As the year 2013 is winding to an end, I often get asked “how can I improve in Karate?” The answer is very simple: “perfect practice makes perfect,” as coach Vince Lombardi used to tell his players. If you are a “New Year’s resolutions” kind of person, set yourself the goal of practicing Karate every day. “Every day?” you say – that’s a lot! What I mean is not that you have a gruesome, hard-core, martial arts workout (as we have in class at the San Diego / Carmel Valley dojo) every day, but rather that you set aside some time, perhaps as little as a few minutes, to practice Karate every day. Perhaps you go for a run or walk, to work on your aerobic fitness, or perhaps you stretch for ten to fifteen minutes (after a short warm-up, please, so you don’t injure yourself!). Perhaps you lift some weights, or perform calisthenics, all to strengthen muscles that are specifically used in martial arts. Maybe you practice a Karate kata a few times. Maybe you are lucky, and have another student with whom you can practice some flow drills, ground fighting, or other two-person techniques. Maybe you spend a few minutes reading about martial arts history or philosophy. All of those are good options that don’t take a lot of time and, applied consistently, will greatly improve your martial arts.
You can also use visualization techniques to practice, in your mind, the way you want to perform martial arts. Mental visualization is a very powerful approach which had been scientifically proven to work. It is often utilized by elite level athletes. Pick a technique, a move, a Karate kata , a Tai Chi form, or a weapon form you want to improve. Next, imagine yourself performing the technique in a perfect way. The more realistic and holistic you are in forming the image, the better the results. For example, if you want to feel more comfortable in a self-defense confrontation, imaging a scary situation – its looks, sounds and smells. It may be helpful to find a model (perhaps a senior student with a similar body build to you), and imagine how they would perform the technique. Again, try to be specific and holistic. What does the technique look like? How does it feel? Think in pictures rather than in words. Visualization will help you almost as much as physical practice. And it can be done virtually anywhere! Visualization can also be combined with meditation to produce excellent results.
If you spent 15 minutes every day practicing Karate, over a year you will have spent over 90 training hours! Training a little every day also helps reinforce the concepts taught at our San Diego dojo each week, and will make you better prepared for the next class. With proper review in between formal trainings, you will be able to go into deeper levels in your study of Karate, instead of continuing to practice at the same level.
As my friend Iain Abernethy Sensei (6th Dan, Wadu-Ryu Karate) says: “If you want to be a skilled martial artist, do what the skilled martial artists do: train each day! If you get into the habit of daily training, you will surprise yourself with how much progress you can make.” As martial artists, we always strive to improve “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle.
Consistency builds greatness!
Here’s to you becoming a great martial artist!