An interview with martial artist and hall of fame All-Round Weightlifter John McKean (Part II)


Following up on Part One, MAZ took the opportunity to ask John some insight regarding his mentors, his difference to other weightlifters, his views regarding Applied Weight Training for martial arts and Maximum Intensity Lifting for Combatives. Finally we wrap up a few of John' closing comments born from 71 years of experience in MARTIAL ARTS, COMBATIVES, AND WEIGHT TRAINING. 

We asked John "Who were his mentors and why". His answers reveal a certain common vision.

In terms of classical Martial Arts training there would be two.

I would say WING CHUN Sifu KENNETH CHEUNG's use of short powerful low kicks inspired me with my emphasis on low Combatives kicks for use in street attacks!

The other would be PAUL DeTHOURARS, of SILAT. What I took away from Paul was an extreme respect for proper footwork and the use of angles; also the power of correct elbow use. I will always remember Paul's heavily accented statement " El-a-bows are your 45 calibers in hitting"!

The next would be my "aerobics mentor", DR LEN SCHWATZ, who's system of "Heavy Hands Shadowboxing" with light 3 to 5 pound dumbbells set me into superlative overall fitness. This which established a terrific base for all my lifting and Martial Arts training past 40 years of age This is when I began "Heavy Hand" training, something maintain to this day. In fact, my current "winter goal" is to start all of my upcoming sessions with "Heavy Hands boxing", and trim off 15 pounds to get down near 150!

My ideal mentor was perhaps John Kary. For a rather gruff, gravelly voiced completely blind, and hearing and hip impaired Vietnam Vet, he was extremely serious about "attack the attacker" training, and he passed that mindset to all of his trainee, including me. This intensity developed a correct mental attitude, and most importantly, taught you to teach your future students the same attributes!

But my real inspiration came for my family. First were my parents. Their support allowed me to develop my inner strength as a self-driven independent attitude. Allot of my ambition, strength, and certainly my ability to self-teach comes from this support. In the same way, I enjoy that same supportive base to this day in my wife of 45 years.

When we asked John "What made him different to other weight lifters"? This is what he said.

I'm probably different than most lifters in that I've had consistent training through the past 55 years! Weightlifting is a lot like Combatives, in that it is and should be a lifetime training activity, Truly, use it or lose it!

But beside a dedication to weight training, my major difference from others is to think through sticking points, and often come up with solutions that go outside the realm of conventional thinking.

Often this involved study of the old timers' methods, all the way back in the early 1900s because this "old fashioned, outdated" stuff really had some forgotten, hidden gems that most overlook.

But it never ceases to amaze me, how I've written detailed, direct articles on a strength building concept, and guys will immediately contact me with a barrage of questions. They want to be lead by the hand, won't think, won't try something "off the wall" that could help them ! Of course when I've patiently answered questions, they instantly have "questions on questions".

Another difference has long been to focus on the mental aspect of heavy lifts. I've found I can literally "will" myself by extreme concentration to complete an "impossible" competitive effort. Once, a fellow Combatives instructor asked how I developed the "nerve" to squat down with well over 500 pounds on my shoulders, when such a weight might just crush a little, small boned guy like me, or explode a knee, or damage a ligament? My reply was that I never think or worry about those things, 100% of the mental game is to succeed totally. Never a single thought of failure. Complete confidence above all! Sounds like the Combatives attitude, huh"?

We asked John "What does the martial arts training have to do with applied strength training". His reply was well thought out, and specific. This was his answer.

It's amazingly simple. Just take 4 major Total Body lifts, not "exercises". Train them with low reps such as 3s, 2s, or 1s. Always, always be consistent in workouts your work outs, and constantly add weight to the barbell, the only tool needed. For Combatives, I'd employ, and also do, the Clean and push press, Power row, Straddle lift, and Deadlift. You can find how to perform these lifts at , under "Rules".

Many old time lifters had it right in that they'd take a particular lift, do one solid attempt relatively light to establish and practice perfect form, add a bit of weight to do another single, more weight, etc until they reached a weight they could not complete. This told them they were done for the day! This was usually performed with 2 exercises, and less than 45 minutes training time. Then rest up for two days, and then repeat the same procedure with the other two lifts in their program!

We asked John " What can a Combatives trainee expect from maximum intensity lifting ". His reply was well thought out, and specific.

Well, as mentioned previously he learns a special mental attitude to attack the barbell, and never considers anything other than total victory!

But the strength they develop will in turn, have a positive effect on speed of striking, with both converting to pure power. The confidence one develops when having a body behind you that can press 200 to 300 pounds, or squat 400 plus, is amazing!

It might be mentioned that a seriously trained strength athlete will have greatly enhanced injury protection built from within. In the unlikely event of some injury, they have developed from weight training recovery an unbelievable ability to recuperate quickly!

With more time to train due to their abbreviated weight work their actual Combatives training (No long stupid "bodybuilding" schemes here!), will be subject to fantastic outpouring of energy and enthusiasm as the trainee acquires a natural high from this ideal, natural combination of lifting and striking"!

In conclusion and consideration of all that John has experienced and accomplished we asked him if he had any closing comments or advice for future martial artists and weight training. We were glad that we did. Here they are.

One of my favorite statements concerning application of weight training to ALL sports, including all Martial Arts and Combatives is this;

Strength may not be the answer to everything, but weakness is the answer to nothing!"

All serious Martial Arts people should employ heavy weight work to reach peak performance in their chosen art!

A trainee only needs a relatively heavy barbell to supplement his Martial Arts workouts, and can easily fit in strength work, as mentioned, with brief, concentrated workouts performed 2 or 3 times per week at home.

This need not be expensive. Yard sales have weights at almost no cost, and one need not purchase a huge set right away. Simply add to the plate collection as strength increases!

But no matter how quickly gains come, or whatever high the level of enthusiasm becomes, don't go beyond the basic brief strength building routine; more is not better!

Beware of modern schemes to take your money, large commercial gyms and their ridiculous machines, Cross-fit and their injurious killer endurance routines, ads promising fast gains with their miracle devises, even elaborate callisthenic workouts will never yield much toward total body power. None have ever produced a weightlifting champion. Not that a Martial Artist should strive to be a competitive level lifter, just train like one, and learn to love and use your doubled body powered output!

Some will always mention that they don't need to be able to deadlift 500 pounds in order to strike quickly and accurately. This is true, but during an attack, as adrenaline and fear shuts down one's fine motor skills, the power of gross motor skills kicks in. It becomes an emergency situation, and quite important to have all the tools you can muster. Besides, one's acquired strength becomes even more pronounced when adrenaline fueled!

One of my friends, a long time innovative weightlifter, although not a competitor, just a diehard self-taught barbell trainee and an equally enthusiastic martial arts practitioner once stated "Train hard to develop the power to turn a mugger inside out!"

"The common thread between combatives training and weightlifting is extreme INTENSITY. Going for a maximum lift requires total focus and use of every mental and physical fiber of your being. Under a Martial Arts preparation for the street, your life could be on the line, so focus is exactly the same. Both disciplines enhance each other in this respect."  


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