After decades of experience I’m ready to share my SECRET training formula!
I don’t normally like extreme titles, but hey, it’s more eye catching than “You Should Just Practice More!” We all hear that in any sport, we need to train, practice and evolve on a constant basis. Many people in all physical activities will hit plateaus from time to time. That’s still going to happen and you need to be driven to solve these plateaus and move through the boring times into another gain.
When it comes to martial arts, we’re often told size doesn’t matter, rely on technique, and anyone can do it. All those things might be true at any given moment, but they don’t FEEL true when you’re on the opposite end having your hopes and dreams crushed. We have this expectation that after TIME has passed we should be at skill level we imagine in our head. Here is the hard truth about training, time is a factor, but it’s how you spend that time that’s most important. In this article I’m going to break down a method I use to get results. What you’re about to read is tried and true and tested time and time again.
Take it Step-by-step
I often espouse that any good martial arts program whether it’s Jeet Kune Do (JKD), Gracie Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, Boxing or Kali (knife handling) should have a progression. You’ve got this pile of knowledge, but if that information isn’t organized your approach to it will be riddled with holes. Your math teacher didn’t randomly jump subjects and start teaching history, or go from geometry one day and then algebra the next. You take sequential classes and they build on each other along the journey though academia. If you’ve already got that pinned down, you’re probably on the right track. MOST martial art schools I grew up in were a chaotic mess. If you could fight and pick things up quickly you learned a thing or two or just got tough, but there wasn’t a product. There wasn’t a mass of people in a community that all had the same skill set like a Pedro Sauer Gracie Jiu Jitsu Black Belt. Being organized is half the battle, the more you know.
The secret not secret formula to my success:
Once you’ve got information organized, you need to keep these simple 5 steps in mind:
- Rep technique with good, clean, form.
- Drill technique with focus, intent, and athleticism
- Drill technique with a partner AND contest it
- Spar with the technique in mind and try to produce it.
- Find examples of other experts using the technique, emulate it, research it, explore it, and BREAK it.
Level 1: Good, Clean, Form.
Slow down! To wire the process of new movement and various calibrations into the body you need to go slow. Think of Tai Chi masters who gracefully perfect their form. Rickson Gracie said that “to move fast, you need to go slow.” It seems counter productive but it’s absolutely true. When you’re learning a new skill you need to stay calm and perform it slowly. One of the greatest hurdles to this besides our own ego, is a bad unwilling partner. A partner that won’t let you slow down to check your movement is not a partner at all, but an adversary. You need their help to understand the movement and make it your own. Imagine you’ve never driven a car before and it’s a manual transmission, would you grab the keys and hit the highway immediately at 80 miles per hour? Of course not, cultivating good form is exactly the same. Take it slow and give your body and mind time to marinade on the movement. Skipping this step will hold the student back and a level of sloppiness will permeate all their movement. It doesn’t matter how athletic or gifted an individual is they must take the time to build good mechanics.
With good mechanics, the disadvantaged can overcome.
Level 2: Drill with focus, intent, and athleticism
We know how it is, you’re in class and there’s a lot of material to cover. It seems like the main goal might be to memorize everything. That’s not quite the case, although memorization is part of the process it’s not the immediate goal. Your memory isn’t going to fail you, you’re going to learn and progress and one of the best ways to accelerate your learning is to drill. At RCW that means getting solid reputation on what you can EASILY remember. Class segments can sometime be brief and then we’re moving on to the next technique. Maximize your time by focusing your reps in class AND possibly spending 5 minutes just drilling what you felt was the most important aspects of the hour. If you’re drilling well you’ll see quick results you can feel every 2 weeks to 30 days. One way you can ensure this happens is to watch the chatter in class. Drilling with your partner shouldn’t be constant question and answer time. If you’re talking too much you’ll be moving way to slow to get anything done.
We know you want to get everything perfect, but that will come in the process. Beware the illusion of perfecting everything RIGHT NOW! You will become one of those endless chatters in class and spend more time talking than moving. Drill, repetition, focus, intent and athleticism.
Level 3: Drill with a partner AND contest it:
When you add variety to a technique Bruce Lee referred to this in Jeet Kune Do (JKD) as “liberating from the nucleus.” He was referring to the idea that although you’re at the core of the same technique, the nucleus, you now have a need to bend it, stretch it, break it down, and solve the puzzle. In BJJ it’s pretty simple, spend the class learning the armbar and now at the end go and spar, and try to get land the armbar on your partner. What’s different in drilling and Bruce Lee’s thought here is focus. For example in BJJ you might want to spar or roll as it’s called in Jiu Jitsu, but it might be better to train a specific area. Try to hit the armbar, but only work from the guard. Give your partner parameters: “Hey will you try to defend this, but I’m going to try to work from this position, if you escape the guard or counter the move can we just start over?” Your chances of seeing the puzzle and process of the technique in action go way up. Now that you have a partner who isn’t just handing you the technique on a silver platter you have to figure things out for yourself. This is where a very high form of learning takes place, because it’s experiential.
Level 4: Spar with that technique in mind and try to reproduce it.
When you begin to work on contesting technique, avoid the tendency to work on more than 2 things at once. Let’s do the guard, and I’ll try to sweep or choke my partner. Let’s work on boxing and I’m only going to use Jabs or straights as my strikes. It offers you an area of focus where you can remove the thought process a little, kick up the enthusiasm and get a good result. You’re still sparring, but you’re not quite doing every component of sparring yet.
When that starts to go well, and it may only take a few minutes, then begin sparring with every option available. Depending on if you’re doing MMA, Muay Thai, Boxing, BJJ, JKD, Krav Maga, etc, the tools available might be limitless. In BJJ you might be rolling, but you’re still trying to find your way to the guard to land that arm bar. Maybe you’re trying to find the armbar in every possible position like the mount, back, guard, and cross body. That’s good to do, but focus is usually key, so if you feel overwhelmed and that you’re no longer seeing the technique you’re trying to produce scale it back. Never be too worried about slowing things down, shaping the training, and going back to specific training where you’re trying to deliver the technique amidst resistance.
Everyone advocates for technical sparring, but few stick with it. Resist the urge to go “all out.”
Level 5: Find other examples
Relying on yourself is one of the strangest sensations and final skills you develop as a martial artist. I don’t mean relying on yourself in competition or a contest. We all crave answers and are conditioned our whole life to seek that knowledge outside of ourselves. This is important for foundational learning, and especially the basics. In Martial Arts you walk into class and right away your coach or professor is going to impart their wisdom. You soak it up, this is what we call the parroting phase. You see your mentor do something and you emulate it, much like the rest of life.
It’s important during this time to trust your mentor that they’re leading you down the path to a high skill level, filled with knowledge and truth. To compliment that you should absolutely look to other experts in the same field and compare the same methods being taught. In a martial arts class it might be as close as another instructor at the academy, a high level student in the same class, or maybe they have a supplemental course. In our BJJ program students can access all the curriculum on video with our head instructor Professor Pedro Sauer performing all the Gracie Jiu Jitsu techniques himself. This goes a long way to ensure that your copy cat system is developing. You see the same technique everywhere with subtle differences and you can cross compare.
Over time this cross examination and constant observation of subtle differences starts to reveal your own ideas to you. Within the span of 5 to 10 years you’ll not only be building your skills that will last a lifetime, but you’ll also have an eye for creativity. To quote Bruce Lee again he had a saying “know the rule, follow the rule, bend the rule, break the rule.”
All human creativity comes from remixing ideas, it is nearly impossible to create something utterly unique. However, it is very healthy and transformative to tweak, combine, and mesh together. It can be a pretty amazing journey through Martial Arts where you never stop seeing new ideas, while you never stop cultivating your own creativity, and never stop honing the basics.
Life runs in cycles:
It’s the same for myself too, after 30 plus years of training I still follow the same advice I’m dolling out. You can find me in the academy, slowing down, and repping one thing at time. Moving on to contesting it, specific training, sparring, and trying to be creative. Then I’ll rest and put it all back the beginning again, because it’s not all the techniques we’re after in the world but the principle behind the movements. If you follow my layout here you’re guaranteed to have success on and off the training floor.
As always if you’re interested you can find River City Warriors right here in Tigard where we always have a free trail. You can hit us up with any questions or comments you might have at RiverCityWarrior@gmail.com
We appreciate you taking the time to read our blog and let us share our experience and energy with you.
-All the best,