As a Martial Artist, most of us want to be the best that we can be, at what we do or at least that’s what many of us tell our instructors/coaches.
The first thing we need to ask ourselves is what does “being the best we can be look like” for me? What does it mean for me as an individual? How do I measure it?
Decide what you want to be good at.
In Martial Arts, there are many different disciplines, so the first thing is to decide which you want to study. For example (and speaking in general terms here) Olympic Taekwondo is a sport that focusses on Kicking techniques, Aikido focused on using the power and strength of one’s partner to redirect, lock and throw them, Boxing only allows the use of the hands to punch at medium to close range. Judo teaches how to throw and do groundwork.
If we go a step deeper and look at say Taekwondo or Karate. Within these two arts there are forms (Poomsae in TKD and Kata in Karate) where the objective is for the practitioner to perform their ‘fighting dance’ with elegance, poise, balance, strength, focus and power. Both arts also have sparring. In Judo people start sparring (called Randori) almost immediately and then start learning Kata once they are nearing Black Belt level. Some people want to do both disciplines, other only want to do one. The choice is yours, there is no right or wrong answer, it’s all down to the individual.
What you want to get from your training will determine how you need to go about getting there.
Your must question what you do.
Everyone must question HOW and WHY they do every technique and also the purpose of the technique. This does not mean that you have to question your coach, but rather you question yourself as to how YOU can do better for YOU. This will help with your understanding of techniques at all levels and as you progress it will help you to improve.
Take every opportunity to seek feedback from other informed training partners and your coaches. Quite often how we think we are doing a technique is quite different to how we are actually doing it. If we ask others how they do a technique so well, then we can learn from their skills, knowledge and ability.
Film yourself practising, so that you can watch it and see yourself through the eyes of others. It can be a real eye opener to do that.
Correct Body Condition.
When practising you must use your whole body to perform the move. For example a punch starts at your feet and generates power through your legs, hips, waist and shoulders into your hand. So in order to be effective you HAVE to use the whole body and if one part is not correct, then the whole technique can be affected.
The BEST and ONLY way to get better at a technique or a principle is to practice it. Perfect practice will make, in time, a perfect technique. Find ways to disguise the repetition, so your practice does not become stale.
It’s also worth considering that in sparring or fighting, mistakes happen, things don’t go according to plan. So that perfect technique that you’ve spent ages honing, won’t actually be perfect. So you need to think about how to build in some redundancy when you are training.
Understand your own limitations.
We all have limitations, (e.g. injury, flexibility, size, age) due to our own bodies, these affect how we can practice . For example if we aren’t flexible, then although technically correct, we won’t be able to kick to the head. Some limitations can be worked on and improved, but others can’t. You need to understand which is which and how this will affect your ability to perform.
Learn from your mistakes.
If you aren’t making mistakes in your training, then your work rate isn’t high enough. If for example you are practicing for the dynamic chaotic environment of a street fight, then you need to replicate that level of intensity and duress at some stage to find out what works and what doesn’t work.
If something doesn’t work, figure out why and fix it and then test it again and again.
You need to be able to ‘switch on’ at short notice and use that shift in adrenalin to help you focus and perform under pressure. The emotional intelligence aspects are very different for performing a form or Kata at a major competition to defending yourself in a dark alleyway.
If the former, you need to be able to combat nerves to be able to perform on the day and if the latter, think about how you practice for fast paced, pants wetting violent scenarios against muliple attackers.
YOU define what excellence is for you and then practice to be the best you can be and never be satisfied with your performance, always try to be a little better.
The guys in this video are amongst the most senior practitioners of Shotokan Karate, they didn’t get there by accident. If you want to be as good at your Martial Arts as they are at theirs, then you need to put up and train intelligently.