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Functional fitness the Indian wrestling way

Just over thirteen years ago I was working in London getting my career off the ground in a promising graduate position for a famous professional services firm. It was a gruelling three-year apprenticeship period with oodles of internal training, external training at specialist colleges, and competive exams. This on top of an already-challenging full-time job that criss-crossed London. I was pretty drained. What fitness I’d won at university through boxing and circuit training was steadily eroded until I was getting pretty pudgy and creaky.

Finally on the day I achieved my professional license, I quit and hopped on a flight to Okinawa to teach English for a year in a tiny subtropical island. The itchy feet could no longer be denied. Trading the high-pressure hustle of grey dreary London, overnight, for the balmy 30+ sunshine and beaches of a small rural community came as quite the shock, and relief. It also presented a fitness challenge.

How would I recover my fitness when there’s no gym on the island?

All I had to work with was a tatami-matted spare bedroom and my own body. I couldn’t even rely on mail-ordering equipment because everything would need to be shipped in on a prohibitively expensive two-hour ferry. This was before the internet became ubiquitous, before youtube was full of training videos. I had just a 56k dail-up modem on my Sega Dreamcast.

Luckily, I found my way into functional fitness through bodyweight exercises. Initially through a guy called Matt Furey who was touting the dinosaur training of old-school strongmen like Otto Arco, Maxick and George Hackenschmidt. He’d also recently gotten the nod from an ageing Karl Gotch to begin marketing his old catch-wrestling workouts. This was back when Furey still had good material to sell, before he branched out into some fairly questionable internet marketing off-shoots.

The Great Gama, Hackenschmidt, Solovev, Maxick

The old timers are incredible. This was the era before steriods, human growth hormone and ephedrine. Back then “bodybuilding” was called “physical culture” and was inseperable from good long-term heath. The old timers spent as long practicing deep breathing and muscle control as they did pure strength gains. I was never interested in a gym body with huge muscles and low bodyfat, having been introduced to physical training through boxing where the world “musclebound” is an insult. I wanted a body that could respond to all my daily needs with spring and vibrancy.

I trained three times a week with a hardcore session that left me so drained I could see Jesus walking on the water. I’d usually do another light session to round out the week. For one calendar year I did these workouts:

      • Variation A: Royal Court: 500x hindu squat, 100x hindu pushup, 5 minute neck bridge
      • Variation B: The Gotch Bible: work through a deck of playing cards doing the number of reps on the card face (picture cards = 10, ace = 15). Black is hindu pushups, red is hindu squats
      • Variation C: 250 Pushups: combination of push-up variations in sets of 10.

The results were immediate and significant. I became much fitter and stronger than when I’d dabbled in weights as a teenager and all round felt great. I wouldn’t particularly recommend high-rep workouts anymore but my knees are great without any soreness thirteen years after hitting them hard with 500-rep squats. I’ve since moved my training more towards kickboxing and isometrics, but encourage you all to try the Royal Court.

There’s something special about knocking out 500 non-stop squats. First time took me 35 minutes, and my peak it took 11. You’ll start off scoffing at it’s ease, then begin to feel the burn in your quadriceps as you approach 100. By 150 you’ll be wondering if you can finish and by 200 really beginning to marshall your mental discipline. By 250 you’re over the hump and beginning to zone out. 400 is the home stretch and you feel great. By the time you step off the mat at 500 you know you’ve acheived something beyond 90% of men. For months after you can look back and think “I have the mental discipline for 500 squats, so I have the mental discipline for anything.”

5 responses

  1. fafaf

    Good stuff, I’ve recently got back into fitness, I’m no expert but my focus is purely on feeling fit and well. How you look should be secondary at best. I remember getting scoffed at when I recommended extremely high numbers of squats in a discussion on 4chan /fit, but what it does for stamina is incredible.

    On the issue of teaching in Japan, did you go through the official route (JET), or did you just go for it? I did my undergraduate degree in Japanese, and have ummed and ahhed about going back to teach (not sure I’d love the work honestly). The mother of a family I used to stay with always recommends I just go over and look for work myself on a working holiday visa or whatever.

    [The working holiday visa didn’t exist for UK nationals when I did it, so I went with JET. My advice would be apply for JET first and if you don’t get it, just show up with a WHV and then check out the classifieds/websites in the JapanTimes etc and just do a tour of the little private language schools. The golden age of English teaching is long gone but it’s still a decent job short term to support living abroad. Bear in mind if you do JET you have no chance of being placed in Tokyo or Osaka. CC.]

    March 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm

  2. Hawk

    “I wouldn’t particularly recommend high-rep workouts anymore…”

    Why? Curious about that. [I don’t think the risk of joint damage is outweighed by the benefits. You can get most of the upside without hitting high numbers. CC.]

    March 16, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    • Hawk

      Thanks. Yet the 500 squat is a great test of character, as you described, that every man should try once in a life (if healthy enough).

      March 17, 2012 at 9:27 pm

  3. check the book Convict Conditioning. you eliminate the high rep stuff by working up to one legged pistol squats as well as one arm pushups, pullups and handstand pushups. there are also progressions for grip strength, bridges and other stuff.

    the calesthenics knowledge of the strong men of the past continues on today in the prison system, but is unfortunately lost on the outside. shit is badass and will get you big unlike high rep repetitive work.

    March 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    • Jesse, there’s a lot of hype about a lot of books but I’m curious about the results people have once they *finish* the program in the book. Did you go through the Convict Conditioning training and if so what were your results?

      By the way, my workouts consist of:
      – different forms of running (long distance, intervals, shadow boxing while running, running + pushups + shadowboxing in intervals, etc)
      – Krav Maga (self defense) 2-3 times a week
      – Insanity, P90X or P90X2 when I feel like it

      March 31, 2012 at 8:28 am

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