SP archives: Body tempering

Question from Simon:

You wrote on another thread …

The risk of injury is a separate point. I’m strictly interested in what works in the fight. And I’m seriously into body-tempering, which isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. But I don’t force that training philosophy onto anybody else. If they want to know about it, I’ll tell them how to do it.

if someone wanted to start down that path, what would be the first steps?

Steve’s Answer:

There’s no special way to start out. You just hit things. Or hit yourself with things. Or get other people to hit you with things.

What things? Anything that’s hard.

There’s no progressive or formal way you need to do it. You’re not making a samurai sword with thousands of folds. You just gotta decide, I want hands that can break bones, legs that can kick through bats, a body that can have things smashed over it. Like 2 x 4s or punches or kicks.

The only way to learn to be hit is to be hit. Systems will structure that with conditioning drills where you hit things or people hit you, but the most important word is the hitting.

Here’s my personal experience. I’d taught myself martial arts including karate through correspondence courses and books and old super 8 films from 1959-1965, when I saw karate for real at Vernon Bell’s (it wasn’t much). When I was stationed in Nairobi I had a book called ‘The Manual of Karate’ and I knew I had to have huge knuckles because that was a part of karate. I was 17.

So I got a little inebriated, like you do when you’re about to do something stupid, I went outside and worked out on the brick wall (are you reading this Lito?). I understand Dennis Jones did the same thing in his day. As a result, I got these huge knuckles. It hurt for a while but then they settled down and they were like the size of eggs. So when I hit people, they would end up with huge lumps on their heads.

Then I wrapped a rope around the end of the metal bar on my Army bed. i used to sit cross-legged and beat my hands, forearms, wrists a bit like somebody on a slave ship beating out a drum. My roommates couldn’t stand it but what were they going to do with a maniac in the room?

Not to mention the smell.

What smell?

I’d mix vinegar, salt and wine and soak my hands in this shit.

Later it got better. I used to exchange formulas of Chinese herbal medicine (dit dat jow) with people around the world, and in some of the recipes you had beetles in there and all kinds of weird shit. There was a huge glass jar in the corner of the dojo at Bourne Hill, had been there for years, I think it had about 32 ingredients, this black goop. I even got some wine from Fujian to put in it.

Oh, dear.

Well, you can’t overestimate the smell factor in a fight.

Anyway, back to Nairobi. In E.J. Harrison’s book there were some measurements for a makiwara, and either I got them wrong or the camp carpenter got them wrong. I ended up with this thing the size of a tree with what looked like a doormat wrapped round it. And I used to punch, kick, elbow this thing religiously outside every morning at sunrise and every evening at sunset. And I remember one day when I was whacking this thing, just outside the perimeter fence was a Masai standing on one leg with the other leg folded over the way they tend to stand, leaning on his spear (there were lions in the area) with this look on his face which kind of said WTF?

Naturally if you’re into conditioning, you’ve got to test your hands. Return to the camp carpenter, I’d get stacks of wood. I think my biggest count was 10 squares of wood about ½ to ¾ inches stacked on top of each other with grain any which way on top of some small supports on the ground. Didn’t have bricks in Nairobi.

But they did have concrete paving slabs. They’d be about 2 ½ or 3 inch thick slabs. I’d ‘borrow’ these at night from around the site, break them, and then put them back. So in the end you’d have a footpath that looked like a mosaic. Nobody could work out what was happening. I got up to hitting through three of these things, no spacers because I didn’t know about spacers.

Then I moved to Benghazi, where I was in charge of a transmitter site so I had my own billet. Turned it into a dojo. By that time, I had more books, so I realized I’d got makiwara a bit wrong the first time. In addition to the new makiwara, I had a long kit bag stuffed with sand because I’d got some information on Muay Thai by then. And in Benghazi, we had bricks, so there were always some broken ones lying about. Obviously, bottles were never a problem to acquire!

I used to do my training outside as well, again sunrise/sunset, and there was an Arab gafir, a watchman, there. He used to observe me with interest, and he taught me some knife moves as well as some simple grappling.

I won’t even go into when I was stationed in Bampton or the years in Earlham Street. The point is, as you discover a new method of training, you just do it. I saw somebody on the tv once blow up a hot water bottle, so I went and blew a hot water bottle up. I didn’t realise that you needed a valve to do that, so for the first few puffs the air kept getting forced back down into my lungs.

When I finally got it going it was the size of a beach ball, and I didn’t dare stop out of fear of being inflated!

So I kept going, and going, and finally BANG! And this thing was spread everywhere, even across my face, like some giant bubblegum.

Are you sure you want to take my advice, Simon?

I’m not a progressive kind of guy, I don’t get my toes wet, I just jump in. If I see it, I’ll try it. I don’t prepare.

With the body tempering, initially it was a psychological thing, almost a crutch, to give me the confidence to the take the physical risk. But later I found out I didn’t need the conditioning to do the breaks, or to take the shots to the body. The startle mechanism took care of that on both counts for me. It produces not only the explosive release, but also a closing-down of body protection.
When I did the flat breaks on You Tube, there was no conditioning preparation on that. And when I broke people’s arms with blocks, there was no prior conditioning. I started to phase it out in the late 70s, other than hitting the bag a couple of hours at a time and working on the Wing Chun dummy.

So you may need to do it like I did it, to give you some confidence, but the truth is if you just select your basic tools and work them on a heavy bag, that’s enough. And if you can’t get a heavy bag, then rather than using a little bean bag or ball bearing bag, use a Muay Thai pad or a boxing mitt, put it on one hand and hit with the other: fist, palm, fingertips, knees, shin, shoulder. Or beat yourself with the pad.

The other thing I still do is hit things round the house. (INANIMATE things by the way ). And by the way, just as a warning, I’m not talking about full shots, just laying in some light shots randomly, as if there was a guy there instead of the object. The sofa, door frame, fridge, broom handle—whatever appears in my vision. Again, I don’t do it in a regimented way, it’s just part of the things I do.

One great source is the tire on the back of your 4×4 if you’ve got one. Fantastic conditioning tool. You could develop a little trouble with the door, though, so don’t do it if you want to sell the car on.


Julian wrote: Whoa, you really intense!

But I can remember when I was really into KungFu I hit everthing in sight in my room. Blown out candles with my punches. Hit telephonebooks which really get hard like wood if you punch hard enough. Sparring was crap but good conditioning with full contact to the body. No protectors… got hit many times in the groin, whole body, eyegouged, roundkicked full power to the neck and I got a temporay big lump on my forehead from a 6,8″ tall guy, weighing over 17 stone. I was 16, 5,9 and around 10 stone at that time. But didn’t passed out. That really gave you some confidence to take some shots and still go.

Steve, like the idea with the broomstick from your DVDs. Really feels like hitting some shinbone.

Mick Coup wrote: I hear you regarding the 4×4 tyre – out in Ireland we got the new (at the time) ‘Snatch’ Landrovers that had the spare mounted on the front of the bull-bars.

I used to ‘tune up’ on this before every patrol – worked like a charm!

Lito Angeles wrote: I also happen to have a compulsive habit of hitting walls, pillars, posts, and poles with my palms AND fists (yes, that’s right, fists too, for body shot purposes though) as they cross my path. My wife gives me a bemused “Sheesh, not again!” look whenever I do this in her presence.

On a related note, a kung-fu master by the name of Pan (don’t recall his full name) who resides in Canada (and was featured in the movie “Iron and Silk”), always carries around a steel plate which he reportedly hits several thousand times a day, every day. His fists are reputedly hard as steel but look hideous…

Simon wrote: Have you found any ill-effects from doing this sort of conditioning – bad joints, arthritis etc? I ask because an ex-teacher of my used to work heavily on a makiwara when he was younger, but as he hit his forties he had all kinds of joint trouble.

Jon Law wrote:

steve morris wrote:
One great source is the tire on the back of your 4×4 if you’ve got one. Fantastic conditioning tool. You could develop a little trouble with the door, though, so don’t do it if you want to sell the car on.

Jeez *would you buy a used car off this man?*

I’ve read somewhere you mentioning that your not a fan of the Makiwara, the angles are incorrect (if memory serves). Would you recommend the Wing Chung Dummy over the makiwara or would you simply favour a regular bag.

Steve Morris wrote:

Jon, The makiwara thing you read is here:

I would go for the heavy bag every time. I started Wing Chun with Joseph Chang in 1971 and continued working with/adapting it until the late 80’s/early 90s. I used it to support the Yung Chun White Crane elements with Goju ryu, which had been pointed out to me by Joseph. But what I found was that because the dummy had very little give, it encouraged a striking pattern that I didn’t favour. You ended up giving it a jolt but you couldn’t get much body behind it.

It was great for the open hand stuff, rather like sumo wrestlers use a pole in the same way, but I found my actual shots were going down. Same as when I did the gripping exercises.

And although it served a good purpose and can enhance lots of things, I prefer to hit a bag. And the ‘live dummy’, a man–in drills including pad drills.

Simon86, For me personally, and I did a lot of makiwara work as well as bag work, etc. I haven’t had any problems as a result of that. What I did get in my right wrist is some inflammation and stiffness as a result of clearing a trail for horse riding within a five acre wood using a billhook. That was years after I’d stopped practicing makiwara. I was too lazy to sharpen it and was enjoying smashing down the saplings and brush that got in my way. I was working at it for weeks, and only afterward did I realise I’d done some damage.

But the thing on makiwara, you could have a predisposition to arthritis, and there’s the type of makiwara you hit and the way you hit it. Probably the safest thing to hit would be pads, if you don’ t like the heavy bag option.

Mick, I can picture it!!

Lito, It’s just what we do, isn’t it?

Julian, one tip on the broomstick that I can’t remember if I put on the dvd, when you hold the broomstick, don’t hit it horizontally so it flies away from you, hit it down so it goes into the ground. That’s the angle you want, and you’ll get the full impact on your shin.

One more really quick story. My friend Tom O’Shaughnessy was a professional bowler and ran a bowling alley, and he used to bring me loads of bowling balls. I was always trying to find different things to do with them, and I had the idea of making a ground to ceiling ball. I put the thing in a basketball net, put some heavy duty rubber top and bottom and connected it to the ceiling and floor. I covered the ball in electrical tape.

So one day Terry O’Neill drops in with a wrestler/doorman friend and they’re walking around, talking, and Terry gives this ball a punch.
‘What the fuck’s that?’ he says in a strong Scouse accent.
Deadpan, I said, ‘A bowling ball.’
‘Do you fucking hit that?’
I said, ‘Yeah, but I use gloves.’
‘Ah, that explains it,’ he said.
I then went into the office and came out wearing these thin driving gloves and proceeded to start working out on it. Punching and slipping, if it had hit me in the head it’d probably have killed me.

I didn’t use it for long, it’s just that we had all these bowling balls around and I didn’t want to hurt Tom’s feelings. We had a closet where an old lift shaft had been, and you’d open the door and this flood of bowling balls would come out…so the moral is, be innovative. Use what comes to hand.

My experience is, if the guy’s fussy about needing the perfect bag or the perfect tool or the perfect shoes, it tells me something about the guy. I’ve got a poor man’s mentality.

Now Joseph Cheng, you wanted to see him doing a full workout of his Wing Chun stuff on a parking meter. It was absolutely brilliant, the thing would be vibrating, he’d be going through his full repertoire on it. He said every time he passed this parking meter on his way home, he’d train on it.