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Balance & Power Training Throughout History

Footwork Is Key

Footwork is a mainstay of combat sports and martial reality. The feet are the deuce-and-a-half’s that get your munitions to the field of battle. The feet are your mode of retreat to get out of harm’s way. Your feet are the two pegs you use to cut angles to better deflect, diminish, evade an attacker’s gambit and apply your own meanness.

Footwork is, was, and will always be vital to matters martial. But… Just as important is what you can do on your feet while basically standing stock still. How much heft can you generate from this on-point position?

A Historical Approach

There is a huge archive of material from the historical record showing how much emphasis was placed on stationary power, but this static base was seemingly not the primary focus of static-stance drills.

It seems that static balance in-the-midst-of-power was the treasured attribute. The ability to deliver “Oomph!” while retaining poise. The historical record presents us with more than a few drills that seek to develop this. We also find a handful of “sporting matches” or complete combat arts based around the attribute of balance and power.

Eastern Martial Arts

On the Eastern Martial arts side of things, we can find practically entire systems dedicated to balance work, Mei Hu (or Plum Blossom Kung Fu) and its pole training comes to mind. To those unfamiliar with it, picture a series of shortened telephone posts driven into the ground.

The practitioner is then expected to drill and even spar while maneuvering perched atop these precarious fiends. Any of us who have tackled pole-leaping obstacles in obstacle course racing can appreciate the added difficulty of fighting while treacherously aloft.

I also call your attention to a sport I absolutely love out of Thailand, Muay Tale, (sometimes Muay Talay) or, “sea-boxing.”

Essentially two combatants straddle themselves atop of a naval boom (horizontal post) approximately 5 feet above water or a matted surface and go to town with standard boxing rules until one (often both) plunge into the water. Keep in mind you can still keep firing punches if you lose your balance and spin underneath the boom keeping out of the water with a stout leg-scissors.

Historian and novelist Paul Wellman creates a similar battle in the form of an apocryphal knife-duel for Jim Bowie on the pirate island of Galvez in his entertaining novel “The Iron Mistress.”

Again, I looooove this sport! It’s well worth an addition to your training if for nothing else the fun-factor.

Western Martial Arts

Bringing balance and power training closer to the Western martial arts side of things, we have accounts of “rail” and “trestle” matches of boxing, wrestling, often both (that is, Frontier Rough and Tumble) being conducted atop logs, suspended railroad ties, on the sides of trestle bridges. In short, anywhere odd that you could place two combatants to “go to town.”

Balance and power were coveted attributes in America’s frontier, if anyone has witnessed lumberjacks competing in the springboard chop event you’ll know what I mean. Standing on a 12″ wide board, precariously notched into the side of a tree while chopping with full-power. I mean, come on that is POWER & BALANCE!

There are more than a few accounts of American Indians engaging in competitive brawling atop logs in a variation of the legend-tale of the Robin Hood and Little John quarterstaff fight on a log-bridge. FYI: If you dig Robin Hood narratives, Angus Donald has delivered a gorgeous series of novels called “The Outlaw Chronicles” that gives us a down and gritty version of the Robin Hood story.

We find many accounts of old-school boxing coaches tying their fighters’ shoelaces together to get them to find balance and power in their footwork and to reduce over-committed lunges.

We find similar ideas in “tea-tray” training in which 18th-century London fencing masters would have pupils work call and response with foil or epee while perched on a tea-tray to limit their footwork.

Get Ready For Some Drills

It is with all of these historical traditions in mind that I offer the below variations of Combat Balance & Power Exercises culled from Frontier Rough and Tumble accounts.

Balance & Power Drills

The Baby Rail

  1. Place a 2×4 or 4×4 on the ground in front of a heavy bag.
  2. Perch yourself atop it and put in that day’s rounds-find your power in this constricted position.

The Elevated Frontal Rail

  1. Same idea here but in this case we have elevated that 4×4 to at least 28″ above the ground.
  2. Not having a bag with this height clearance, I use a frontal rail positioned in front of a tree where I can suspend a heavy bag higher than normal, or in front of the tree-trunk itself where I have positioned a crash pad or wrapped foam in burlap around the trunk.
  3. Even if you found “The Baby Rail” to be a piece of cake, elevating the same perch takes some getting used to as the consequences for over-reaching or bag blowback are higher.
  4. You will find timidity drops your commitment to power. Your job, keep the work up until you find your power rising back to a respectable level.

The Flank Baby Rail

  1. Place your 4×4 on the ground in front of the heavy bag at a right angle-that is the end of the rail facing the bag.
  2. Hit your rounds here.

The Elevated Flank Rail

  1. Let’s take it back to the elevation and repeat.
  2. Again, you will notice a decline in “Oomph!” as the stakes are, literally, higher.

Final Thoughts

There are several handfuls more of these unusual training methods in the old Rough and Tumble tradition that we will save for another day. But with the above four ideas in mind for preparatory training and then adding a bit of limited sparring to the rails (Baby or Elevated) you will find when you go through a week or two of this and then take your game back to an unlimited footwork, flat-ground base you will be cooking with GAS!

Or, as an old school Rough and Tumbler might say, “You’ll be a rough and bluff fighter, who has fought through the mill and refused to grind fine.” In other words, a bit more bad-ass on your road to bad-assery.

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45 thoughts on “Balance & Power Training Throughout History”

  1. Simply wondered where you found a copy of Paul Wellman’s novel “The Iron Mistress” ? That book must have been written over fifty years ago !

  2. This is my first time leaving a note although not my first article or video. Great stuff!!!
    Please keep it coming and thanks.

  3. Just wanted to say thank you for all your videos and tips and drills on what to do to stay safe at the time and need when feel threatened. Thank you again and God bless

  4. I’M 62 AND BROKEN DOWN!! Can’t do this stuff!! THANKS ANYWAY!! Need something simpler!! THANKS AGAIN! HAVE A NICE DAY!!

  5. I like this idea of training as a way to gain balance and power. I have also seen it done while standing on atight rope I know that if I was younger than my 60 years of age I would try to do all of it a great video and advice.

  6. After 26 years as a LEO and hundreds of training programs, Footwork is everything, you are either in control or your on the ground, or worst! Foot stance when you shoot, balance in hand to hand situations are most important.
    Working on a survey crew building bridges your life depended on footwork walking steel beams, or walking the boom of a crane across a river carrying a transit on your shoulder, it’s footwork. If you don’t use it you loose it, at 70 years old I can’t do what I use to but I can hold my own, that’s why I continue to requalify every year as a retired LEO.
    Keep up the good work!

  7. Useful training ideas. I’ve been looking into Bruce Lee’s one inch punch technique and this seems a good way of mastering the standstill footwork

  8. I think that would help me because my balance isn’t all that great. I think would help me retain my balance once I had it. The wobbly effect is what I think would help. Thank you.

  9. Good evening, Bob.

    The review of balance reminded me of when I was a child. We would walk on the railroad tracks to see who could stay on them the longest. The wide ones were easy, however the narrow gauge ones were a challenge.

    As I was reading the review, I sat here wishing I could do it. I have a challenge. My knees are not the best in the world. That does not keep me from learning what you have been teaching. Your techniques put me at an advantage when it comes to self-defense. In spite of the fact that at the present time I am a slow mover, some of the techniques that I have learned so far can be put to use with a little creativity.

    So many times, I chuckle to myself. Who would expect an elderly lady to be able to defend herself, especially with the wonderful life saving moves that you teach? This the biggest secret that I have. I definitely will always have you to thank for my safe keeping. I am not afraid to use what you have been teaching me, if I need to.

    Bless you for your kindness.

    Thank you very much.
    Helen Marie

  10. Awesome old school training.
    Practioner in Silat. Love the natural and animal style fighting. Since that is the basic of how our ancestors learned.
    Tenacious is the kingdom way.
    Thanks for the info

  11. Everything mentioned sounds very interesting and fruitful. I’ll have to try them first opportunity. Since I’m going on 70 yrs young my progress will undoubtly be slow but I will succeed in the end. Thanks so much for all the programs I’ve purchased from you. Slowly I’m doing them all!

  12. Every little bit of training helps, no matter how much a person knows, you can always learn a little more. Thanks Guys.

  13. Very rewarding training; now try the round ranch fence posts at different heights above the ground; 1 ft, 1 1/2 ft; 3/4in; 1 3/4… so on. On a 6 X 8 foot layout, different distances apart from each other, bear foot. Twisted ankles and toes, bleeding, slick wood tops to fight from. Unless you sprain an ankle keep fighting… Once taped up get back at it…

  14. Great information I was not familiar with. I had seen pictures of Shaolin monks practicing on top of poles, but did not realize the similar western training!

  15. At the age of 83 I”m not good for a long fight and I can’t run it must be over quickly. The feet are the primary weapon , I wear steel toe work boots I get close as quickly as possible , strike the knee/shin/arch/toes with lead foot. Strike the throat/layrnx/eyes/nose with the trailing hand. The leading hand/arm/shoulder is used for defending my own face. Practice mentally , be quick and violent .

  16. Good day.
    Thank you, I am rusted and will have to take it slow although still try it,otherwise I will land up crippled.

  17. Good balance and footwork are what any martial art should be based on they are equally useful in most other sports but how often are they taught? I believe they should be the first things taught
    My age and attitude are exactly the same as Bill Clevenger

  18. Thank you for this. Not only will these methods improve balance for fighting, but add swinging a golf club in these positions and improve your balance for the links as well. Brilliant.

  19. I love swing kicking (I call it) where your off the ground, either on the poles or a beam, and just keep kicking, Just remember to stretch before Every Workout

  20. Great job on providing the raw information on balance and power, foot work seems to be a major part to learn in order to achieve the ability to master art form for fighting and or defending oneself , great lesson. Peace

  21. I am 61 and a naval aviation veteran so no hand to hand or weapons training but I can survive a shipwreck or at sea fire!
    I can be a little bit paranoid because of how the world really can be and a desire to survive, plus I like to win.
    I have a replaced hip joint that works poorly so I have a sword cane. Not a toy.
    I live “in the hood” mainly because of my past physical illness and an inability to rise above that financially thus far.
    There are drug dealers, of course, of all races plus sneak in Mexican aliens with prison tats and black eyes without smiles and backpacks full of ?.
    Rapes, drive bys and walk ups with semi automatic weapons, robberies, home invasions, murders, car theft etc. regular city stuff nowadays and that is in Wichita KS so just the small time but so common here that I have armed myself with blades.
    I applaud your hustle, meaning effort, and will support those efforts where I see a benefit to myself which has happened twice now with the 325S and the lock pick set. Just like insurance one wants one’s premiums paid when the need for the insurance presents.
    So, thank you.

  22. Talking about Footwork, I read that Skipping was part of the Martial Arts training in the Ancient Egyptian army. It figures: European Prize-Fighting originally involved weapons combat.

  23. Many thanks for what you do. Our world is not the same. The war
    on terror has us all more aware of our surroundings. Vigalence is
    more important than ever before.
    Keep safe and keep up the great work you do.
    Thanks again..

  24. I will try to learn the basics as it will really be helpful in an “emergency” especially at my age. Thank you.

  25. I guess you need static technique in any combat art involving kicks. Mobility is difficult when you’re standing on one leg, even temporarily.