In many armies the basic fitness test is based on the ability of the soldier to run a certain distance within a given time. Pheidippides notwithstanding, endurance running has very little relevance to the operations of most modern soldiers. The ability to march for hours with equipment is more relevant, and has decided the outcome of many conflicts. When a soldier does run it is a fast dash between pieces of cover, a sprint of a few metres and only a couple of seconds.
A few years back an article appeared on the web about how experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan was making some units rethink their approach to fitness training and exercise.
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!”
Yesterday I mentioned the book Arwrology, published during the Second World War. This is an interesting book in many respects. Notable is that the first section covers combat relevant calisthenics.
“Regarding army calisthenics we should abrogate a lot of the hands up, hands in every direction “P.T” exercises as absonant. Instead of the knee bending with arms up, arms forward, arms sideways and then arms down exercises, teach the Arwrology upward thrusts of the arms, which the soldiers and students should be told, may reach up with trained accuracy and speed into the neck of a Nazi, some night in the jungle or concentration camp…..Silent, crawling exercises in assault positions could do more to stimulate circulation, imagination and fighting ambition that all the “Ceremonial Drill” ever used to fill the time.”
The book includes a number of suggestions for new exercises. Raising the knees is transformed into practice for knee strikes. One of the more novel suggestions is “shortening the neck”. This exercise can be performed while marching and is intended to strengthen the neck against attacks.
Crawling is an important skill for a modern soldier, his very survival being dependent on the ability to exploit microterrain or move silently or unseen. Rather than restricting practice of this to the assault course it should become an integral part of PT. The Arwrology manual includes a number of crawling techniques, some of which might be familiar from more modern field manuals intended for snipers or scout-snipers. There is also a “Silent Semi-Crawl” intended for sentry stalking.
Being able to fall or go prone without injury is another useful skill for a soldier. It is a quick way to begin crawling and a prudent reaction when suddenly coming under fire or to a nearby explosion. Breakfalls should also become an integral part of PT. The book suggests practicing breakfalls or other Arwrology techniques as a way to “amuse yourself during a Black-Out”. To the more traditional repertoire of breakfalls I would suggest adding the PLF and cartwheel, as detailed in my book. Arwrology includes a number of exercise techniques that begin with the student seated cross-legged and rising up to execute a blow. Rather reminiscent of the Sempok/ Depok sitting moves of some Indonesian martial arts. Other conditioning techniques included practicing throws on a large number of comrades.
More than 70 years ago it was suggested that military physical training should be combat relevant. Once again we hear this suggestion, and if our valuable soldiers are unlucky, there may be a need to make it again in another 70!