Aspects of pankration preparation and practice

The basic instruction of pankration techniques was conducted by the paedotribae (παιδοτρίβαι, “physical trainers”), who were in charge of boys’ physical education. High level athletes were also trained by special trainers who were called gymnastae (γυμνασταί), some of whom had been successful pankration competitors themselves. There are indications that the methods and techniques used by different athletes varied, i.e., there were different styles. While specific styles taught by different teachers, in the mode of Asian martial arts, cannot be excluded, it is very clear (including in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics) that the objective of a teacher of combat sports was to help each of his athletes to develop his personal style that would fit his strengths and weaknesses.

The preparation of pankratiasts included a very wide variety of methods,[4] most of which would be immediately recognizable by the trainers of modern high level athletes, including competitors in modern mixed martial arts competitions. These methods included among others the periodization of training; a wealth of regimens for the development of strength, speed-strength, speed, stamina, and endurance; specialized training for the different stages of competition (i.e., for anō pankration and katō pankration), and methods for learning and engraining techniques. Interestingly, among the multitude of the latter were also training tools that appear to be very similar to Asian martial arts Forms or kata, and were known as cheironomia (χειρονομία) and anapale (ἀναπάλη). Punching bags (kōrykos κώρυκος “leather sack”) of different sizes and dummies were used for striking practice as well as for the hardening of the body and limbs. Nutrition, massage, and other recovery techniques were used very actively by pankratiasts.