Blog Archive

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bulgarian Lifting, Staying Occupied, and Tradition

I honestly cannot remember if Dan John made this observation in Easy Strength, or if it was somewhere else. I think it was Easy Strength, but I don't have the book in front of me right now.

Dan was discussing the legendary Bulgarian Olympic lifting programs, and how they made use of a great deal of volume. The Bulgarians were apparently quite famous for having multiple training sessions per day, which strongly contrasted with the style of training in the US and many other parts of the world. The assumption, naturally, was that there was some kind of secret scientific research behind this.

Here's the interesting thing--apparently, when Dan got to talk to a Bulgarian coach about this, it turned out that the main reason for the extra training was that it kept kids in the gym. When you've got a bunch of young guys (especially if they're competitive athletes) with free time, they get into trouble. So their coaches would schedule extra sessions because it kept them off the streets. The physical benefits were secondary.

Which makes me wonder--how much stuff have various martial arts accumulated for the same kind of odd reasons? Some Chinese systems are legendary for requiring students to be able to hold a horse stance for three hours; is that because it develops endurance, or is it just a good way to get students out of your face for three hours? How many drills were created simply because the teacher wanted a new shiny object to dangle in front of his students? Do all those extra kata actually serve a purpose, or were they just put together to give students a reason to come back and keep paying? (I know at least one system that added five kata to their system for, as near as I can see, no good reason at all.)

I'm not saying this is always the case, but if a drill seems strange or pointless, it might be worth considering that maybe it really IS pointless. Just a thought.


Maija said...

.... but here's the tricky part ... If it really does keep a student in school, out of trouble, focused and practicing ... is it really useless?
It's a fine, fine, line IMO, and a line open to all kinds of abuse ... but if the goal is to actually teach a student real skills, sometimes the bast path is not a straight line.
And looking from a student perspective - how can you really tell if you are in good hands or are wasting your time?
Really tricky .....

Jake said...

I think a lot of this comes back to a context thing. (Of course, I think EVERYTHING comes back to a context thing...)

The extra training sessions were clearly effective, both at keeping the students out of trouble, and apparently, at making them stronger. It worked for the specific group of people in that particular culture and time period.

Where I think the problem comes in is in transferring or changing context. That method worked, but it's beyond useless for a 40-something working mother of three, who can only exercise for 2-3 hours total a week. The methodology can't transfer. That's so flagrantly obvious that no serious strength coach/personal trainer would even try.

Yet I think a lot of martial arts instructors would try, just because that's the way their masters did it.

I absolutely agree that the line can get real blurry at times. There are thing that seem useless that turn out to be useful, and vis-versa.

Extra challenging from a student perspective, since student's are not always the best evaluators of the utility of things...