1. Treat each demonstration by an instructor as if it is the first time you have ever seen it.
We look, but we fail to see, We listen, but we fail to hear. We observe, but we fail to understand. We’ve all done this and in many respects the longer we’ve been training the easier it is to fall into the trap of not paying attention to a demonstration or teaching point. It’s easy to look at something and say “Oh, I know this” and not give it your full attention, or not look closer to pay attention to the finer details which may be left unsaid.
One of the most difficult challenges I faced when writing my most recent series of application books, the Pinan Flow System, was choosing how to describe and illustrate the actions of the application drills. Next to each picture I had space to write about thirty words. Thirty words and a picture to sum up a little element of an application drill when I could quite easily spend at least a good twenty minutes talking through all the different nuances and underlying principles of that particular element of the drill.
In similar vein when a drill is taught it is usually layered, with different elements being emphasised for the different audiences, and a normal lesson time explanation cannot begin to cover the depth of understanding needed for good practice.
The simple step of assuming you don’t know anything about the demonstration that is taking place in front of you and trying to view it with fresh eyes to always seek extra details will make a huge difference to your karate.
2. Question everything.
I don’t mean sticking up your hand in the middle of the class all the time and asking your instructor for more information. Your instructor is teaching on a tight schedule, they are giving you as much information as they feel you need to know and have to balance the training needs of all the other students. If you need to ask your instructor a question, often it is best to wait until the end of the class; it’s not good manners to interrupt everyone else’s education and training.
If you are given a rationale for a drill or exercise, apply a solid BS filter to it. This will mean that you have to put in time to get the background knowledge to understand whether it is BS or not. The nature of your filter will depend not only upon your knowledge level (and the quality of your source information), but the purpose of your filter; are you looking for optimum training for strength, balance, flexibility, aerobic fitness, competition success (in kumite or kata) or self defence?
A lot of people peddle information that may have passed a BS filter back when they were first being taught, but time and research have since shown to be wrong. They may not be aware what they are teaching is inaccurate or flawed. Other people peddle false information because they’ve never done any real research on the topic and are relying on their imagination, their own very limited experience (which they may not realise is limited simply by being personal) or movies.
Do your own research. How does this work? Why does this work? When should this work? Where does it come from? How can I improve this? What do I need to change to improve?
3. Train at home, no matter how little time or space you have.
As an instructor it can be frustrating when you run several classes a week but students only make it to one. What we often fail to realise is how lucky we are to get that student at just that one class. Often on chatting to students I find that they may be out another one or two nights a week pursuing other physical hobbies (such as running, or tennis, or swimming), looking after the children at home on another night while their partner goes out to an activity, acting as a taxi service to children on other nights for their activities, and if they are lucky actually getting to spend one or two evenings a week at home with their partner. All this on top of working throughout the day earning money!
The reality of modern life is that it isn’t easy for many students to come to class more than once a week. The reality of karate is that you need to train regularly to see improvement. The two are not mutually exclusive.
You do not have to train in long sessions to have beneficial karate training.
Every good repetition of a movement counts. That means you can train for 30 seconds standing on one leg or rotating your hips while waiting for the kettle to boil, or a partner to come down the stairs before you go out rather than pacing in front of the TV. You can do a lot in a five minute session, and it is easy to find a five minute or ten minute moment in the day, and probably better for you than sitting down. Anyone can find time for personal training if they want to find time for personal training.
You do not have to break a sweat or change clothing to have beneficial karate training.
You can’t train because you don’t have time to change or shower? That shouldn’t be an issue. You don’t need to break a sweat for good training. Training comes in many forms, and as I’ve written here, often the best form of training is slow movement focusing on precision, good biomechanics and balance. You can sweat when you go to your karate class, or engage in any other form of exercise you practice.
You do not have to have lots of space to have beneficial karate training.
You can achieve a lot standing on the spot. There are lots of different upper body, hip movements and weight transference exercises you can do on the spot. It’s great to have a fair bit of space, but you can easily improve your karate just by standing on the spot.
You do not have to have a training partner to have beneficial karate training.
Paired and multiple person work is obviously a big part of karate, but you do not need company to improve your kihon or kata. If you have a kick bag, speed ball traditional strength tools or a makiwara at home you can work on those. Playing tug of war with reasonably sized dog is a great way to improve your hikite, and you may learn a lot about good biomechanics by observing how your ‘training partner’ utilises its whole body.
Try these three things for just one month and see how your karate improves!