Karate evolved from it’s ancient history of being a peasant’s secret weapon into an organized sport. In it’s development, it has sprouted into different styles or different “schools”. But now as a sport, these different styles compete under one set of rules and the world governing body is the WKF. But even with all these complexities, one thing has not changed from it’s earliest deadly form to its present form as a sport: That to be effective, a karate technique has to be delivered with speed, power, technique, and timing. Training in karate alone definitely improves strength, power, and speed to a certain extent. The best and most successful karate athletes have these qualities developed at exceptional levels. They trained hard in karate and they also are very athletic.  But now that the level of competition is very high and there are more and more competitive karatekas, only the best and strongest will reach the top. There has to be strength and conditioning training for karate-do athletes to enable them to train hard in karate, perform to their highest level, and reduce the chances of getting injured. In other words, strength and conditioning training for karate-do athletes highly increases their success rate. Strength and conditioning training for Karate-do is now very important if we want to rise to world class level.



Fond memories

brandSome years ago, karate athletes can compete in both the kata and kumite events and still be successful. I was working with the Philippine Karate-do team for their preparation for the Busan 2002 Asian Games. For this competition, they had a lean team of 3 gentlemen and 2 ladies. One of the ladies would compete in both events. My task as their Strength and Conditioning coach was to make them as physically fit as possible for this competition. Their strength and conditioning training has been emphasized. I would augment as a Physical Therapist too since I am also one. We had a few months of strength training before this particular preparation in our training facility in Manila. Then around 4 months before their competition, we headed off to a training camp in our satellite training facility in Baguio City. The training facility has a running track and sleeping quarters for athletes and coaches and a mess hall. There is also a small weights room with a few pieces of equipment. At least there were a few sets of barbells and dumbbells. The greatest advantage that we were able to get from this training camp is that we were able to increase the team’s training volume and intensity well above what they can do in Manila. That was achieved because the climate in Baguio is cool. The environment is very conducive to training since we are in a barracks and there is no distraction. The altitude is around 1,500 meters above sea level. It is not that high to elicit big physiological advantage but we noticed there was still a positive effect. And the cool and tranquil environment enabled the athletes to tolerate conditioning work a lot better than when we did it in the hot environment in Manila.

Their strength and conditioning training started at 6 am. We would go out of the compound and run up around the hills for around 30 to 45 minutes and back to the running track. We then did reaction drills, and footworks. It was also a time for the one who was making weight to do extra running and calisthenics. By 7:30, the morning session was done and we head off to the mess hall. Breakfast was great, and we had a lot of fresh vegetables since Baguio and nearby places produce vegetables which are sold in the lowlands. After breakfast, everybody goes back to the barracks to wash up. I would be waiting for those who need physical therapy treatment in the physical therapist’s cottage. Or they would go to the masseur if they feel tight and stiff. Some would have a nap. This is all done by 10:30 am. By 11:30 am we would have strength training sessions at the mini gym beside the running track. The training plan is posted on the wall of the gym and as we progress I would update it. By 12:30 we would have finished stretching and cooling down and ready for a good lunch. Meal times serve as our debriefing sessions and meetings. The head coach and I would discuss a bit more later if needed. Afternoon is recovery time. They are instructed to nap. Well, at first they would say they wanted to go sightseeing around the city since Baguio is the summer capital of the Philippines and it is a tourist spot. Then as the training intensity increased, they need not be reminded since they would nap voluntarily. The head coach and I also needed it! The third session, which is skills training, starts 5:00 pm and ends at 6:30 pm.


photo credited to http://www.cityofpines.com

Periodizing their training

After 4 weeks, we shifted the training schedule. Skills training is now more emphasized since their conditioning level has improved a lot. They do 2 sessions of skills training now. The first is at midday before lunch and the second is late in the afternoon before dinner.  Strength and conditioning is still at 6 to 7:30 am. As our training camp progressed, so did their abilities. But mental stress is also there. The pressure on them to perform, the separation from their families, and the feeling  of fatigue is affecting them. To minimize this, we lowered intensity for a few sessions and went “sightseeing” one weekend. We went hiking, which is a lower level of conditioning. The athletes were smiling and said I just tricked them into training. Well, I was just making efficient use of our time. The head coach also allowed them to go home on the next weekend to have a break. I also got to go home. My home is in Baguio city but I stayed with them all the time in the camp. So I was so glad to visit home too!

Training side effects

By the end of the training camp, we were ready. I never noticed but one of the ladies came to me and said before we started the training camp, she was a regular girl. When we were about to break camp, she had a very trim waist, had great abs, and sharp triceps and deltoids to show! She proudly wore sleeveless shirts upon going back to the Manila where it is hot. Those were just side effects of strength and conditioning training but what we were after was to have the athletes attain their peak physical fitness for their sport in time for their competition. Mentally, they improved a lot as well since their confidence improved. Skills wise, they improved very well since they were able to practice harder, more, and with more focus.

The reward of hard work

The team left for the Asian games and I was left behind since I also train other teams and the budget is just for the athletes and the head coach. I was proud that I had done my job to the best that I can. They came back with two bronze medals, one in the women’s kata, and one in the women’s -60 kg kumite.

busan ag 2002

Source: Wikipedia

Karate-do continues to evolve as a sport and is trying its best to be in the Olympics. The level of competition has increased and so is the extent of preparation. Hopefully by 2020 Karate-do will finally be in the Olympics. Strength and conditioning training for karate-do is now even more important. I remember the words our late Shihan Arsenio Bawingan Jr. I was a young lad in the Baguio City YMCA then where he taught Karate. He told us that if we want to be good, we should train really hard. Not just in the dojo. He told us to run, do calisthenics, even lift rocks (Strength and conditioning was not known then). His words turned out to be prophetic.  Train Better! Play Better!

I work with athletes as a strength and conditioning coach. My job is to help them reach their peak performance mainly by helping them improve their performance related fitness components and by helping reduce the risk and severity of injuries (if they happen). Doing the first two helps them tolerate higher skills training intensity and quality.

The athletes I work with are not university athletes. They are members of their National team and are competing in Asian Games, World Championships, and the Olympics. I have worked with most of them when they were still developing and am happy to see them get to the level where they compete with the world’s best of the best.

Each sport, event, position, and individual athlete have their own particular demands. But most, if not all of it will go back into the fundamental qualities like a good strength foundation, good mobility, and so on.

So there are fundamental exercises that I use in the training program of athletes like squats and presses. Then there are exercises that are general but when used properly, can address specific needs.

One of this is the Kettlebell Snatch. More specifically the One Arm Kettlebell Snatch. The main qualities of the One Arm Kettlebell Snatch which I think make it useful for athletes are the following:

  1. Ballistic

The One Arm Kettlebell Snatch is a lift that moves a load with one arm from below the knees to the overhead position in one smooth and quick motion, and is usually repeated. Lots of times. The heavier the load, the more energy is required. If you lift slowly, it is very, very, very hard. So the lift has to be fast, just like any good athletic move. I measured the speed using a linear position transducer and the peak velocity is around 2-3m/s. That is quite fast, very fast. Train fast to be fast.

2. Unilateral

This is obvious. This makes it useful for those athletes who may want to emphasize development of either side. We can never make the both sides equal in strength, but we can emphasize development of each side where it is needed. A lot of sports actually are unilateral and superior development of either side contributes to success. This is where unilateral exercises help. It is also helpful during the rehabilitation phase if one side is injured.

3. Ground based

It basically means you do the exercises with your feet on solid ground. A lot of people like to use the word functional training. Probably because a lot of functions/ activities are done on solid ground. Which means this exercise can have a lot of carry – over to ground based activities as well. Racquet sports, martial arts, athletics, and fencing are some of the more common ones.

4. Useful for explosive moves

In order to snatch a weight to overhead level in one smooth motion, some degree of power is required. The nature of this lift is that it has to be done fast, otherwise you won’t be able to snatch the load overhead. So explosive power, to a certain degree, is trained. The load has to be heavy enough because if it is too light and you snatch it too fast, it usually results in the kettlebell slamming down hard. Another outcome could be a very wobbly overhead position. Light load also means low power output. So there has to be the right combination of speed and load. Both of which are “ingredients” of power. The application of the burst of power from the lifter is when the kettlebell is still low. Once the kettlebell reaches around chest level, it slows down.

5. Useful for endurance

Due to the distribution of work to different muscle groups working in a rhythmic and synchronized manner, fatigue can be delayed. The weight of the kettlebell plays a big factor but if athletes want to train for endurance, this exercise is really great, as long as appropriate load is used- which is not very heavy if you want to train for endurance. Power (explosive power) is on the opposite end of the spectrum as compared to endurance. So how can the kettlebell snatch improve both? Well, no. But it may improve noticeably one and to a lesser extent, the other. Not both to similar degrees. Well maybe not unless the trainee has very low level of fitness to start with.

6. Promotes synchronized movements of the body’s major joints and muscle groups

In contrast to “isolation exercises”, the one arm kettlebell snatch uses almost the entire body from the foot intrinsic muscles; gastrocnemius-soleus tandem; hamstring group; quadriceps group; a bit of the gluteal muscles; erector spinae; lower, middle, and upper trapezius; para-scapular muscles; deltoids; biceps; triceps; forearm pronators and supinators; and finger flexors. I’m sure that list is incomplete. But you do get the picture. These different parts have to move in synchronously with the right timing when to apply a burst of effort and when to stabilize and when to relax.

7. Promotes shoulder stability

When the one arm kettlebell snatch used properly in training, the shoulder girdle develops robustness. This is because it has to continuously work to move the kettlebell and finally support it overhead in a stable manner. If the shoulder can do this, it will be better in tolerating repetitive motions required by the sport.

The Kettlebell snatch takes time to practice and learn. I observed that the average number of sessions for an athlete to be good enough to do a kettlebell snatch safely is around 2-4 sessions. That does not mean that they are already very good, it just means that they are able to snatch safe enough but still needs some refinement. From there it takes a lot longer time to refine the lifting skills. And there are technique variations that may be good for some but not for another person’s purpose.

This exercise is a step up from the swing. It can be an exercise by itself and it is also a very good drill to practice a part of the classic Long Cycle (AKA Clean and Jerk)

Most people learn quickly by watching. So here is a short video of the exercise. You may get by after simply watching the video. Or you may need to read a bit more about the details. But what you can never do is to get better at the movement without practicing it repeatedly- over and over…again and again.

You can also hear the exhalation. When you feel confident in the exercise you can copy how I breath. Or simply exhale rhythmically. It follows that you inhale automatically if you exhale hard. What you should not do is hold your breath.

If you think you need more tips on how to do the exercise, read on. It may be boring since it has some technical terms but some people understand and improve skills better of they have a deeper understanding on how the things are done.

The movement is not slow, so you may need to re-read the description below a few more times to relate to the movement.

Breakdown of the movement


From the initial starting position, apply enough force to swing the kettlebell (or kb) backwards. This is part is called the “Backswing”. It will then come to a stop and at that time, the forearm of the holding hand is pushing against the hip. Backswing ends when you push the forearm forward with the hip to propel the kb forward.


With your application of force to push with your hip, the kb will change direction and will swing forward. This part may be called the “Acceleration phase”. The kb swings forward at a fast motion. Some textbooks describe ballistic training which involves movements like throwing.

The speed described by the books starts at around 1.7 m/s. I measured the speed of the kb in Snatch (which has the acceleration phase) with a linear position transducer and the sensor says the highest velocity in the whole movement cycle is around 2m/s to almost 3m/s. Sometimes even higher. Speed is reduced slightly when heavier kb is used.

I mentioned this to show the potential of kb exercises especially those with a swing component, to enhance explosive power.

Acceleration Pull:

As the kb moves forward, it follows a curved path as it rises since it is held by the hand. Approximately -45 to -30 degrees before the arm assumes a horizontal position (0 degrees), pull with just enough force. The pull starts from the ground with the foot of your kb side giving a quick push, then your torso twists s little, the scapula of the holding arm starts to pull back.


The shoulders move up and back, and then the elbow bends. The hand relaxes to allow the handles to rotate and the hand to reinserts deeper into the handle. The ball of the bell then rests on a triangular “rack” formed by the volar part of the forearm, the biceps, and the pectoralis major (chest). This is also known as “Rack” position since the kb is racked or resting.

The movement from the starting position to the racked position is called “Clean”. Most likely this name is taken from the “Clean” in weightlifting since they are quite similar.


From the racked position, slightly twist the torso and push forward with the shoulder to drop the kb. The hand and forearm will guide the trajectory of the kb.

As the kb is dropping, the hand is slightly relaxed to position from being deeply inserted into a cyclindrical grip with the fingers wrapped around the handle. Most lifters practice having the middle finger be aligned with the middle of the handle. This prevents extra wriggle at the backswing since the weight will be balanced.

As the kb drops and follows a curved path backwards, the backswing of the next cycle has started.

The big secret:

Keep repeating as many reps as required! While focusing on only 1 aspect among the phases described. Keep practicing until you feel more competent at that area. Then practice some more to make it more reflex like. Then focus on another aspect and repeat the process. Then practice your improved version. Repeat and try to polish your technique. As you keep practicing, your fitness also improves which helps a lot in proper execution.

You can move up in kettlebell weight as your technique improves. Generally, it is prudent to practice with “lighter” loads if you are not so familiar with the movement. As you practice, you naturally get better. Strength is also improved and it is but natural to challenge yourself to the next level by lifting higher loads.

These are not the only factors but when you follow them, they help a lot.

And if you want to move to another level, seek professional services of qualified and experienced coaches. It does make a world of difference as long as you know what you want and want it bad enough.

Comment below if you have questions or reactions.

I consider myself very lucky to be at my mid-40’s already. For some countries even to this day, that is just their life expectancy. And I am slowly coming to realize that I am living in another stage in human history- we are leaving the industrial revolution and we are now in the era of information, of computers, of technology making life so convenient. I should plan to be as healthy and as strong as I can be for as long as I can one day marvel at how far the world has come, and still be amazed by the beauty of this world.


I am now accepting that I am growing old. So I better plan how to grow old in a better way. Realizing that there is so much information available almost for free at this era, I am trying to learn concepts and ideas. That way, I will not be left too far behind. It also gives me some goals- to make myself better by learning.

And now, via the internet, you can access books: ebooks, and audiobooks. I used to read pages of a book while commuting on the train to and from home to work. Then lately, I started biking instead of commuting. It makes me healthier too. But then how can I read? Easy, I don’t have to read, I can just listen. Instead of ebooks, there are audiobooks. I tested it first though. Since it is important to focus on the environment while cycling. I tested listening while cycling back home yesterday. And it works! I don’t need a loud volume, and I can still hear the environment and understand the audiobook at the same time.


This morning I had a longer ride going to work. There is another loop that goes up a hill and goes around a mountain range so it is twice longer than the usual route. I was able to listen to an audiobook and it was great! I also enjoyed the scenery.


These simple things, which are not available during my parent’s times, gives me and their grandchildren a lot more chance to learn and discover. But not unless we appreciate and value it, we may not really use it to our advantage.

So as I grow old, I discover new ways of doing things. And I also am very much blessed to live in an environment where I can do what I love.


44, that will be your age in three days. You are doing good by making a tradition of lifting your age for reps on your birthday- or this time, near your birthday. You started three years ago with two 20kgs. Had a video clip of it… Look for it. Then last year you challenged yourself with two 24 kgs. That was hard. It is good you documented with video and a blog. It is nice to think about it.

This year you plan to spend quality time with your family on your birthday so you won’t be in your office- the gym. The 16kg pair you have at home won’t be a challenge anymore, for your age as reps anyway, so you decided to do the annual tradition earlier.

20190408_134751You may be the only person who will patiently count all the reps in your video. The heart rate seems not accurate. Well, your chest strap is around 9 years old already. Time to buy a new one!






Your wife lovingly bought you your Garmin Fenix 3. Then when you went for a training camp in Jakarta with the Laser kid you and Ben were training, you must have left it in the airport on your way back. You didn’t want to disappoint your wife so you looked for a way to replace it. That is when Facebook Marketplace helped you.



And you were able to “upgrade” it to the HR version. Although the infrared sensor needs improvement.  From what you learned in that situation, you are now able to buy yourself a nice bike as a gift.



Back to your birthday tradition, 44 reps will not really impress a KB Athlete. So you should not stop there. And 1 year to add another rep is too long. I noticed you became better at pacing yourself. You lifted with more confidence this year than last year. Not as nervous, but it still felt hard. Well, if it is easy it is not worth it. It was hard enough that your plan to do 44 snatches with 20kg per hand after the Jerk did not push through. And this morning you still felt a bit tired. So have a better preparation compared to your 4 weeks this year so you can do a more impressive lift next year. That way, it would be a bit more impressive.


Your technique – your mobility did not improve though. Work on that if you want to  have an impressive lift next year and if you want to compete this year. It is exciting to compete but will you be able to afford it financially and given time constraints? It is challenging. Smile, you just read in social media that growth happens outside of your comfort zone. You have been comfortable enough. Grow up more- don’t just grow old!


So next year, why not try the 28’s? That is another level. Last week, you felt good training with the 20’s that you were too confident for the 24’s. Then you were reminded in the middle of your lift that the 24’s are another type of animal. Another thing to learn- how to challenge yourself and be motivated without stressing yourself too much and how to be confident but know how to manage it.

20190407_135944Stepping up to 28’s would take time. You have to improve on the 20’s first- maybe 2-3 months of consistent practice will do. That would be July this year. Then move on to 24’s for 2-3 months. Plan forward after that if you are able to move forward for the next 6 months.

Work on your mobility too- the overhead squats seems a great tool for that. So be consistent in training 2-3 times a week. You also just bought a nice 2nd hand bike so you can work on endurance more. And also save on time and money when going to work and going back home. So when you lift it is more focused on KB lifts. The 2km minimum warm-up can be shortened to dynamic warm-up.



Keep working on improving your habit of writing your thoughts. You surprised yourself more than once when you read old notes. You initially thought they were written by someone smarter than you then you realized you were the author. This blog is something you will be thankful later on, since you will know that you planned to grow older into a younger, better you. Your body may be older but you should be stronger than when you were in your youth.

View from the top of the hill covering our village. Taken 6 April 2019.


Remember you are doing all these because you love yourself and your family. And also everything around you. You are scarred by the ugly side of this world but that is a part of why you are here- to experience and be better amidst all these. To pass through this world without scars is not passing through this world at all. Be better, not bitter.

Remember that you want to be a better person as you age. And also have a more abundant life, both in quality and quantity. You want this so you can share to others and so that someday when you leave this world, it will be a little bit better because of you.



Gift to myself

Posted: April 26, 2018 in From my vantage point

This is for my future self to read. And also with anyone who cares to read. I hope it would inspire and re-inspire myself (or anyone). This year I turned 43. Not old, but not young. Last year I did two x 20kg x 42 reps KB jerks to mark my birthday. Then planned to have it this year. Time went fast & did not train as much as I think I shouldbut then my birthday came. I decided to use two x 24kg kb’s since the 20 kgs already felt quite manageable with proper pacing. It would not be so meaningful if it is not hard enough. So to give myself a challenge, I decided to use 24 kg instead.

I was not really sure if I could do it. I tried at lunchtime and failed at around 23 reps. I noted my mistakes: very tight belt which did not allow me to breath well and the other one may be a combination of pacing and resting in the racked position.

I tried again in the evening just before I went home. This time I used the belt correctly and paced better. I was doubting myself at around mid twenty reps. But let myself get to thirty. Then it felt like just a little bit more patience and perseverance and aim for mid 30. Got myself to 35 then it felt very well within reach now. Told myself to be patient and not rush. I paced myself not by looking at the time but by how I feel. I rest until I feel recovered for the next rep.


I plan to finish fast in the last 2-3 reps but I do not want to repeat an old mistake of going too fast in the last few reps that I failed on the last rep.

My previous mistakes should not go to waste especially it was this hard. So I breathed. Tried to breath well. Then adrenaline must have kicked in that I was confident I could go fast for the last three reps! And I did! I was ecstatic after the set that I was even able to fist pump. This I would not be able to do normally. I have to catch my breath for 30 seconds  or so but this time I was just so happy and relieved that I had the energy to clench and pump my fists.

This year went well. So now I plan to give myself a gift each year. It is not just attempting reps for my age. It is deeper than that. I plan to give myself a gift each year: a healthy mind and body. For as long as I can. It requires consistent and daily effort. Each year my body ages but I want it to age strongly.

I remember my grandfather. He had to use crutches in his 80’s since his spinal nerve roots have been compressed and he lost lower leg strength. But he still managed to keep himself busy and useful. He repairs the stone steps in my aunt’s farm. And that is not a flat terrain and the stones weigh around 15 kg and probably up to 30 kg. And when my grandfather was my age, he was so gentle and yet so strong. He can work the whole day doing what he does best. He makes rip raps. He can carry heavy loads up uneven steps high up to the top of his rip rap and this for the whole day for days at a time.

So I plan to be like him- a gentle man who is at peace with himself and who keeps his body healthy and strong. That would be a great git to myself; and to my family.



The Kettlebell snatch is one of the two lifts in the biathlon event in Kettlebell Sport. If you are not in it for competition, it is still a very dynamic and useful lift. It is almost a ballistic lift except that you do not throw the kettlebell but you, well, snatch it. It is an overhead and fast lift. It depends on your training goal if you want to do a few repetitions- like 10 and below, or do more, like 20’s and beyond.

But before you do so many reps, it is better to polish your snatch technique. Many, or probably all lifters who are learning how to do the kettlebell snatch experienced some slight bruising on their forearm. That is because the bell slammed hard on the forearm. It can be avoided by a combination of proper hand insertion and for some, a slight dip. There is more than one technique to do the snatch. In the video, one type is shown, although it may be a slight combination of two techniques especially for the right arm.

It is a great exercise or developing strength-endurance. It involves most major joints and muscle groups, it improves the function of your “posterior chain” of muscles, and it can even help improve your cardio-respiratory endurance to a certain extent. Over all, it is a great exercise that gives you a great bang for your buck by improving a lot of fitness and even performance related fitness components.

Each lifter will have a technique which would be best suited or him or her. And again, like everything, you need to learn some fundamental skills and then practice, practice, practice so you can improve. Good luck!

Once in a while, after training for some time, you may feel like not training. It does happen. People may get bored, or may not be challenged.

It may be a sign that your training has been too monotonous in terms of the stimulus it provides you. Maybe you are not lifting heavy enough. Or maybe you are looking to spice things up a little bit, so you can re-focus and get back to training.

If you are training pressing movements and you feel you need a slightly different challenge, try doing the See saw Bottoms-up press. You need a pair of kettlebells that is not too heavy, nor too light. For a 65-70kg man of who has been lifting weights for a year or more, a pair of around 8 to 14kg kettlebells may work.

It is a given that you should know how to press. And another skill requirement is that you can clean 2 kettlebells at the same time. If you can do that try cleaning two kettlebells at the same time but instead of holding them at the usual kettlebell rack position, let their bottom point up- hence bottoms-up, and hold them almost in the rack position. If you cannot do that yet, then practice, practice, and practice. As always, better to start with a relatively lighter load first.

If you are finally able to simultaneously clean a pair of kettlebells in the bottoms-up position, then it is time to press both at the same time. Follow the bells with your eyes. It would help a lot. Practice, practice, practice…

If you are finally able to simultaneously overhead press a pair of kb while holding them bottoms-up, then you can press one at a time, on an alternating fashion. Then finally the alternating see-saw movement.

There you go. This exercise takes time to learn and execute if you are still improving on your strength department. It needs some strength, and of course skill. But if you are strong enough, you would be able to do it quite quickly. It is good to practice this once in a while to make training more interesting. Enjoy training!

Most resistance training equipment can be used outdoors. But some still require a solid and stable ground (like Olympic Barbells). Advantages of kettlebells over other resistance training equipement is that it requires very minimal maintenance cost. It can be used at the beach and would have minimal damage (a very thin rust) if not wiped clean after getting wet with sea water. You can practice juggling with it too. Here is a sample workout when you want to have fun at the beach.


Here is another routine which you can build upon. You can copy it as it is or modify the repetitions of each exercise. Three tips are given at the end of the video. Try it and don’t forget to comment!

Here is a quick warm-up routine for your kettlebell training. Some would want to add some more calisthenics and stretches which is great.