and is absolutely essential for human development. It stimulates and organizes neurons for cognitive processes such as comprehension, concentration and memory. It establishes hand-eye coordination, which is important for reading, writing and sports activities, and conditions binocular vision. Finally, it enhances brain lateralization through the practice of cross-lateral movements, improving communication between the two sides of the brain and thus learning.

“Performance of a novel, progressive, and challenging task, requiring the coordination of all 4 limbs, has a beneficial impact on cognitive flexibility.”

according to a 2016 study [2]

Are there any advantages to using quadruped movements in adulthood ?

There are plenty of them. Without wishing to be exhaustive, here are just a few of the benefits of practicing quadruped movements.

In the quadruped position, almost all joints are loaded with body weight to resist the downward pull of gravity. This enables great communication between the different parts of the body : hips, shoulders, spine, lower and upper limbs. As a result, quadruped movements improve coordination, particularly between arms and legs, as well as proprioception, this means the ability to feel and become aware of our body in space.

As a bodyweight method, quadruped movements are performed in a Closed Kinetic Chain (CKC). This means that the hands and feet are fixed, resting on the floor, and it’s the body that moves around its fixed points. Unlike most body-building exercises performed with machines or weights, where the body doesn’t move and it’s the arms and legs that move in space, we speak of Open Kinetic Chain (OKC).

As the body is structurally designed to move in space, closed kinetic chain exercises develop proprioception, core strength and muscular capacities that are more easily transferable to other types of mobility.

Finally, according to a study carried out in 2020 [3], results indicate that *QMT methods can improve FMS (Functional Movement Screen) scores and range of motion in the hips and shoulders. As a form of bodyweight training, QMT methods are highly accessible and can be used with a wide range of individuals and abilities. These methods can represent a plausible alternative training strategy used during warm-ups, integrated into a training program as accessory exercises or as a stand-alone workout with the aim of simultaneously improving joint range of motion and whole-body stabilization.

*QMT > in this particular study, Animal Flow’s L1 program was investigated as a method of Quadrupedal Movement Training.

Animal Flow uses animal locomotion movements, here forward ape.

I practice a bodyweight training method called Animal Flow, which has many benefits for the body in general, and which I find very complementary for martial arts practitioners. This system aims to develop mobility, flexibility, strength, power, stamina and muscular coordination.


For those who practice martial arts or combat sports, I recommend this special program from Animal Flow.

👉 Animal Flow for Martial Arts and Combat Sports 👈


Below is a link to the official Animal Flow website.

👉 Site officiel d’Animal Flow 👈


For a presentation of Animal Flow in French, follow this link.

ANIMAL FLOW® is a trademarks of Global Bodyweight Training, LLC, used under license.


[1] Wing Chun Illustrated, issue 40, PETERSON David, MUI FA Publishing, 2018

[2] Quadrupedal movement training improves markers of cognition and joint repositioning

[3] The effects of a novel quadrupedal movement training program on functional movement, range of motion, muscular strength, and endurance  Buxton et al, 2020. publication The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research


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