Your ancestors were battle ready almost every day of their lives. If they had to pick up a club or sword in a life or death situation, they would grit their teeth and fight until the battle was done. Could you do the same? Find out with this workout.
All my life I have been a bit of a fantasy fiction nerd. I grew up pretending to be a great warrior and swordsmen, I would write short stories and draw maps depicting legends and adventure in a time forgotten. Perhaps some of this was exposure from my father to Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of The Rings, Norse Mythology, Celtic Folklore and other such conjurors of the imagination.
Yet my love of these mighty warriors and tales always seemed deeper and more innate than just being enamored with a genre. No, this obsession is much more than that; it is my ancestry, it is in my blood. I hail from an ancestral mix of Irish, Scottish, Norwegian, and German. I have done a fair amount of research into my lineage and take great pride in knowing where I come from and the history of my peoples. I feel it is important to learn about your ancestors in making a connection to the past we can better understand the present and best prepare for the future.
If we look at the history of these four nations they all have one blaring similarity. A verbose common denominator that is, they are all nations with a history of great warriors. Between the 8th and 11th centuries the Vikings would invade and conquer a territory expanding from East Russia, Northern Europe, and the British Isles and into the Mediterranean. They even made it all the way to the New World, what is now modern day Nova Scotia with their brilliant mastery of the sea.
In Viking lore the only way to Valhalla (the afterlife) was a glorious death in battle. This mindset made for some of the most brutal warriors the world has ever known. The Irish are another group full of warriors. The Celts, which is a language group as well as an eventual identity, were vicious warriors. They fought with reckless abandonment, Greek historian, Dionysius said that their “manner of fighting, being in large measure that of wild beasts and frenzied, was an erratic procedure, quite lacking in military science. Thus, at one moment they would raise their swords aloft and smite after the manner of wild boars, throwing the whole weight of their bodies into the blow like hewers of wood or men digging with mattocks, and again they would deliver crosswise blows aimed at no target, as if they intended to cut to pieces the entire bodies of their adversaries, protective armour and all.” Not someone I would want to upset.
In the modern age the Irish have upheld a rich pugilistic history of great fighters, most recent and notable is up and coming UFC Featherweight fighter, Conor McGregor from Dublin, Ireland. I am fourth generation Irish and connect with this part of my heritage the deepest. However, I am only 6th generation Scottish and have a deep resonation with this part of my history as well. I am sure we have all seen “Braveheart” if not you might want to come out from beneath that rock you’ve been hiding under.
While “Braveheart” is in no way historically accurate, it does give us all a fair idea of how tough the Scotts were in battle. Finally we have German heritage, the Germanic tribes under the command of Arminius defeated the Romans at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. I would say you are pretty badass when you whip up on the Roman Legion.
I know what you are asking yourself by now, “What is this nerd taking about and what does all this history and ancestry have to do with fitness?” Great question! Also, by asking that you have given me the perfect segue into the heart of this piece.
A couple months ago I was reflecting upon this lineage of mine and knowing that in a different time and place this warrior life would have been my birthright. I have always thought I would make a great warrior. So, I asked myself how would I fare in “battle?”
I gave it a try, essentially I simulated a combat situation, and three minutes into it I was dying.
Shit. I had brought great shame upon my ancestors who would have battled for days at a time when necessary. What went wrong?
One problem was that I was going at a sustained high pace, such as pretending to be in a tribal battle was not something I was used to. Sure, I have done a bit of martial arts, at the height of my MMA career I was the guy who helped push the actual cage fighters to their outermost limits when they were gearing up for a fight. I wrestled in high school and was decent; I ran track and cross country.
But this was a different type of conditioning all together. Perhaps the closest was MMA practice and fighting because you needed strength, speed and endurance, but in all seriousness it is a far cry from what I was doing. Mistake one was that I was unconditioned for battle.
Note, I am not actually fighting but simulating battle through the “semi-randomization” of sprinting, dodging, bending, running, twisting, wrestling (heavy sandbag weighing more than me), pushing and flipping a heavy tire, and wielding a weapon (short sword, long sword, war hammer 14lbs, battle axe), more sprinting and basically pretending to fight. I know I probably looked like a crazy person out in the yard adjacent to one of my town’s busiest roads, but there was a method to my madness and I had convinced three other idiots to join me.
Mistake number two: I could quit whenever I wanted. This might be the most relevant problems, yet the one variable I could not duplicate. Unlike in a real battle, I can just stop when I get exhausted. I am pretty tough mentally, but this litmus test certainly showed me one thing: I need to be a lot tougher to be battle ready.
Eventually you will stop every single time when it is not life or death. However, just because I have the luxury to stop doesn’t mean I have to indulge it. You don’t have to be warrior training to practice this. Even in your basic HIIT circuit, or trail run, or long cycle you can apply the mindset of “just keep going a little more, then a little more, then a little more.” You would be amazed at what the body is capable of if we give it permission. In battle it is life or death, to quit is to die. Think like that when you train.
Mistake three, I haven’t done this for my whole life. I have done a lot of things in my relatively short life. I am constantly trying new things and enjoy the process of learning. There is something to be said about practicing a particular set of skills from an early age.
The reason we look at an Olympian with such awe as they perform their sport is because the level of expertise is at a level that is so high it only comes with a lifetime of practice and development. The same is true of these ancient warriors; they were immersed in this culture forged from birth to fight. This is unrealistic in today’s society, but I will lay out a program to get you battle ready.
I have put together a workout sessions that in my opinion are pretty damn close to fighting in an ancient battle (at least I feel like I have been in a battle during and afterwards). Now, before you try the workout it is important to go over a few details.
First, your mindset must be in the right place. This is a great opportunity to use your imagination; kids do it all the time, but adults suck at it. I want you to pretend you are really in a battle. This will help you as the workout goes into the depths of your conditioning. Personally, I like to jump up and down and scream “Krrrrreee-aagh!!” or some other nonsensical war cry before I do this workout.
Second, be careful. I know that is kind of a downer to read and I sound like your mommy, but I am being sincere. Some of the tools you will be using were weapons in their origin, and some of the weapons you will be using are in fact, weapons. Tools such as the Onnit Steel Club (which is fantastic for some of the grip building drills we will be doing), or the Onnit Steel Mace (heavier for some of the drills and lighter weights such as the 7lb is great for sword simulations), are designed after ancient weapons. These are dangerous and if you have others around you be careful.
Third, do not quit!
This workout takes the better part of an afternoon and is a hard kick in the arse, so make sure you have some time set aside, some mates to play with, and some mead for when you finish.
Stone carry, as if you were carrying supplies to the battlefield with 60-120lbs (the one pictured is 108lbs). You will carry it for time alternating shoulder to shoulder as you feel without the stone touching the ground. This is mentally and physically demanding. You will carry for 5:00 minutes, 7:00 minutes, then 9:00 minutes with a break in between rounds. Don’t put it down, stay tough!
I use the 25lb steel club for this one. Start about 40-50 yards away from a tire, pile of sand or heavy bag. Sprint to the target (don’t forget your battle cry I mentioned earlier) then beat the hell out of said target. Two hands, one hand, alternating hands, until you have reached 100 blows.
Sprint at a diagonal about 15-30 yards then dive to the ground, this is tactical running great to have in your wheelhouse should you ever be under fire. Repeat 4x
Mace Spears 30/30, Steel club “sword ready position swipes (pictured)” 20/20 these absolutely shred the biceps.
Tactical Sprinting 15-30 yards 4x
Mace Spears 30/30, Steel club “sword ready position swipes (pictured)” 20/20
Tactical Sprinting 4x
This is the fun part, grab a sword if you have one, or a Steel Mace (light), or a sledge, or ax, or even a long stick then wield whatever weapon you have for 12 minutes straight.
Wrestle a heavy sandbag for 10 minutes, the one I use is 180lb.
Alba gu bràth