An interesting article caught my eye today which you can read here. A UCSB study has found that physical strength and fighting ability is revealed in human faces.
I have a post that is still in gestation which details some of my thoughts on physical activity. It includes the kinds of exercises we should pursue - and combat is one of them. If the paper above is correct and we have evolved mechanisms to determine an opponents ability in combat, you can bet your bottom dollar that some form of combat will be key to our physical well being and so should be a part of our training.
I myself do an hours Lau Gar Kung Fu and Lau Gar Kickboxing a week. The sessions are excellent for general conditioning and follow a classic interval training model with bursts of high intensity work (for up to two minutes), followed by rest. Some session concentrate on skill work and some are more fitness oriented.
I have no interest in being 'hard', it is the wider implications of combat that interest me. Some of the kicks in particular require excellent balance (spinning kicks for example). Sparring improves reactions time and full body agility - ducking, bobbing and weaving. A key tool for the successful martial artists is speed and explosive power - jumping in to kicks and springing forwards with a jab. You develop all round kinaesthetic awareness.
If fitness is your thing then three one minute rounds on a kick shield (with a minutes rest between rounds), will get your heart working in a similar way as a sprint. The last round will demand real heart.
One of the real advantages of combat is that outside of skill work where you may follow a particular drill, sparring and pad work has a degree of randomness in that there is only a broad structure to your work. The detail within is ad-hoc and provides the randomness and novelty that should be present in every good workout.
Can you kick it?