Exercising With the Master

EXERCISING WITH THE MASTER

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In the lowlands south of Olympia, Washington, there is a martial arts class unlike any you have ever seen. Members of this class pay no fee for their instruction (at least not when this was originally published in July 1987) and work out only at the invitation of the head instructor. The workouts are spartan in nature, and visiting Black Belts are frequently humbled at not being able to perform even the most basic class routines.

The head instructor is Isidro Archibeque. Master Archibeque has achieved considerable notoriety in the Pacific Northwest for his flamboyant style and awesome breaking demonstrations. Because he does not earn his livelihood from teaching martial arts, Master Archibeque has the luxury of hand-picking students. Those students who have accepted his invitation range from experienced Black Belts to chance sidewalk acquaintances. As one student explained, "Master Archibeque really has an open door policy. His only requirement is that students have a good attitude and a willingness to learn. Those attributes are hard to find and are just as common in novices as they are in Black Belts, hence his unusual method of selecting students."

Interestingly, because of his somewhat reclusive nature, there was once a time when others questioned Archibeque's authenticity. However, over the years, scores of Black Belts from all styles have had opportunity to test their skills against this gentleman and have first-handedly experienced his mastery. One renowned Northwest tournament competitor remarked that, "I haven't been able to stay on my feet for more than thirty seconds against the guy. I've studied for fifteen years, and I don't even know what he did to me. All I remember is whenever I executed an attack, I was suddenly on the ground, in pain, and unable to move."

Master Archibeque's life reads like the script from a martial arts movie. Of mixed Japanese and Spanish descent, he lost his natural parents at an early age while living in Japan. Being raised by his grandparents, he was assigned to a Buddhist temple in Japan where most of the daily activity focused on perfection of the martial arts. His years in the temple spanned World War II, and he had many opportunities to study personally with the great masters of that era. Moreover, he was afforded opportunities to travel throughout Asia to study with masters from other countries. His command of knowledge reportedly spans 26 styles of fighting.

Master Archibeque's scope of knowledge is staggering. Sensei Roy Kauffroath, of the Bremerton, Washington Sam Pai Kenpo Organization, notes that, "On one afternoon, I saw Master Archibeque refine the forms of an Isshinryu Black Belt, instruct another student in Tai Chi, coach another man on Arnis and demonstrate principles of Ai Ki Do." As Don Wasielewski, 8th degree Isshinryu Black Belt explains, "The first time I heard this guy talking, I thought it was all baloney, but when I threw a punch, and he grabbed my arm, it felt as though a vice had locked onto me. I’ve never felt anything like it."

Though a master of many styles, "Archie", as he is affectionately called, specializes in the Iron Hand .  His assortment of Iron Hand skills includes breaking boards with his fingertips, driving nails into studs with his open palm, splitting 2x4's, bricks, tiles and river rocks (for which he is best known). A Black Belt visiting his workout area recalls that, "We had been working out and were taking a break when I heard a terrific pounding sound coming from my rear. I turned to see Archie relaxing by punching a nearby tree. It was extraordinary! Here was this little man punching a tree hard enough for bark to be splintering off the tree, and branches and leaves were beginning to fall."

Because of his Iron Hand specialty, Archibeque has had to devise methods to maintain himself in the highest state of physical conditioning at all times. Though he is 53 years old (at the time of the original article that is, his birthdate is May 12, 1933), he looks to be much younger and in the Northwest is notorious for his legendary physical conditioning, strength and stamina. Taking a break from a recent workout, David Wightman, a long-time student, noted that, "Though Archie is most known for his extraordinary breaking demonstrations and his fighting skills, his greatest contribution to the martial arts may be his sophisticated understanding of exercise, enabling him to use pieces of junk, cast-offs and ordinary household objects to create machines and devices capable of developing super-conditioned bodies in even the most ordinary martial artists. With Archie, there is simply no reason for not being in perfect physical condition. First, he teaches you how to attain a level of maximum conditioning, then he perfects your martial art. It's that simple!"

One recent Saturday, I went to his home to interview him on another article I was working on. Keeping close to nature, he lives in a rural setting where he can practice his arts without attracting undue attention from the neighbors. While there, I found an amazing array of exercise devices scattered about his yard. Our conversation quickly turned to the devices, which he jokingly referred to as "my Ninja camp ."
 

Master Archibeque with some of the exercise stations at his outdoor workout area.

When I originally suggested presenting some of his ideas to the readers of Tae Kwon Do Times, Master Archibeque expressed delight at sharing his philosophy with the proponents of Tae Kwon Do, to whom he acknowledges a considerable debt of gratitude for concepts passed to him during his formative years. My interview with Archie follows:

Mc Cabe: We all have reasons for incorporating "exercise" into our martial arts workout regimen. For some people, it's only to loosen up. For others, it's to develop strength in particular parts of the body, or even to improve overall endurance if the exercise is aerobic. How do you feel exercise ties into a martial arts program?

Archibeque: The significance of exercise is two-fold. First, your body should be able to do anything you ask it to do. Second, your mind must be completely disciplined, for, with an undisciplined mind, the body's performance will fall far short of its potential. Throwing punches and kicks into space will not accomplish those two objectives -- nor will sparring or practicing forms.

 

Sort of like using exercise to mold an attitude that does not admit defeat or accept limits?

That's right! I call it "Mind Over Matter ." With the right approach toward exercising, the instructor will develop students whose minds reject limits and who have the confidence, strength and stamina to execute the appropriate response for every situation.

Isn't that what exercise is all about anyway?

Exercise is what you make of it! If you go through your exercise half asleep, you're doing nothing more than loosening up. Your approach to exercise should be relative to what you expect from exercise. In my mind, I think of exercise as having four different levels. On the basic level, there is mild exercise, like that done by the office worker trying to maintain a fixed waistline. The next level would be what I describe as athletic conditioning. This is the person who is regularly doing some sort of activity, such as playing on a basketball team or working out regularly at some activity. Next would be high level athletic conditioning, which would be that of most professional athletes and the majority of Black Belt martial artists. The highest level is what I've described above as the level of "Mind Over Matter." Mind over matter is literally the ultimate goal of this exercise approach. Through careful analysis of each activity, you are always striving toward developing that body which gives your mind complete freedom to do anything that you want. This should be the destination of any student whose ultimate goal is to be a proficient martial artist.

But, don't most people dislike exercise routines?

That's because they don't truly understand exercise. For some people, doing bench presses is great fun. For others, swimming is fun. Some enjoy running, and others enjoy throwing hundreds of kicks into space. All have meaning and value so long as you are doing them for the right reason. However, most people are simply not motivated to adopt those approaches. Some don't even find them enjoyable ... or, because of limited funds, can't afford them. With "Mind Over Matter", we are dealing with an exercise philosophy. Everything you need is in your mind and your body. You should be able to walk into any room of a house and within minutes have identified everything that you need to maintain your level of conditioning. And I'm talking about doing exercises that you find challenging and enjoyable.

Are you saying that the popular exercise programs are inadequate?

That depends on your objective. If you want cardiovascular conditioning, jogging and swimming might be appropriate (At this point, Archie did note he preferred walking to jogging). Doing lots of push-ups and sit-ups will take some calories off and help your clothing to fit a little better. If you're looking for muscular bulk, a weight lifting program can be tailored to your needs. Our objective is complete discipline, and again, to have a body that does what you want it to do when you tell it to.

Why can't regular exercises get you there?

Because they are inherently self-limiting. A normal push-up will simply work a few isolated muscle groups. Doing the same push-up with your hands two-and-a-half feet beyond the top of your head will work your entire body.

In other words, you require that all of your students learn certain exercise patterns as part of their training?

No! I work with them to develop their own philosophy of exercise. Then I teach them how to make that philosophy a reality.

Can you give us some insight into this "philosophy"?

Well, it is difficult to cover everything in the confines of this interview, but there are four facets of my exercise philosophy which can be communicated pretty directly. First is that any exercise should be fun to do. Second is that it should be safe. Third is that it should always be challenging. As soon as an exercise becomes routine, it should immediately be modified so that it once again becomes challenging. A good example is the push-up already described. Last, and this is unique to my approach and is certainly controversial with other instructors, is that I feel exercise should be awkward. One can do multiple repetitions of standing and pressing a 150 pound weight and would not gain nearly the benefit that he would in attempting to do 2-3 repetitions of lifting a 50 pound log to the same press position. The reason for this is the log is not balanced like the weight, has no easy grip and is unwieldy. The exerciser struggles to raise the weight to his chest, virtually wrestling with the log just to prevent it from falling, then works every part of his body, attempting to keep it balanced on his fingertips as he lifts it carefully to the topmost position. Try it sometime!
 
 

Author Bill Mc Cabe accepts Archie's invitation to try it sometime!

 

 
At this point, Master Archibeque and I terminated the interview, and I agreed to "try it" as he had suggested.  As the photographs show, the lift proved to be quite a struggle for myself, even though I can routinely stand and press in excess of 150 pounds. I asked that he walk us through some of his other stations and explain how they are used. His explanation follows.

Archibeque: "We've all done curls using balanced weights, and there is no question this kind of exercise is of benefit in increasing strength. Try filling a 5 gallon bucket with pebbles (Photo #5), or an old rice sack with sand, and do the same curl. Notice the entirely different feel as your body must contend with an unwieldy, awkward weight. While you struggle to maintain your balance, work variations of the normal curl routine. Try holding the weight straight out, try doing it with one arm. Learn to use your arms only, don't use your body for added leverage. To help ease the pain of the exercise, think of the money you saved by using scrap objects to create the device."
 
 

Lifting the sand filled rice sack requires great focus in its own right, even before extending it out to arm's length.  The level of muscular discipline is self evident.

"A piece of scrap wood can present a sophisticated exercise challenge if done with the right attitude." (At this point, Master Archibeque picked up a piece of wood 1"x6"x4' long, put one of the ends beneath his midsection, jumped up in the air and started to balance himself on the wood. As you can see from the accompanying photographs, I was not nearly so agile.)
 

What Archie made look easy proved to be excruciatingly painful for myself.

 

"Even something so ordinary as a horizontal bar presents genuine challenges. The next time you see a horizontal bar, lie with your center of gravity directly on the bar, then attempt to straighten your body into one line. If you can do this, you can join my class! If you can't, be satisfied with that special feeling your body will have after having been well-worked. Once you've mastered that exercise, stay on the bar then try bending, touching your toes and fingertips to the ground, then return to the horizontal ... the variations are endless."

"We've all done pull-ups. The next time you do pull-ups, raise your legs so that they're perpendicular to your upper torso. When you master this, if you ever do, go to the next level, which is to bring your toes up until they touch the bar. Can you think of any other variations?"

"Suspending a bar four feet off the ground opens up a universe of activities, completely working the entire body. The accompanying pictures are worth ten thousand words."
 

This is  the "Chinese stretch", a routine which combines several exercise functions into a single routine.

 

Around the world on a horizontal bar, the Archibeque way.  exercises such as this are geared for total body development, nothing less.

"One of the truly fun exercises is based upon the principle of a pulley. At our camp, we have a pulley supporting a tree stump which alone weighs approximately 50 pounds. It doesn't take long before most students have worked through the usual pulley exercises, and since everyone seems to know them anyway, there's no need to rehash them here. Remembering the goal of "Mind Over Matter", observe how in the following photographs I am standing on the stump, then pulling the stump and my own body weight upward with the pulley.
 

Suspended in air by the pulley, Archibeque lifts by pulling with his arms, then lowers by pushing downward with his feet.  While developing great strength, he simultaneously perfects the ability to confidently maneuver with his body floating awkwardly in space.

 

In addition to requiring considerable strength, the exercise demands intense concentration and a high level of balance. One wrong move and the stump pops out from under my feet, allowing my body to fall to the ground. If that's not bad enough, the stump wants to follow immediately behind the body ... and most certainly will if I let go of the handle. All jokes aside, the beauty of this exercise is that you are suspended in free space, pulling your body up with your hands, and after arriving at the flexed position, you work with your feet to straighten the body by pushing the stump back toward the ground. Do five of these and call it a day."

"For further challenge, do the same exercise with a bar in place of the wood stump. The routine becomes a drill requiring extraordinary balance and concentration. One slip of the bar from underneath the feet, and the student is on the ground.
 

As the reader can see from the accompanying photographs, the exercise proved to be a little more than the author could master on this first occasion.


 

Here a student develops his neck musculature, and perfects his ability to move with control while managing the resistance produced by some salvaged pieces of rubber tubing.

"Concluding my comments, I would like to emphasize there is an unlimited constellation of machines and devices you could easily create from scrap objects sitting around your house and garage.  This student is using flexible rubber tubing to work the muscles in his neck and to perfect his stances under stress."
 

Archibeque uses a garage door spring to perfect ground sweeps against an opponent's exposed leg.

" Here, I am using a junkyard garage door spring to work the muscles in my leg. The feel of this device is strikingly similar to the feel of doing leg take-downs against attacking opponents. The last sequence shows how a few pieces of scrap wood and a used bicycle inner tube make a first class exercise platform for sit-ups."
 

Scrap wood and an old bicycle inner tube are all that's necessary to build a comfortable but challenging sit up platform.


Author's Note: As you can see from the photos of these exercises and from the devices, Archibeque's approach to exercise demands a great deal of thought and creativity.

He explains, "I am not trying to build carbon copies of myself out here. My goal is to work with each artist who comes to my school and to help that artist develop his or her own style. I believe there is only one style and that is what you make of what you have learned. All I am is the waiter, holding the platter with an assortment of entrees. Like a fish, you can taste this one, or that one, but what you finally take with you is your decision, and you must be prepared to accept the benefits, or the consequences. My goal is to teach you a creative philosophy that begins with a conditioning program that will take you to wherever you want to go. I would hope that in the end, you would be able to apply these concepts in true improvisational fashion so that your martial art is always there to serve your needs in your life experience. Tell your readers good luck, and God bless."  

Click Below to View as a Slide Show

 

Here’s a  Glimpse at the Original Camp

 

 

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