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GTG and Ladders in Martial Arts Training

June 14, 2002 08:14 AM

In this article I would like to describe some of the drills that I put together to help my martial arts training. I do my forms, kicking and punching drills, footwork drills while holding a kettlebell, and ladder drills which combine using a kick and a leg switch, or a hand technique with a side change, in a ladder scheme. These are awesome for solo practice. It maximizes volume with little loss of technique or power (if you are doing it right or not going to the point of sloppiness.) It is merely an example of another use for GTG and ladders and their effectiveness.
I got the idea when my Wing Chun Sifu was describing kicking drills, which he said were to "build muscle memory", meaning a good conditioned response you can use in a fight because the technique has been "programmed" into you and is dependable, clean and powerful. Here is what I came up with:

1. Don't train to muscle burnout (unless you are testing or checking your max amount of techniques you can execute) because that builds bad, sloppy habits.
2. Train often.
3. Use good form.
4. Prioritize your weak side (that is why traditional WC people do everything first on the left, because most people are righties. Except for me.)

For instance, in order to do better punches, well just need to do a lot of punches. My Sifu usually said to do 500 good punches a day (at least). However, for most people (myself included), doing 500 punches in a row is hard and the last punches are usually sloppy because of lack of focus and fatigue. Result? Training bad, lazy technique = Bad punches. What I started doing is a few times a day do 70-100 punches at a good clip, which usually takes about a minute if you're punching at about 2 punches a second - not even combat speed! You can pay more attention to the technique because you're not doing tons of mindless punches and since you're not really getting tired, you can train good reflexes rather than sloppy ones. Eventually the 500 punches can be done in a row with less of a problem. I have personally found that I have improved my technique, and the circuit training conditioning has also helped my power.
Something similar could also work with other techniques to build good "muscle memory". This type of training can be used to clean up your technique, and seems to work. Work at a speed that allows good form, and just do it often. Don't do it till your muscles are all burnt out, then you will get sloppy. Once the technique is clean, go practice applying it in whatever methods your style uses, be it sticky hands, sparring, randori, drills, etc.

Here's a kicking drill for you, using the "ladder" principle. Kicking is also hard, as many people are not used to using their feet as weapons, and the Wing Chun kicks, while not high kicks, still require a lot of technical refinement to do properly. To work on kicks, you can do the same type of kicking drills my Sifu was showing in class. They involve doing multiple kicks in sequence without putting the foot down, and adding footwork too. (As a note, I think those types of drills work best with low kicks because it is really difficult and often impractical to try doing multiple high kicks with no resting the foot. However, it may work just as well with conventional kicks where you do put your foot down, or where you change kicking levels, i.e., high to low, low to high, etc.) He said to do them all different ways. I like to do them fast, slow, tense, loose, mixed up, etc. I like them, and they are a lot of fun.
Here's an idea for working kicks. A kicking "ladder". The idea here is to avoid a lot of muscle fatigue while still doing a lot of kicks in a given time. I used to just do a bunch of kicks on either side, until one side was tired, then the other. Then I heard about this "ladder" idea, and it worked very well. One day when the instructor was late to my martial arts class, I warmed up the students using this drill. So instead of just doing tons of kicks on one side, then switching, I did a ladder. It works like this:
1. When I say "kick" it could mean a single kick, or a combo.
2. When I say "switch", it could mean any footwork move that involves changing from a left to right stance, i.e. switching feet, standing in a horse stance and going back and forth, etc.
3. This whole sequence is done with no rest:

1 kick on the left
1 kick on the right
2 kicks on the left
2 kicks on the right

till you get to the point where your legs are getting tired, like 10 kicks. However, if this is done in sequence without stopping, the right leg kicking is the "rest" for the left, etc. So if these are all done in sequence up to 10, you have 55 kicks per leg, with a lot less fatigue that you would most likely have if you did 55 in a row on the left leg, then the right. Then if you want to do more, you can go back to 1 kick, and work up again. You may be able to do hundreds of kicks with a lot less leg fatigue and in less time too! (I personally tried this to its ultimate conclusion recently? if you go up to 10, and then work until you drop to 1, you will do 220 kicks on either side in a little less than 10 minutes. Your form will also stay good.

The above drill also adds the foot switching practice into it. It is a lot of fun (for me at least), and packs a lot of work into a short period of time. I had to teach a martial arts class recently when the instructor couldn't make it. The students liked the drill a lot, and most of them were able to follow along fine, and their form stayed solid as well.

Another idea is doing footwork and shifting drills while holding a kettlebell, or wearing a weighted vest, and using low stances. This will really condition your legs.
I hope this gives you ideas for your training. "Enjoy!"

Joey Glaser is from Brooklyn, New York, but currently resides in Manhattan where he is attending medical school. He is very fortunate to be studying Wing Chun Kung Fu under one of the best Sifus out there today, Master Alan Goldberg, number one student of Grandmaster Jason Lau. Com. Glaser is grateful to his senior kung fu students and classmates for their help in studying the art. He also would like to thank Pavel and all the comrades on this board for their advice, which have helped him realize that you can improve your fitness and strength without having to turn to bodybuilding or running marathons.