A “mixture of fencing and fighting.  Basically we use our hands and feet instead of swords.” ~ Ryan Huntley

Sport karate point sparring is the finest example of speed and athleticism in today’s competitive martial arts world.  A game of chess, incorporating movements intended to direct your opponent into a vulnerable position in order to allow you to strike at them without being hit yourself.  The best fighters in the world not only have the ability to “see” the minute opportunities but the physical ability to make the most of those opportunities in order to score the points needed to achieve the win.

Physical conditioning is an absolute necessity for a successful point sparring career.  Speed, explosive strength and agility are the traits found in those who are considered the very best in the sport.  Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises are necessary for a well rounded athlete.  Distance running, interval training, strength training and plyometric drills are an excellent way to improve your physical conditioning.  This thesis will focus on a plyometric workout intended to improve joint stability, fast twitch muscle response time and explosive strength to help the point sparring athlete throw faster more accurate kicks and punches.

Plyometrics (Greek “pleythyein”; to augment or increase): exercise training designed to improve the function of the nervous system in order to produce fast powerful movements.

Plyometrics have many benefits from prevention of injury to development of power and fast twitch performance.  The exercises are classified as a set of movements intended to train nerves to respond with a muscle contraction that is as strong as possible in the shortest amount of time.  Muscular strength is a reference to how much force a muscle can be applied to do something, such as the ability to lift a heavy weight.  Muscle size and strength is by no means an indicator of muscle speed.  Plyometrics helps with rapid force development or power; weight training focuses on maximal force output or strength.  Plyometric exercises are not inherently dangerous, but the intense repetitive movements increase the potential for joint stress especially for those who are not already in good physical shape.

Joint stability is benefited by plyometric exercises through the use of neuromuscular training and proprioception.  Proprioception is the unconscious ability to detect the position, direction, speed, amplitude and movement of joints. The information is delivered from the sensory neurons located in the inner ear and the stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments that support joints. A high level of neuromuscular control and sensitive proprioceptive feedback can cause rapid appropriate response to any variation of forces on the joints during activity and decrease the risk of injury.

Muscles are “the movers” of the body.  They provide us with the ability to produce tension, hold a static position or resist tension.  This is achieved either by pulling the fibers together, letting them slide apart or keeping them still. The number of muscle fibers and the cross sectional size of the muscle determines the strength of the muscle contraction.

There are three different types of muscle fibers found in the human body; slow twitch and two types of fast twitch.  Aerobic activity such as long distance running or jumping rope uses the slow twitch muscle fibers.  Slow twitch fibers contract slowly and are more resistant to fatigue.  Anaerobic activity like that found in plyometric drills access the two types of fast twitch muscle fibers.  They are used for short intense activities such as sprinting and lifting of heavy objects.  Slow twitch fibers cannot be converted into fast twitch and vice versa, but specific types of training can increase the ratio of slow/fast twitch muscle area.  Hypertrophy, which is the increase of cell size rather than the multiplication of cells, is a trait of the fast twitch muscle fibers therefore the area occupied by the fast twitch muscle fibers can be increased to occupy up to 75% of the targeted muscle.

Three types of muscle movements constitute a plyometric drill or exercise.  First, eccentric phase then concentric phase and completed by amortization phase.  Eccentric phase is the rapid lengthening of the muscle. It is the preloading of the muscle group during which the muscle spindles are stimulated and elastic energy is stored.  Lengthening the muscle just prior to the contraction produces greater force through the storage of energy.  Rapid transition to the concentric phase which occurs when a muscle is shortened and develops tension conditions the neurons to contract with a single powerful surge rather than multiple disorganized contractions.  The resting or amortization phase should be short, no more than 1 to 2 seconds. The transition from eccentric to concentric phase is the primary mechanism of plyometric training and is known as the stretch shortening cycle (SSC).  The sensory response of the muscle spindles and the golgi tendon organs is affected by the SSC.  The increased excitatory threshold of the golgi tendon organs causes them to become less likely to send signals limiting force production when the fast twitch muscle fibers have increased tension (concentric phase) placed on them.  Altering the timing and speed of the drill or exercise allows the muscle fibers to contract more quickly and powerfully.

Before beginning a plyometric program one should be able to squat 1.5 times their own body weight.  A considerable strength base is important in order to experience a successful and safe plyometric program.  Proper warm up includes cardio aerobic exercise such as jogging or jumping rope along with dynamic stretches that mime the exercises to be performed.  Flexibility via static stretches should be the primary focus of the cool down period to allow the gradual return to the pre-exercise state.  Quality, not quantity is the most important factor of plyometric training.  All exercises should be performed at no less than 95% effort.  The most common cause of injury during plyometrics is insufficient recovery time.  1-3 minutes between sets to allow for neuromuscular recovery with 3-5 minutes between exercises is the recommended recovery during a training session.  Plyometrics are counted by “contacts”, i.e. 2 sets of 6 bunny hops is 12 contacts.  The experienced athlete may have up to 200 contacts in a session.  Two to three days between plyometric sessions is recommended along with a complete weight training and cardio/respiratory exercise routine.

Lower body plyometric exercises/drills are as follows; jumps, hops or bounding.  Jumps are exercises where one takes off from one or two feet but lands with both feet.  Jumps can be done in place like jumping jacks or for distance like the long jump.  Hops are an exercise where one takes off and lands on the same foot.  Hops require more strength and joint stability than jumps.  Bounding is done for distance and alternates taking off from one foot and landing on the other.

  • Drop Jumping:
    • Drop to the ground from a raised platform and then immediately jump up.
      • The drop down gives the stretch to the leg muscles (eccentric phase) and the drive upward allows the secondary concentric phase.
      • The shorter the amount of time the feet are in contact with the ground the more effective the exercise
    • Squat Jumps:
      • Stand with feet shoulder width apart
      • Lower body to where thighs are parallel to ground
      • Immediately explode upwards vertically and drive arms up
        • Do not hold the squat position before jumping, minimize the time between dipping down and jumping up
      • Jump to box:
        • Face box with feet shoulder width apart
        • Lower into squat position
        • Jump up onto box
          • Do not hold squat position before jumping up on the box
        • Step back down, do not jump to repeat
      • Lateral jump to box:
        • Stand next to box with feet hip width apart
        • Lower into squat position
        • Jump up onto box
          • Do not hold squat position before jumping up on the box
        • Step back down, do not jump to repeat
      • Tuck jumps:
        • Stand with feet shoulder width apart knees slightly bent
        • Jump up bringing knees to chest
        • Land on balls of feet
        • Repeat rapidly
          • Limit ground contact by landing on the balls of the feet and springing immediately into the air
        • Lateral box push offs:
          • Stand to one side of box and place left foot on the top of box
          • Push off box vertically as high as possible driving arms upward
          • Land with right foot on box and left foot on ground
        • Zigzag Hops:
          • Use agility ladder
          • Forcefully push off one foot and land on other side of ladder on same foot
          • Repeat on opposite foot
  • Depth jumps:
    • Stand on box with toes on edge, feet shoulder width apart
    • Step off box and land on both feet
    • Immediately jump vertically as high as possible driving arms upward
    • Land on ground softly

Sport karate point sparring requires split second decision making followed by explosive power for blitzes and kicking.  All of the drills listed above have many physical benefits but the specific point sparring benefits are:

  • The power of the push to gain distance for a pull-drag offensive kick.
  • Faster chamber and reaction time for defensive kick techniques.
  • Increased height of kicks allowing for more target opportunities.
  • Multiple kick combinations without placing the foot back on the floor.

Specific muscles targeted:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upper body plyometric drills access use of a medicine ball, kettle bell or boxes.

  • Upper Body Altitude Drop
  • Elevate yourself with your arms up on boxes in a push-up position.
  • Drop off the boxes, land on a padded surface on the ground and attempt to absorb the impact.
  • Bend your arms no more then ¼ range and do 3-4 reps of this per set.
    • Never increase the box height above the height that allows you to land with minimal arm bend.
  • Upper Body Depth Jumps:
  • Elevate yourself with your arms up on boxes in a push-up position.
  • Drop off the boxes, land on a padded surface on the ground and attempt to absorb the impact
  • Upon landing attempt to rebound yourself back up on the boxes with each rep.
  • Bend your arms no more then ¼ range and do 3-4 reps of this per set.
    • Never increase the box height above the height that allows you to land with minimal arm bend.
  • Overhead Throws
  • Stand with one foot in front (staggered stance) with knees slightly bent.
  • Pull medicine ball back behind head and forcefully throw ball forward as far as possible into the wall.
  • Catch ball on the bounce from the wall and repeat according to prescribed repetitions.
    • Keep the time between pulling the ball back and starting the throw to a minimum.
  • Side Throws
  • Stand with feet hip-width apart; place left foot approximately one foot in front of right foot.
  • Hold medicine ball with both hands and arms only slightly bent.
  • Swing ball over to the right hip and forcefully underhand toss ball forward to a partner
  • Keep the stomach drawn in to maximize proper usage of muscle.
  • Catch ball on the bounce from your partner
  • Slams
  • Stand with feet parallel, shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Pull medicine ball back behind head and forcefully throw ball down on the ground as hard as possible.
  • Catch the ball on the bounce from the ground and repeat according to prescribed repetitions.
  • Power Drop
  • Lie on the ground on your back with your arms outstretched upwards
  • Partner stands behind holding the medicine ball at arm’s length so the medicine ball is directly above your hands
  • Partner drops the medicine ball into your hands
  • Catch the medicine ball and allow it to come towards your chest
  • Extend your arms to propel the medicine ball back to your partners hands
  • Try to anticipate the catch and return the medicine ball as quickly as you can

Punches in sport karate require amazing levels of hand speed.  The trick is to allow your body to move without increasing the tension in your muscles by clenching your fist.  The drills listed above assist with learning what is almost an unnatural behavior.

  • Decreased reaction time for a defensive body punch
  • Increased accuracy and improved timing of offensive hand techniques
  • Improved reaction time for blocks and checks

Specific muscles targeted by the upper body plyometric exercises are:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I began introducing plyometric exercises into my exercise routine about a year ago.  My commitment to it was sporadic at best.  As of February 1, 2012 I began to focus on it in earnest.  The routine I use is:

Lower Body

(Tuesday)

Sets/Reps Number of Contacts
Drop Jump 3 sets of 10 30
Squat Jump 3 sets of 10 30
Lateral Jump to box 3 sets of 10 30
Jump to Box 3 sets of 10 30

Lower Body on Tuesday and Upper Body on Thursday are both just generic strength/speed building routines.  While all exercises apply to the

Upper Body

(Thursday)

Sets/Reps Number of Contacts
Upper Body Altitude 2 sets of 8 16
Overhead Throw 3 sets of 10 30
Slams 4 sets of 10 40

end goal the focused exercises done on Saturday and Monday are done with point sparring goals in mind.

I have already

Lower Body Focused

(Saturday)

Sets/Reps Number of Contacts
Tuck Jumps 2 sets of 10 20
Lateral Push Offs 3 sets of 10 30
Zig Zag Hops 3 sets of 10 30

experienced great benefit from practicing these drills on a regular scheduled basis. My hand/eye coordination has increased already

Upper Body Focused

(Monday)

Sets/Reps Number of Contacts
Upper Body Depth Jumps 2 sets of 8 16
Side Throws 3 sets of 8 24
Power Drops 3 sets of 10 30

and my reaction time is shortened.  I have lost approximately 12 pounds and 3% body fat in a little over a month.

Plyometrics are not easy exercises and are not intended for people who are not already in reasonably good physical condition.  Joint injuries can occur if too many contacts are being made before muscle conditioning has increased to compensate for the strain that plyometric exercises put on the joints and tendons.  However, the physical/neurological changes caused by adding plyometrics to your regular balanced workout are well worth the effort.  Increased muscle tone, strength and endurance, joint stability through improved proprioception and faster muscle response to neurological signals are only some of the benefits.  Competitive point sparring is the ultimate proving ground of today’s sport martial artist and plyometrics can be a game changing tool.