This is the fourth and last part of my pimptastic interview with the famous Dr. Lucio Maurino; several times Italian, European and World Champion in Karate (team kata and individual kata speciality), conducted in his amazing traditional dojo in Italy. Read the third part!
Last part… read slowly and it lasts longer!
J: Let’s talk about training. Could you tell me a little about what a normal training program looks like for you?
LM: “Sure. My program right now is six days a week. In my peak I used to train two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, but nowadays I train only in the morning, 2,5 hours. Considering planification and periodization: My program is dedicated to having a minimum of two sessions each week of functional physical conditioning, one session on performance training, two sessions on technical skills (usually based on functional kihon) and one session based on articular mobility.”
J: Hm? Articular mobility?
LM: “Yes, flexibility, or exercising the range of movement. This is very important for a long life. We have to always remember that training means adaptation, and adaptation was what gave us possibility to have life in this world! You know… evolution.”
J: Indeed. Speaking of special training though, how important is actually strength training for Karate? I mean for regular people, not elite athletes like you!
LM: “It’s very important. But it also depends on what you mean by “strength”. Generally, going to the gym for working out can be good for all human beings, just in order to maintain the muscular tonus. But for Karate especially, we need to do what I call “compensative preparation”. Why? Because in Karate we have a lot of work on legs, especially if you do kumite or kata. But there is not so much emphasis on the upper body. That’s why we need to insert some compensative exercises in our training, which are good not only for competition, but for maintaining aspects essential for a healthy life and prevention of injuries. For this reason, both muscular tonus and mobility are very, very, important.”
J: That is pretty interesting, because I know a lot of Karate dudes that are both weak and inflexible – yet they walk around like masters of the universe!
LM: “I see this a lot too, and this is a very common problem. Many Karate-ka are not very flexible. So… why is this a problem? Because if you are not flexible in your body, you are not flexible in your mind.”
LM: “I think that through Karate we must learn to adapt ourselves to situations. This is the first lesson I give to all my students. “Remember that Karate teaches you how to adapt yourself to different situations.” But before you can be adaptable in your body, like in a fighting situation, you must be adaptable in your mind. For most people this is not so easy, because you have to train the flexibility in your mind just like we do with our body. By stretching the limits.”
J: Fantabulous advice. So how about cardio training? As comparison; boxers are well-known for the countless hours they put into aerobic conditioning, doing insane amounts of roadwork (running). I always thought this was an absurd waste of time, but how important is actually jogging for Karate?
LM: “I really don’t understand this. I don’t understand why so many top athletes, world-class athletes, go out to run.”
J: Well, they probably think it’s good for them. I think it’s a tradition thing?
LM: “Well, I’m sorry… but I think they don’t understand. Who wrote this? Who?”
J: What do you mean?
LM: “Who wrote that running is good for increasing one’s skills? Are there some scientific studies that show that running is perfect for… kumite?”
J: Umm… no, I don’t think so? Wait, are you telling me that you never jog?
LM: “No, I do run! But not for preparing my athletic abilities! I run just for fun and relaxation. Jesse, I want to share with you a little secret.”
J: Go ahead.
LM: “How long is a kata?”
J: That’s actually not a secret, that’s a question [wise-ass mode activated].
LM: “Just answer!”
J: Okay, I would say two or three minutes?
LM: “Two minutes or less, yes. Now let’s compare this to running: Have you ever seen Ben Johnson or Michael Johnson preparing for their 100 m sprint by running a 42 km marathon?”
J: Haha! I see where you’re going! No I haven’t!
LM: “So, have you ever seen a 100 m sprinter that looks like a marathon runner?”
J: No, they’re pretty buff [laughs]!
LM: “Yes! Because running a 42 kilometer marathon requires a whole different biological, bioenergetic system! So you have to have a different body composition! If Ben Johnson tried to run a marathon, he would never even arrive at the end! On the other hand, if a skinny marathon runner tried to sprint 100 m against someone like Ben Johnson, he wouldn’t even have taken his second step before Ben Johnson crosses the finish line!”
J: I love this analogy!
LM: “But here’s the real secret: We are still talking about the same sport! RUNNING!”
LM: “So, we can conclude that the same sport is not actually the same sport! Even if it’s called “running”, a 100 m sprint and a 42 km marathon cannot be compared. This is why you have to always analyze your own performance. What is the length? What is the intensity? What is the problem you have to solve to reach the best result for your performance? Maybe after this analyzation will you understand that the energy you spend on excessive running can be spent on other, more productive, things!”
J: Well, not many people seem to understand that. I even remember that my friends in the Japanese national team, from Okinawa, used to do at least 30 minutes of running every day! When I humbly adviced them it was a waste of time they looked at me like I was a total gaijin ignoramus!
LM: “No. I know. I know. And maybe… just maybe… that’s why we are the World Champions [demonic laughter]!”
J: Yeah, “maybe”!
LM: “I even remember, my friend Hasegawa [from the old Japanese national team] used to tell me: “Lucio, I don’t know why, but every time I arrive at the tatami to perform my kata I am very exhausted and cannot perform my best”. So I said “Well, maybe it’s because you always repeat all of your kata, one after another, in the warm-up area before you step onto the tatami! Just maybe!””
J: Fail! So what does the perfect warm-up routine look like, then?
LM: “Just repeat small parts from the kata. I have seen many countries adapting this idea now, but the problem is this: psychoneuromuscular activation.”
J: Psycho… what?!
LM: “You have to maintain your psychoneuromuscular activation, and not allow it to go down. So, you simply need to repeat small parts of your kata, to keep your nervous system excited. These small sequences are what we call Functional Rhythm Units, or FRU.”
J: Cool. So, going back to training; what is the relationship between aerobic training, anaerobic training and Karate? How does the connection and proportion look like? What should you actually focus on, from a scientific point of view?
LM: “Well, first of all, we have to make a distinction between aerobic power and aerobic capacity. It’s a great difference. Aerobic training is very connected to kumite, but in a different way than kata. The truth is, in kata we only have 50% aerobic and 50% anaerobic, contrary to what many people might think. Therefore, the possibility to train your aerobic capacity is very important. And, the possibility to transform this aerobic capacity to aerobic power is even more important! So that’s why I don’t run, but instead perform my katas with a different approach.”
LM: “By monitoring my heart rate.”
J: You mean… with a pulse meter?
LM: “Yes, but enough with secrets for today! This is why kata is so good, by the way, beacuse you can perform a kata in an aerobic way and an anaerobic way. Always the same kata. But to do that, you must use some instruments that make you understand if you are working either in the aerobic range or the anaerobic range.”
J: And if you don’t have instruments like those? If you can’t do blood lactate tests and stuff?
LM: “Experiment with changing; the time of rest, the intensity, the volume, the Functional Rhythm Units… you have lots of possibilities. Every kind of method gives you a different result depending on the different goals you try to reach.”
J: Right. So let’s say somebody wants to become faster?
LM: “People ask me this all the time! Everybody wants to become faster, faster, all the time. But let me explain something: First of all is the mobility. Having a good ROM (Range of Motion) is very important if you want to be fast in Karate.”
J: Wait… you mean people who want to be faster should actually start stretching?! I’ve heard that stretching can actually reduce your speed, since it tears the muscle fibers apart? No?
LM: “Yes, well, we are not talking about static stretching, but dynamic stretching, which is very important. Of course you should do both, but it depends on the situation. Before training you should focus on dynamic stretching. For power training and plyometric training, static stretching should not be used, especially not after [goes in on a long rant about fast twitch muscle fibers, the filaments of our muscle cells, myosin, actin etc.]. But for pure technical training, static stretching is more important.”
J: Okay, so if we move on to…
LM: [random interruption] “…but let me tell you perhaps the greatest mistake that everyone does, every time, when training for kata competition!”
J: Omigosh, tell me! What?!
LM: “They consider kata as the means of the training – not as the end of the training!”
J: What are you saying? That we shouldn’t be practising kata to become good at kata?
LM: “I mean that if you teach a kata to a child, you don’t have to teach a kata. You have to teach technique. There is a difference. Only when technique is ready, then you can approach with teaching different techniques in various order, making the kata. Not before. For me, I only practise Functional Rhythm Units, and then at the last stage put together the kata for my planification.”
[At this point I am suddenly interrupted by my friend and host of the day, Alessandro Timmi (webtrepreneur of Virtual Sensei), who tells me the time is up and sensei Maurino has another appointment for the day. I swiftly look down at my sweaty paper and realize I have roughly 184 and a half question left… so I decide to do the only right thing: I ask him my ultimate “This or That Quiz”, also known as “10 Quick Questions”.]
J: Dang it! Okay, since time is running out, I’m now going to ask you ten super quick questions. For every question you will be given two alternatives, and you can only choose one. No thinking, just choosing. One choice. Are you ready?
LM: “Sounds fun. Okay, go!”
- Kata or Kumite? “Kata.”
- Training or Competing? “Training.”
- Pizza or Pasta? “Pasta.”
- Gankaku or Unsu? “Anan [laughs]! But the original Ryuei-ryu style!”
- Kick or Punch? “Kick.”
- Running or Strength Training? “Strength Training.”
- Aka [red competitor] or Ao [blue competitor]? “Ao. I always do my best when I am under some pressure.”
- Book or movie? “That’s hard… book.”
- The Colosseum or the dojo? “The dojo.”
- Last but not least: Chuck Norris or Jackie Chan? “Bruce Lee! [laughs]”
J: All right! That was my last question, so I guess we’re all done! Thank you very much for your time!
With those words we hit the road and headed back to Rome again, after having spent a full day with picking the brain of perhaps the most fascinating Karate Nerd™ I’ve ever had the fortune of meeting.
Hopefully you guys found it worthwhile too.
Big thanks goes out to my previously mentioned host Alessandro “Virtual Sensei” Timmi along with Stephen “Stefano” Nevin (my photographer for part 1 of the interview) and of course Lucio “The Karate Doc” Maurino himself – for unselfishly handing me a big chunk of his precious time. A real shinshi, as we would say in Japanese.
Karate will never be the same.