by Pete Bregman
Every athlete, regardless of sport, knows the value of conditioning. Skills and fundamentals are of course king, but without adequate conditioning (which varies from athlete to athlete, of course), they can quickly lose their potency as the gas tank becomes depleted. The same principle applies to athleticism – strength, speed, and aggression are great tools, but without stamina, they're tools that become ineffective after only a few uses during a sporting event.
Now, let's encapsulate said athlete in 70 pounds of armor, add steel weaponry to the equation, and slightly hinder oxygen intake. Oh… and have him or her fight. Welcome to Armored Combat! If you're like me, your initial response to learning about this sport was "This actually exists??," followed by "Where do I sign up??" That's exactly what happened after being introduced to Damion DiGrazia (who was carrying in a beautiful, eye-catching kettle helm) by a mutual friend prior to a German Longsword class that I was taking at Sword Class NYC.
Having competed in sports on a competitive level for much of my life (traditional stuff like football, track & field, and wrestling, as well as niche physical "activities" like arm wrestling and pro wrestling), I consider myself a solid athlete. And I've partaken in plenty of irresponsible, "Jackass-esque" physical shenanigans throughout life, as well, so I'm no stranger to giggling through physical pain and/or bloody bodily harm.
AND THEN I FOUGHT IN ARMOR FOR THE FIRST TIME.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have never felt so un-athletic in my entire life. It didn't start off as such – my soon-to-be-teammates, Morgan Neyland, Rodney Babilonia, and Damion armored me up, and it was surprisingly comfortable and non-restricting. I was jumping around, doing some warmup runs, and stretching. But once the infamous Blood Helm was strapped on, and someone yelled, "FIGHT!," I found myself being repeatedly whacked in the head and body by both Damion and Rodney. I instinctually began to fight back, swinging a mace at anything that I could see out of the ventilation holes in the helm's pigface nose cone (due to my large Frankensteinian forehead, this is where my eye-line ultimately ended up). Long story short, I was completely gassed after a few mace swings, and struggling to catch my breath. It was embarrassing, exhausting, and exhilarating. Three things became certain:
1. I was hooked on this sport. 2. I had a LOT of work to do in order to achieve what I consider mere "entry level conditioning" for AC. 3. I did not fear steel fighting; rather, I feared the feeling of being so gassed and out of breath.
I soon conveyed my humbling experience to various friends (whom are/were competitive athletes), and started gathering intel on the the most effective ways to rebuild my body for a sport as complex and grueling as steel fighting. An AC fighter named James Glacken (who has always been more than generous with his knowledge and advice) recommended Tabata workouts, which focus on HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). Look it up online for more details (and more importantly, the results). In a nutshell, it involves interval sets of working hard for :20 seconds and resting for :10 seconds. Specific exercises are tailored to the sport that one is training for. Sports science, epitomized! Regarding the sport of steel fighting, I was (and still am) green as green can be, so my next challenge was to map out a series of exercises that would benefit an aspiring AC fighter such as myself.
"The C-Belt Connection"
That same weekend, I ordered the first component of my own kit: a C-belt. Someone at Sword Class NYC recommended the The Knights Hall C-belts, so TheKnightsHall.com was the first stop on my eventual money-hemorrhaging armor-gathering journey.
*More on the C-Belt later.
Perhaps due to psychological reasons, the word "TRAINING" at the top of the KH page caught my eye. The drop-down menu contained the words, "Knight Fit Tabata Workout." TABATA? Bingo. Everything I needed was right there! – the exercises, the cycles, and even the Tabada timer app! I was ready to begin!
AND THEN I TRIED KNIGHT FIT FOR THE FIRST TIME.
It was very, very challenging, and I must confess that there was quite a bit of overlap between the "rest" periods and "work" periods. More than I had imagined. But I went through the full gamut of exercises, and now had a reference point to use when gauging my progress over the next few months. SCIENCE could not be denied, and progress was inevitably made – maintaining proper form throughout KF workouts became more and more consistent, and "sucking wind" became less and less comedic.
But none of us are training so that Knight Fit workouts (or any other workouts) will feel easier; we're training for endurance and athletic functionality – we're training to become more-effective fighters. Thus, a larger, more-efficient gas tank is always a welcome upgrade. What I particularly like about Knight Fit is that it exponentially improves a fighters athletic functionality – every one of the diverse exercises in the customizable program has a practical application for fighting and no body parts are neglected (compared to a cardio workout that focuses primarily on running). The only noticeable downside of Knight Fit is the potential for a more-rapid rate of flatulence than I prefer (particularly prominent during the abdominal exercises). However if you're a "gym prankster" type, this side effect can be a positive thing.
Another aspect of Knight Fit that I'm fond of is the fact that it can be done very efficiently and while on the road. A "first-world problem" that many of us experience is that we have very demanding day and/or night jobs with long, often-unpredictable hours (employment being a problem that I'm very grateful to have, by the way). My day job also requires frequent, last-minute travel, so Knight Fit is great when you have limited time, no equipment, and no workout shoes. Yes, many hotel room floors have felt the burpees.
The thing about any structured workout or fitness routine is that even the fastest results still happen in small, perhaps even imperceptible intervals, with peaks and valleys along the way. But they ARE happening. The results can be compared to hair growth – it seems slow, and you don't see it actually growing, but a few months later, you're like, "Wow! I have a legit beard! That was fast!" I was still gassing at practices, but not nearly as quickly as the ones prior, and was finally beginning to feel like I was closing in on the "entry level conditioning" that I mentioned earlier on in this blog.
Despite the overt physicality of this sport, the mental aspect is of equal importance – just as we're all different physically, we're all different mentally, as well, and have different levels of focus, motivation, intensity, relaxation, and even neuroticism.
In my case, I was SO focused on the "gassing" aspect, it was actually hindering my physical progress – in other words, I wasn't tapping into my inert fighting and grappling skills/instincts because I was so worried about running out of steam. Yes, there are probably wiser things to "worry" about in the sport of steel fighting, but I am who I am, and I was only worried about gassing (and it was affecting my confidence).
The solution was simple, though – get in better shape! Knight Fit was getting me in better physical shape, thus allowing me to improve my mental state… which allowed me to push myself harder physically… which allowed me to push myself further mentally… and so on, and so on, and so on. It's a vicious cycle of awesomeness.
As I write this - March, 2016, I'm proud to say that I have conquered my weird, irrational fear of gassing. I still gas while fighting (I still have lots of work to do, and thankfully always will – we are all works in progress, and should always strive to improve ourselves mentally and physically), but I now look back to less than seven months ago when I discovered the AC, and am pretty proud of my progress.
Back to the C-belt…
The one tangible moment of Knight Fit effectiveness that stands out in my mind is when Jaye and Cat Brooks came down to Sword Class NYC to teach a Knight Fit class and deliver some equipment. Several months earlier, I had sent Jaye my waist measurement for a C-belt, and when he brought it to me in NYC, it was actually several inches too large for my waist, even at the tightest buckle setting. Either Jaye is terrible at mathematics and measuring leather, or I had slimmed down quite a bit since the last time I measured my waist. Jaye has expertly crafted enough C-belts to know what he's doing, so I'll attribute the drooping belt to Knight Fit, as well as the rigors of this sport!
Anyway, thanks for reading this far. If you're not currently doing Knight Fit, I hope it inspires you to do so. If you're currently doing Knight Fit, I hope you continue to enjoy the effectiveness. If you're currently one of my Sentinel brothers or sisters, I hope you find something in this blog to make fun of me for. If you're currently reading this while simultaneously doing Knight Fit, you are a true multi-tasker. If you're currently wondering why these closing words are so corny and why this final blog sentence is so long, it's because I'm finishing it up while on an airplane (Yep! More travel!), and am possibly suffering from altitude loopiness, sleep deprivation, and too much beef jerky (they only sell the really big bags at the airport).
KNIGHT FIT WORKS! DO IT NOW!
Updated October, 2016: As I read this blog, which I wrote back in March, and compare my overall endurance between now and back then (the difference is like night and day), I'm more of a fan of Knight Fit than ever. Fighting aside, functional conditioning has positively affected my everyday life, and it's great to feel healthy. It's also an extreme pleasure to see the positive fitness evolution my teammates who have committed to training their bodies for this sport – seeing people who used to vomit and even pass out at practice now going the distance in armor. It's a wonderful thing. However, I must admit that seeing people throw up can be pretty darn funny.