Two squats, four push-ups, stand, four squats,” yells Frank J. Wolf at the top of his voice. Following his instructions are 30 men, sweating profusely. Wolf conducts a weekly Krav Maga class in Bangalore. Krav Maga is an Israeli form of martial arts that was developed to train people in self-defence and combat. Few students at the class expect to get into a situation requiring combat skills, yet they find themselves coming back every weekend to experience the challenges that the 2-hour session puts their bodies through.
Art of staying in shape:Kalaripayattu includes dynamic leg swings and jumps. Photograph by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Every session involves push-ups, squats, kicks, punches and high-intensity strength training. Classes are only held over the weekends, but most members find these sessions strenuous enough not to opt for additional exercise during the week. Jeeth Devaiah, a former hockey player and fitness trainer for the Delhi Daredevils cricket team of the Indian Premier League, rarely misses these weekend classes. “I have been into sports all my life but have never done anything like this,” says Devaiah. “It’s a complete exercise routine that includes cardiovascular exercises and weight training in the form of kicks and spot strengthening.”
“You will notice that people who have been practising martial arts for years have great bodies. This comes from the fact that often they are working every muscle in their body. It is more holistic as a workout compared with cardio exercises like cycling or running,” says Heath Matthews, sports rehabilitation specialist, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Medical Research Institute, Mumbai.
Parikshit Sadh, who runs a garments export business in Mumbai, has been learning the Brazilian martial arts form Capoeira for five years now. He says he was hooked the day he walked into a class conducted by Reza Baba Massa, an Israeli who came to India to teach the art in 2005. “When I started, I was 85kg. Within three months of joining, and with three classes a week, I had lost 10kg,” he says, adding that Capoeira works a variety of muscles in different sessions. Sadh describes Capoeira as a complete workout that is a combination of strength and resistance training with cardiovascular exercises. The sessions include some yoga stretches and a lot of animal movements, such as a crocodile walk, which serve to activate different muscles. The basic movement in Capoeira is the Ginga that involves swaying the body with the torso bent forward. Added to this are kicking movements and more importantly escape routes, where practitioners look for ways to exit a fight. Sadh says that one can burn between 1,000 calories and 1,800 calories doing Capoeira for an hour, depending on how much one challenges the body.
Krav Maga combines cardiovascular exercises and weight training in the form of kicks and spot strengthening; trainers at the Kalari Academy of Performing Arts in Bangalore. Photograph by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Wolf says that given the strenuous training plan at the classes, weight loss or strengthening of muscles is only a natural by-product. He says an hour-long session of Krav Maga can help burn up to 800 calories.
Bangalore-based Ashwin Mohan has been training students in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a combination of several martial art forms, including Vajra Mushti (a martial arts form from south India), kick-boxing, judo, kung fu, and yoga. Though Mohan is not very comfortable with the idea of looking at martial arts as a means for weight loss, he says that if someone is looking for total fitness, then it would be a good option. “I have to say that my body is now more firm and youthful than it used to be when I was 25, when I wasn’t training in martial arts,” says Mohan, who has learnt 23 forms of martial arts, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Shaolin Kung Fu in about two decades. Mohan’s class usually begins with a warm-up that is a combination of asanas, Pranayam and Chinese Qigong (a breathing technique). “With the current lives that most of us live, most parts of our body do not function to their fullest capacity,” says Mohan, explaining that breathing techniques like Pranayam retrain the cardiovascular valves to pump blood efficiently. “To be able to fight, one needs to be physiologically relaxed, the muscles of the body should not be tense and one needs to train the body to do that,” he says. Unlike Wolf’s classes that are intense and have a military method of instruction, Mohan helps his students relax. “Release all your thoughts,” he says as they hold their ankles while their legs are stretched out in front of them. “You should train yourself not to think, because if you pause to think, you’ll never fight back.”
Bangalore-based physiotherapist Shailendra Saxena says, “I have noticed that martial arts, unlike most other fitness routines, create great alertness and agility.” Most practitioners of martial arts also possess an increased ability to focus and concentrate—an important factor, considering most martial arts were developed for warfare. For example, Kalaripayattu is a martial arts form that is said to have developed during the 100-year war between the Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas in the early part of the first millennium. At the Kalari Academy of Performing Arts in Bangalore, Kalari master Ranjan Mullaratt says it is the most complete exercise for the body. “The art is based on several movements and includes dynamic leg swings and jumps,” says Mullaratt, adding that advanced learners also use wooden and sometimes metal swords and shields when performing. So important is the conditioning of the body that Kalari classes also include oil massage sessions by experts to ensure flexibility of the body. “I have been learning the art for four years now and I feel I have increased endurance,” says Jaiso Joseph, a software engineer. He says he tires less when playing other sports now and even performs better, given his improved reflexes.
Mixed Martial Arts is a combination of several martial art forms and yoga. Photograph by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Says Matthews, “You are working a lot of muscles in any martial arts session, but this works towards the health aspect only if you are not in the competitive arena.” He adds that people who take part in fights could suffer from dislocated bones, bruises or even a concussion. “That just defeats the very purpose of fitness.”