Practicing martial arts alone

Complement your training to achieve more in less time

Most people who practice martial arts settle for practicing only when their club or school does. And that’s perfectly okay. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to do more. But the question is: are you like most people, or do you want to be better than most people?

If you also practice by yourself outside of formal training, you will achieve more in less time. There are many ways of doing that, and this article describes one way of doing it. This method is based on weekly cycles. For simplicity, I’ll be referring to your instructor / sensei / sifu / coach as “instructor” throughout this article.

Get a notebook

A notebook can be used for a lot of things. For example, you could:

  • Write a training diary. After each training session, write some notes about what you’ve been practicing, and if you learned something in particular that might be worth writing down.
  • Establish goals. Sometimes training is easier if you have a clear goal to aim at, such as successfully grading to the next belt within a year.
  • Make notes of questions for your instructor. From time to time when you’re practicing on your own, you will realize that you have a question for your instructor. Write it down before you forget it, and then write down the answer when you’ve had a chance to ask.

These are optional, and there are many other things that you can use your notebook for too while practicing. We’ll put it to good use throughout the rest of this article.

Ask your instructor for feedback, and write it down

It’s a good idea to involve your instructor in the practice you do on your own. Therefore, ask your instructor what they think you should focus your solitary practice on for the coming week.

Identify simple things to practice

Based on the feedback your instructor gave you, decide on a few things to practice during the week — feel free to consult your instructor in choosing. Make sure they are simple and concrete, such as “step forward, punch with your front hand” or “forward breakfall” for example. Put your ego aside, nothing is beneath you. No one has ever stopped improving because they practiced the basics too much.

Write a week plan

Write the things you decided to practice into a week plan — write each exercise on its own line on the left side of the page, and put eight columns after it — one for each day of the week, and a final one for points. The results should looks something like this:

Now you know what to practice each day the coming week. I’ll soon explain how many points you get per day.

Practice five minutes every day

The more you practice every day (within reason), the more you’ll improve. But start with five minutes a day. If you do more than that early on, the risk that you’ll simply stop after a few days increases, because it’ll feel like too much work. So start small to build the habit — this is really important. Once it’s a habit and doesn’t feel like any more of a chore than brushing your teeth does, then you can increase the daily time limit and add more exercises at the start of each week.

Use a habit trigger

When you try to form a new daily habit, it’s very easy to forget to actually do what you want to become a habit. This can be made easier by using a habit trigger. A habit trigger is something that happens every day that you don’t forget. This could be brushing your teeth in the morning, or simply waking up. Try to “tack on” your new habit after the habit trigger — always practice right away after you wake up, or after you brush your teeth. Or you could set a daily reminder on your phone. I recommend practicing first thing every morning (that is, use “waking up” as your habit trigger). You probably shower every morning anyway, so practicing before you hit the shower is perfect.

Use a mirror

It is best if you can practice in front of a mirror. That way, you have a greater chance of identifying mistakes you make so you can correct them. If you don’t have a large enough mirror handy, you could get a cheap stand for your phone instead, and use that to occasionally make a video of yourself as you practice so you can review it afterwards. It could also be a good idea to save some of these video clips for future reference — when you look at them again a few years later, you’ll get a reminder of how far you’ve come (“whoa, was I really that bad?!”).

Exaggerate your movements

A good way of correcting a bad movement is to exaggerate the correct one instead. For example, if you typically don’t bend your knees enough, try bending them more than necessary when you’re practicing. If you don’t turn your hips enough, try to turn them as much as possible instead, and so on. Then, when you’re not thinking about it, you’ll probably do it the right amount.

Perform each exercise well five times in a row

Avoid rushing through practice. You won’t be learning anything useful that way, you’ll only build sloppy habits. Instead, perform each exercise carefully a few times, to “warm up”. Then, finish by doing it five times as well as you can in a row. If you mess up, even once, you have to start over until you manage to get it right five times in a row. This teaches you to be mindful of what you’re doing, which unsurprisingly is a good mindfulness exercise.

If it turns out that doing it correctly five times in a row is too hard, then that’s okay — just decrease the goal to three times instead of five. The number of times you do it is how many points you get for that exercise that day. So the more you can do correctly, the more points you’ll be racking up. If five is too easy, then great! Go with eight or ten instead. Just make sure you’re not rushing through as many as possible just to get more points, because that defeats the purpose of practicing in the first place. You won’t be getting a cookie just because you get more points than someone else. This is not about getting as many points as possible — it is about trying to slowly increase the points (and thus the practice) you get every day.

When you’re done for the day, your weekly plan should look something like this:

Since you’ve done each exercise five times, you get five points for each exercise. At the end of the week, you’ll fill in the “Points” column, which is the week’s total — more on that in the last part of the article.

Sum up points at the end of the week

At the end of the week, sum up your points. If you miss a day for some reason, then just put a dash in that column on each line. When you’re done, the week plan might look like this:

Each missed exercise will affect the week’s total. See if you can increase your points every so slightly from week to week. Remember, don’t rush it and try to do too much or the whole thing will turn into a chore which you’ll lose interest in. Slow and steady does it.

Summary

  1. Get a notebook.
  2. Ask your instructor for feedback.
  3. Identify simple things to practice.
  4. Write a weekly plan.
  5. Practice five minutes every day.
  6. Use a mirror
  7. Exaggerate your movements.
  8. Perform each exercise well five times in a row.
  9. Sum up points at the end of the week.
  10. Restart from point 2.

Originally published at www.shorinjikempo.net by Christer Enfors on June 6, 2016.

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