How should we focus our training?
by Wayne Cottle, HDKI California
In the last few years, I have spent a lot of time on the road, at seminars as a student, watching the students as well as the instructors. What have I seen? What is the most important thing that we need to work on?
The most fundamental thread is that we need to maintain good, solid basic techniques. Without solid basic techniques, none of the advanced techniques work. We all need to focus on perfecting our basic techniques. I understand the desire to work on that next kata, or that stunning, fancy combination or sparring technique. But, in the midst of that, we need to perfect our basic technique. Everywhere I have visited, good basic techniques were the most common deficiency.
How do we perfect our basics? It is a very difficult thing to do when you consider that almost everyone is telling you something different. First you need to know who is on your most trusted list. I have a most trusted list, the list of the people that I believe really know what they are talking about, the list is very short. Whenever you are taught about how your basics should be performed, ask yourself whether that really makes sense, try it and then ask yourself the same question again. Sometimes you will find that you need to really think about something to understand it, sometimes you may decide that it is just flat out wrong.
Don’t go fast. I watch people in classes. Do it yourself sometime. As people learn a new technique, they start going full speed after only one or two repetitions. Try going slow. Get the feel for a technique, new or old. Don’t spend so much time trying to be the first one to finish the technique. Try to make it perfect. Everyone has adequate speed to make their techniques work, what they need is the accuracy of how to make their body work.
Don’t try to do it so hard. As with speed, everyone has adequate strength to make most techniques work. If you try to force a technique, you begin to use the wrong muscles, and each repetition is a step towards creating a bad habit. Bad habits take much more time and effort to fix than the time spent learning them. Spend a little extra time in the beginning learning techniques slow and easy, so that you do not have to relearn them later at a much greater cost. When you learn a technique properly, it generally takes much less effort to generate force than it does to use the wrong muscles and generate the same force, although if may feel stronger to use the wrong muscles. Remember that isometric exercises are great exercises because they use a great deal of muscle energy. They do not, however involve any useful force.
As we progress, it is important to understand the principles behind the basic movements, and we must perform the basic techniques correctly in order to use the principles. This is where more advanced techniques start to come into play. But, again, these are all based on good basic techniques.
Just to be clear, when I am talking about basics, I am talking about stances and simple movement. Each stance should be easily recognizable, for example, back stance, weight distribution 70/30, not 50/50. The back knee of back stance should be almost over the toe. When moving, the body should not rock back and forth, the hips should not rock, don’t lose body connection. These are some of the most basic things that many of us are not practicing regularly enough to maintain.
Like any art, the perfection of the art must be accompanied by the continued maintenance of what we have already learned. Or, more plainly, we must continue to work hard to maintain what we have learned. Practice, practice, practice. This is true for baseball players, football players or anything else.
This is absolutely vital for all of our instructors. We must never forget that we are all students first, instructors second. If we, as instructors, forget this, then the example that we set will not be an example of seeking to learn, but quite the opposite. When an instructor demonstrates for a class, it is the demonstration of his technique that is impressed in the student’s mind, far more than the words behind that demonstration. When I think back on classes, I tend to first remember what was shown then, remember what was said.
Worry about your own development. Don’t spend any of your valuable time comparing yourself to anyone else. There are too many variables in the many ranking systems to do this. Compare yourself today to yourself last week. I have seen some green belts that have better technique than some nidans. You don’t need to worry about anyone but yourself.
Take some time and focus on your basics. The time will be well spent.