Elite Trainer, amateur fighter and gym class skeptic, George Toohey, explains why 45mins of Combat Skills pulls no punches.
As a long-time fighter, I will admit, I had my doubts walking into the Bank Studio at Canary Wharf to take part in my first Combat Skills class. I entered with as open a mind as possible, but having been in this industry as long as I have – not to mention my training at elite amateur level in boxing – I’m put off by the stigma of classes as much as the next guy. “This isn’t going to be hard enough” or “I could be on the gym floor doing something more useful,” were running through my head. I could not have been more wrong.
I was greeted into the signature class by high-energy, top quality instructor Claire Burton, who herself has been involved in Kickboxing and Capoeira for some years. Safe hands, indeed. I’m not used to this kind of environment at all, the House music was pounding, everyone wass smiling and Claire was bouncing around motivating everyone through the initial warm up, which in itself was fast paced. There’s no ankle rolls or cold, lacklustre hamstring stretches here. Instead, it brought me back to my MMA training – mimicking the different floor positions and ground techniques used for BJJ, like the shoulder bridge drill which is excellent not only for building hamstring and glute strength but also teaching you how to escape when someone is on top of you. To be clear, this is nothing like the general warm up found in most combat-based GX classes. And it’s much the better for it, too.
Next, Claire lined musup against the ballet barres and my heart instantly drops. Ballet? Ballet! “But the class was going so well,” I thought. Then she grabbed the resistance band which was tied to the barre and performed an exercise straight out of my Judo training when I was younger – the ippon seionage. It’s a one-armed shoulder throw that incorporates footwork and core rotation, building your abs and coordination, as well as giving you an awesome party trick to try on your friends. Using these techniques, in this setting, against the music – it’s a much faster pace than I’m used to and had me sweating quickly. The combination of genuine combat technique and cardio effort is hard to beat as far as genuine benefit from a class is concerned. My skepticism was lifting.
Then came something all to familiar to myself – weighted shadow boxing. It’s a conditioning technique that helps you to punch harder and faster, as well as condition you to keep your hands up for defence. But instead of the dusty, chipped 2kg weights found in the many kickboxing and boxing gyms across the country, we were handed neon-coloured knuckle-dusters between .5 and 2kg. My ego instantly told me to grab a set of the lime green 2kgs. You’re a brave man if you do the same. The choreography is seamless, transitioning from Karate, Muay Thai and boxing drills, using elbows, knees, kicking and punching techniques. Keeping the fruit pastel knuckle-dusters up became an incredible challenge, the burn was deep and the sweat was dripping at this point. I took a look around the studio and the focus on everyone’s face was reminiscent of high level training sessions, following a master coach in Muay Thai, preparing us for battle.
The part of the class that was new to myself, and also the most impressive, was the use of the ab roller to help with flexibility. After all of the hard technique drills in the class this came as a welcome change of pace. Unlike other classes we were not folding into boring, static stretches, the wheel is used to gently roll you into an active stretch that you control and get maximum benefit from. With the music still playing we mixed yoga and core techniques to aid in mobility, once again being constantly motivated and guided by Claire our master instructor. Finishing the class with this mix of inviting ab roller-yoga was brilliant. Flexibility and mobility can be so tedious, but it’s something we all need to do more of for total body health.
My experience in Combat Skills completely changed my outlook on group exercise. I was also pleasantly surprised at the fresh programming style that incorporated genuine techniques that I have been practising for years, set in a choreography that flows from start to finish. There are no fads or fakes. This class is for anyone who is interested in learning the basics of combat without the pressure of sparring, or being paired up with a lug who is going to hit your focus pads as hard as they can. But it’s also for the hardened fighter who would like to participate in a non-contact class and sweat it out for an extra cardio boost, set to a brilliant sound track.
My 5 tips to get the most out of Combat Skills:
1. Clothing – as you may be inexperienced with some of the movements just make sure you are wearing something light, flexible and comfortable… please don’t be the guy wearing MMA gloves and a gum shield!
2. Why come to combat skills – if your training goal is to improve your conditioning, flexibility and lose body fat then this is definitely a class you need to check out.
3. Enjoy Martial Arts – this is a perfect addition for both the weekend warrior and hardcore combat enthusiast. It’s very rare to get this kind of training with a brilliant house sound track playing in the background
4. Don’t be a hero! – if you haven’t done weighted shadow boxing before don’t let your ego get in the way with the 2kg weights it would be a big mistake that will haunt you for 3 days.
5. Enjoy yourself, don’t take yourself to seriously and protect yourself at all times.