SHTF-Oriented Fitness and Martial Arts for a Middle-Aged Couch Potato, by Dimitri G.

First off: English is not my native language. I apologize if this article is not easy to read. I hope that its usefulness will outweigh the inconvenience.

I am 40 years old, overweight by about 50 pounds, and I regretfully admit that in the past 15 or so years I became a “couch potato”. In other words, my physical fitness is not up to the challenges of any survival situation.

When I was a lot younger, I practiced karate, boxing, and weight lifting. I was pretty tough, and even back in high school there was no bully who would risk messing with me.
Apart from being a martial arts practitioner, I had (and still have) a huge library of very good books on various martial arts, with an emphasis on “street fighting” applications.
I dare think my opinions are based on a thorough analysis of various available options combined with my own experience and learning from mistakes, rather than mindless following someone else’s rigid views or advertisement.

As I got a family and a job about 18 years ago, hard work with lots of overtime did not help my plans of “getting back to the gym”, but quite frankly – I just got lazy.
I trained less hard and less frequently, until one day last year I realized that I had completely lost whatever skills and physical fitness level I used to have, and I can hardly run half a mile, let alone being able to defend my family in a SHTF situation.
I walk my dog, with an occasional sprint-run up the hill to the house where we live in Western Washington, and I try to keep my flexibility at a semi-decent level… but, other than that, I am completely “out of shape”, – both figuratively and literally.
My results in push-ups and pull-ups exercises are ridiculously low, and my punches are too far from being nearly as powerful as I want them to be.

I’ve been pondering an idea to start regular training, but without a well thought out system, I have more chances of hurting myself in the process than getting any results back. [Been there, done that…]

This article is my first attempt in many years to create an actionable fitness and hand-to-hand combat plan, and I hope that it will be useful not only to myself, but also to someone who can honestly identify himself (or herself) as a “couch potato” and wants to start preparing physically for the SHTF situation.

I will spare you my efforts to provide mental preparedness and/or motivation.
If you have a family, you have all the motivation you need. Just imagine what might happen to your loved ones if a gang of armed, ruthless, blood-thirsty looters attacks your neighborhood… and you’ve got all the motivation you need.
The only trick is to learn how to turn your fear and anger into a burning desire to train harder than before. But please remember that the older you are, the more careful you need to be when performing physical exercises.

Let’s start with the goals: what are we trying to achieve?
Your goals will define your list of exercises, training sessions frequency, etc.
In time, your goals will mostly stay the same, but the list of exercises will have to change.
Here’s my list, which might be very different from yours:
Minimal physical fitness to help me and my family survive the coming collapse. I must be able to:
– walk long distances with at least 50 pounds of weight (basic bug-out bag, weapons, ammo);
– run fast;
– run long distances;
– carry bigger weights for a short period of time (e.g., if an injured family member or neighbor must be evacuated from a burning building);
– climb and jump;
– fight (unarmed) against one or two enemies who are not armed and do not have special training.
Long-term goals:
– continue getting stronger and faster;
– more physical endurance;
– fight using a stick, a knife, and anything that can be used as a weapon, against armed and well-trained enemies.

This last one most likely made you laugh…
I know all too well that real-life fights are nothing like movie tricks.
It is almost impossible to win a fight if you are unarmed, and you fight against a group of special forces soldiers armed with guns.
But seriously: who do you think will be your real enemy?.. Most likely, one or two (worst case scenario, – three) gang members, armed with sticks or knives. Maybe, one of them will have a gun which he will be pointing at you at a short distance.
It is realistically possible to win this fight.
Of course, you need to be really well-prepared, and you need a good portion of sheer dumb luck… but there is a chance. And I say, it’s better that just giving up and letting my family be raped and killed. I’d rather die fighting, but I want to take as many bastards with as possible. Perhaps, as luck would have it, even win…
I can’t rely on always having a gun available, because we all know what happened after Katrina.
How such a situation would develop depends on a lot of factors, such as their original intentions (grab-and-go vs. rob-rape-and-kill), how many members their gang consists of, what the surrounding circumstances are (are you on the second floor of your house with a gun in your hand, with your family behind you, or are you unarmed in a street, with a bandit holding a knife at your teenage daughter’s throat?..), what weapons their have and – more importantly – how ready they are to murder someone. Needless to say, a hungry unarmed neighbor who came to steal your can of beans is not exactly as dangerous as a gang of prison escapees armed with guns.

Sorry, I digress… That was more of a motivation than a plan…

Anyway, let’s get back to the goals.

If you’re like me, and you need to start your physical fitness almost “from scratch”, you need to start slow.
I can run up my hill twice, but then I’ll probably have a heart attack. At the very least, my knees will hurt for several days.
Punching a heavy bag too hard is another good example of my stupidity.
I learned from my own mistakes that I need to know my current limitations, or I won’t be able to exercise for quite some time just because of traumas. If you are half as pissed off as I am, and about as willing to defend your family as I am, it is far too easy to overestimate yourself and have one training session after which you will be able to barely move for a couple of weeks, if not worse. Be realistic. Do not expect great results in a day.

What I am going to do (and you probably need to do that, too) is make a list of some basic exercises that I am going to perform in the nearest future (that is, within the next couple of months, until I feel I am ready for a more serious training) and write down the results I can currently get without negative consequences.
For example, how long can I run at a relatively slow speed before I feel I’ve had enough for today? How many push-ups, and in how many sets, can I do, without having debilitating pain for the next few days? And so on, and so forth.
If you don’t know what exercises to perform, don’t worry, I’ll get to them shortly.

The idea is to figure out how much you are capable of under normal circumstances, and start – slowly but steadily – building up the foundation for future exercises that will help you prepare for a survival situation.
When analyzing your abilities, try to figure out what you already have and what you need to focus on.
For example, if you are strong, but you can’t run a mile, it is obvious what you need to do: more walking and running.

An important thing to keep in mind is that there are different kinds of pain, and it is extremely important to be able to distinguish between them.
If you practiced any kind of sports ages ago, you know what I am talking about.
There’s good pain which you feel (normally, for a day or two) after a good workout. It shows that, once your body has had enough rest and food, your physical results will grow a little bit, thus adding up to an overall progress of your training program.
And then there are all kinds of bad pain, which indicates that something is wrong.
This might be from some illnesses, but it can also be caused by over-exercising or traumas.
I can’t describe in a short article how to be sure that the pain you are feeling is good. If you are sure, fine. Otherwise, talk to a doctor.
Bottom line is: “no pain, no gain”, but not all pain is good.
And you need to be certain that you get exactly the right amount of exercise for your current level of fitness and for your current condition. Too little, and you won’t get any results. Too much, and you’ll be sick. The same goes for frequency and intensity of your training sessions.
Besides, you might feel great today and be able to exercise a lot, but tomorrow you’ll get tired at work and be unable to exercise at all.
There are far too many variables which make it absolutely impossible to make an optimal training plan for everyone. Experiment with your training routine, and change it often to continue “surprising” your body to give it a stimulus to develop.
Worse yet, for each “couch potato”, it is often very difficult to distinguish between tiredness and laziness. Deal with it. Motivate yourself. Just imagine what would happen if your family is attacked, or starving, or needs to be evacuated from a burning building, or something like that…

Now, a few words about self-defense.
I could write a book about all kinds of Bravo Sierra surrounding martial arts, but this is just an article.
The more you research this topic, and the more you practice some kind of fighting skills, the more “deep understanding” of it you get. Sometimes, it’s just a feeling that something is right or wrong, and it is difficult to put it into words.
So, I’ll be very brief.

  1. Practice often.
  2. To start with, use only a few primitive techniques (punches, kicks, blocks, movements) and combinations of them. A simple well-practiced technique is far better than several of those which you won’t be able to do in the critical situation. A simple and reliable technique is far more valuable than a complex one.
  3. Each technique must be practiced in all kinds of scenarios hundreds of thousands of times before you can be sure it will work for you when you are scared to death, in an disadvantageous position, tired and injured, and so on, and so forth.
  4. Practice while wearing the same type of clothes you wear every day. If you train for a survival situation, a uniform with a colored belt is not for you.
  5. If you never practiced martial arts before, too bad. Learn. Read books. Do not learn from movies. Nearly all martial arts schools suck: it is rarely their goal to teach you how to fight for your life. If you can, find a private instructor who has experience teaching in the military or law enforcement: most of the time, they know how to fight for real. The best possible option is a Krav Maga instructor with military background.
  6. There is no substitute for a very heavy and very hard (as opposed to “soft”) punching bag. Period. Buy it, use it, learn to love it. Remember to start slow, even if you were very good at it years ago.
  7. If you can’t do at least 50 push-ups in a single set, your punch will never be any good.
  8. Practice kicks from a sitting position on the floor with your hands tied behind your back. If you know what I mean, good. If not… just do it. Thank me later.
  9. Practice as if one of your arms is injured. If you are any good with kicks, practice with tied hands (there are a lot of blocks which use feet or shins). Practice hand techniques while hopping on one leg.
  10. Learn to sweep an enemy’s weapon away from you (and away other people around you) in one swift move. Practice those moves with a heavy club or a dumbbell, then repeat without a weight, but with a maximum speed. If you see techniques which show a couple of steps combined with a complex wrestling-style throw or arm lock, know that this is BS. Remember that your enemy is neither super-dumb nor super-slow, and there will probably be at least two of them. You can only hope to distract his/their attention and then use at most half a second before he pulls the trigger. As a general rule, learn to tell movie tricks from real practical techniques.
  11. Practice at home, in the backyard, on the staircase, in a car, in a room full of furniture… in other words, practice your skills everywhere where you expect to fight in real life. A gym is hardly the right place. Fight on the ice, under rain, under blindingly bright sun, in complete darkness, when it’s cold and when it’s hot. Wear shoes or be barefooted.
  12. When you get better at fighting skills, add exercises with weapons, especially a knife and a club. Do not use nunchaku or sai or kama or any other samurai/ninja/peasant garbage: it’s just stupid; we are not in a medieval Japan. Learn to use almost anything as a weapon that you can find in the street (a stone, a piece of wood) or in your living room. But again: be realistic; you can’t use a match box as a weapon, regardless of what some idiots claim. A weapon must enhance a human’s ability to self-defense. A table lamp, a pen, or almost any potentially dangerous object probably can be used as a weapon, but a coin with a sharp edge cannot. Just imagine defending yourself with a sharp coin or a match box against an attacker armed with an AR-15, laugh, and move on to practicing serious stuff.
  13. Learn how to fall down. While you’re at it, learn how to fight when you are on the ground. No, I am not talking about wrestling; I mean blocks and kicks and jumping back up to your feet. If you have any doubts about efficiency of wrestling techniques for a real survival fight and if you enjoy watching MMA fights, imagine that the referee is another one of your enemies, and he is armed with a knife while you are wrestling with another guy.
  14. Practice blocks. It takes time and lots of practice to set up your defense, but you won’t survive without it.
  15. There are hundreds of martial arts styles, dozens (if not hundreds) of thousands of individual techniques. Let this sink in: YOU DO NOT NEED THEM. All you need is (at most!..) a dozen punches and kicks, plus a dozen of blocks, all of them combined into 2-, 3-, or (at most) 4-elements combination techniques, which you have practiced countless thousands of times each, and which you can deliver under any conditions with lightning-fast speed and steel-crushing power. Leave jumping-spinning-back-hook-kicks to movie actors, professional sportsmen, and chronic idiots.

Of all the styles, I recommend Krav Maga and Shorinji Kempo.

I can spend days discussing pro’s and con’s of various techniques for self-defense.
But the point is, you either start practicing now, or you spend years talking about it while scratching your belly.
What works for me, might not work for you, and vice versa.
To start with, for a complete newbie, I recommend:

  1. Forward elbow strike.
  2. Palm-heel straight punch.
  3. Forward knee kick.
  4. Forward kick to the groin.

Once you’ve got some experience (assuming you don’t have any yet), you will add more techniques (but not too many!..).
These 4 will get you started. Imagine a very fast and very powerful kick to the groin, followed by an elbow strike, and you’ll feel much better about your ability to defend you loved ones and yourself. Another good thing is, – these simple techniques let you not worry too much about your enemy wearing a bulletproof vest: it is very unlikely that his groin will be protected.

One of the most difficult things to do for someone like me is holding myself back when performing some formerly-familiar exercises.
When I was 17, my friends and I used to break bricks just to show off. My mind still remembers all the stuff, but my body doesn’t. If you practiced, for example, boxing 20 years ago, but have not hit a punching bag in years, be extra careful on the punching bag: you can think you can punch a hole in it, but your fist is not nearly as strong as it used to be, and your wrist will hurt terribly if it can’t hold the punch and bends. Hence, my advice to strike with a palm heel.
The older you are, and the less fit you are, the more careful you must be when you try to become fit.

And I want to emphasize it one more time: talk to a doctor before you start any kind of serious training.

In my opinion, the most important fitness-related abilities for SHTF situation are endurance, some basic strength, and self-defense.

If you’ve been running/jogging for some time now, you are in a better shape than most of us.
But if running is the only exercise you’ve been doing, then you are still not prepared physically for survival.

For a complete couch potato, I recommend the following exercises:

  1. Walk as much as you can every day. If you have a dog, just walk him around your neighborhood or in the park, until you feel really tired. (again: do not confuse it with just being lazy).
  2. Run as much as you can at least 3 times a week. It may be for just a few seconds to start with, but do it. You’ll get better very soon. Watch your pulse and breathing. Talk to your doctor first, especially if you have any medical problems.
  3. Do squats without any weight. Just stand up (try it now! I’ll wait…), then bend your knees completely, so that your butt almost touches the floor, then stand up again. Do it slowly, as many times as you can. If you can do it close to 100 times, you are not a couch potato. Sorry for wasting your time. Keep doing whatever it is you do to be in good shape. Otherwise, do one set of this exercise twice a week (say, for example, right now, and then in 3 days, and then in 4 days, and then again in 3 days, and so on). When you feel it is easy, start doing 2 sets, with 2 minutes rest after the first set. Perform this exercise right after you’ve come back from a jog. Then do the stretching exercises, and then practice kicks: this “pre-tiredness” will help a lot if you have the same problem with my knees as I do (they hurt from kicks unless my muscles are already not only warmed up, but really tired when I start kicking practice).
  4. Pushups. A must-do for everyone. One of the best exercises for your upper body, and you can do it anywhere, anytime. If you can’t do it properly, put your hands on the side of your bed (instead of the floor), and you’ll feel how much easier it is. If you are able to do at least a couple dozen pushups in a set, start varying the technique: put your hands shoulder-width, or wider, or narrower. Keep your feet on the ground or put them on the chair. Push up on open hands or on fists or (if you can) on fingers. Do slow pushups or very slow or normal speed or very fast or “explosive” style. There’s a big difference – and you’ll feel it – between hands-together-feet-on-the-floor-very-slow-pushup and fists-very-far-apart-with-feet-2-feet-above-floor-fast-pushups.
  5. This one is very hard for a real couch potato… but also extremely important. Pull-ups. Basically, the idea is to grab something above your head and pull yourself up by bending your arms. Before I got my own training equipment (and while having no money for a gym…), I used to do pull-ups in a children’s playground. There’s always something close to your home where you can do pull-ups. Worse-case scenario, just hang a rope between two trees. Or, buy a pull-up bar from a sports store: it goes in a doorway, it is easy to set up and to remove (it takes seconds, without any tools), and it costs around $30. Look up “pull up bar” in to see what I mean. The problem with pull ups is that not every middle-aged man or woman can do them. Don’t trick yourself by thinking that you can replace this exercise with dumbbells or barbells “curls”: no, you can’t. If you can’t do a proper pull-up now, not even once, do not despair: you can put something under your feet to step on, so that you can grab a pull-up bar while your arms are already half-bent, and then perform partial pull ups. When your arms get stronger, eventually you’ll be able to get rid of that chair or whatever, and perform regular pull-ups. There might also be another problem: if you are overweight, and/or your grip is weak, you might have difficulty just hanging in there… literally. There’s no better solution for this than regularly hang on the pull-up bar as long as you can, and for as many sets as you can before it really hurts, as many days a week as possible.
  6. Abs workout. There are so many exercises… If you are overweight like me, I am sure you know them all. Do whatever works for you. My favorite: lie down on the floor, then simultaneously raise your hands and legs while exhaling, so that only your butt touches the floor; slowly lie down again; repeat until it hurts.
  7. Punching bag. If you’ve ever worked out on a punching bag for more than a minute, you must know that it’s also a great workout, – both for your muscles and for your cardio-vascular system. The only problem is to be careful with every single move; otherwise, the traumas take very long to heal. The most common injures happen when you punch too hard and/or almost miss the right spot (in which case your wrist can bend and hurt terribly for several weeks), and when you punch the bag without any protective gloves, and your hand slips (this is where you lose a good chunk of your knuckles’ skin, and you can’t punch a bag for about a week). Just be careful, use gloves or hand wraps, and land you punches with precision.
  8. Jumping rope. If this exercise sounds silly and childish to you, try to do it 200+ times without stopping, and you’ll feel how useful it is. You don’t need an expensive jumping rope from The Sports Authority. A piece of regular rope which is long enough and heavy enough will be just as good.
  9. Developing a strong grip. Useful for all kinds of survival situation: from lifting and carrying heavy objects to evacuating from a tall building using a rope, to climbing, to self-defense, and so on, and so forth. There are good grip strengtheners; be sure to get those which are hard to squeeze. Pull-ups, hanging on a rope or a pull-up bar also helps. Besides, performs pushups on your fingers at least once in a while.
  10. Last, but not least: practice blocks and punches with weapons. I don’t mean guns, but heavy objects. I perform several sets of blocks with police-style clubs which have a short handle sticking out (these clubs are also known as “tonfa”), and this helps not only techniques, but also muscles and tendons, while developing speed.

I’d like to say a few words about diet, but I do not think I have a moral right to talk about it until I lose a few more pounds.
Anyway, the only thing really worth mentioning is fasting: regular fasting is good for your health if you do it right, and it is certainly useful to be able to function a day or two while being hungry in case you just don’t have any food at all in a survival situation or you have to give it all to your kids if there’s too little available.

It turned out to be nearly impossible to cram a lot of information in a short article.
I hope it will be useful for someone who wants to get started on TEOTWAWKI/survival self-defense and fitness training, but does not know how.

Yes, I am a grumpy, middle-aged, fat man. But I am determined to maximize my family’s chances of survival in the coming imminent collapse of life as we know it. I’ll do whatever it takes to defend them, and hopefully help my neighbors and friends in the process.
I am preparing, and I suggest you do the same.