Training Tip No1
Despite my obvious interest in the practical applications of martial arts I am, first and foremost, a committed martial artist. Although I don’t don a white gi these days I consider my martial arts training to be at the highest traditional level. My old training partner, Brian Seabright always talks about the aesthetic element of what we do and however much we mix and match various arts, we endeavour to make the blend as seemless as possible.
Looking at many martial artists, which is something I certainly do a lot of in a year, I am often dissapointed that they, clearly, are not aware of how they appear aesthetically – in other words they are not ‘self-aware’. Self-awareness is a problem for all of us and not only physically, but in our wider dealings with the outside world. Some people never seem to be conscious about what they say or do, or what impression they give to others. Ego has a great part to play in this, as does general ignorance, but in a sporting sense a lack of self-awareness is a major set-back in reaching high, technical attainment.
Self-awareness in a sporting context is handled by embracing the concept of ‘visualisation’. In very simple terms visualisation is being able to see ourselves achieving a successful outcome of an event, be it a set of drills, a competition or other personal engagement. In its broadest sense such visualisation amounts to role playing which can implant a ‘success’ refernce in our sub-conscious mind. It’s part of developing a winning mind.
We’ve all probably watched high jumpers before they set off for their run-up to the bar, engrossed in internalising and mentally rehearsing the jump and its successful outcome and often how well this rehearsal happens determines the outcome of the jump.
There are two principal ways of practising visualisation, the easiest being the method of seeing an event unfold through our eyes the way we want it to happen. By far the hardest, though, is to visualise externally, as if there is a CCTV camera filming us from a high vantage point and we are looking at this image of ourselves as if we were a third party. We are trying to see ourselves as others see us. This is very hard to do and I struggle to keep this image in maind as I train.
The other way to stay self-aware is to build up, by conscious means, an almost subliminal awareness of our physical actions. Whether we are getting into a car, sitting down, or simply walking down the road we should be self-conscious and alert. Apart from the obvious personal security spinoffs, we create a total physicl awareness which we should take into our training routines.
The key to self-awareness is recognising that the smallest movement engages the whole body and nothing we do from pointing at something to punching something happens in isolation. In martial arts, however, we are often too mentally engaged with the ‘tool’ in use i.e the fist, foot, knee, elbow etc, to the exclusion of the role the rest of the body should be playing. I see people engaged in the execution of a technique oblivious as to what other bits of their body are doing. Often it’s the parts they can’t see such as the rear foot which often trails behind at an incorrect angle, thereby hampering any follow-up technique that suffer.
Working in front of a mirror is an obvious and practical way of assessing how we move and look, but it takes real honesty to be critical about ourselves. To be able to make adjustments, we need to have a ‘role model’ with which to compare, so study closely someone you admire and soak up their movement, even if it’s simply an impression of how they move, not the detail. I still carry in my head images of Sensei Kimura my shukokai instructor and try to emulate the impression that gives.
Take the time to work at this – it will pay dividends.
Training Tip No. 2
Training Tip no. 2 dealt with both the purpose and facilities in respect of them being the two, key governing factors which should shape our training routines. If we drill down more to the sub-set of a training regime and focus on some specific goals then we come to some attributes. I constantly here the word used out of context and often applied to specific technique training and improvement, as distinct from its more strict definition of something inherent, of quality, or a virtue. So if we drilled down from our two governing factors we first reach the layer where we address speed, power, strength, flexibility, fluidity, et al.
Beneath that and drilling down further we come to the training of techniques and the striving for its improvement. A technique can be said to have characteristics, particularly its shape and precision. In many ways, when we are learning a physical technique we could very well be taught by someone who doesn’t speak our language and for many of us doing Karate in the early 1960’s, when the Japanese instructors were fresh in this country, this is how we did learn – by copying.
Copying only gets us so far, however, and without explanation the subtleties of the technique are lost. Developing speed in a technique, or combinationn of techniques, is somehting that we can try to copy but only so far. We need some of the complexities explained not just shown. I’ve read articles on speed where the author has five or six different definitions for speed depending on what aspect of the technique is involved.
The training tip here is more fundamental, because, in my experience we have two, broad, sub-divisions of speed;
- Reactionary Speed
- Proactive Speed
In other words how quickly we can defend and how quickly we can attack. If the penny hasn’t yet dropped, I’ll explain now that my training tips are less about the ‘how’ something is done and more about the ‘why’, or concept behind what we do. I want you to completely break down into constituent parts everything you do and then put it back together again. Question the why not only the how of what you do.
The first large question you need to ask yourself in respect of speed is why you need it in the first place. Look at Tai Chi; there’s little explosive speed in the practise of forms, unlike Western Boxing. We often don’t need speed in the street (I’ll explain this elsewhere) and, in fact, it can sometimes work against us. Remember as well and you may have come across me saying this before, but SPEED STEALS POWER. It is the need for speed, so to speak, that is more often the guilty culprit as to why people can’t impact well.
Remember this, the speed at which you can send a fist to a target is about ten times as fast as the speed you can move your body to the target and the weight of a strike is in your bodyweight transferred to the fist not the weight of the fist and arm plus a bit of rotation. Most martial artists can’t impact. Don’t even think of arguing the point with me. I see hundreds of martial artists, feel the impact they deliver and are seldom impressed. It’s the same with the professionals, be they police or military personnel.
However, we digress. The subject is speed, but irrespective about whether you believe you can or can’t impact, you need to stand back from your practise of techniques and see if the search for speed is actually the required goal.
Often in street engagements one can achieve the desired aim without speed in a technique, in fact, speed is often an enemy not a friend. We are all, probably familiar with the stone thrown up at the car windscreen when we’re traveling at speed and how our unconscious startle response mechanism jerks our head away, well it’s the same when we explode at someone, we inervate their startle reflex. This may result in an instinctive block or cover-up, not what we wanted. Quite often we can achieve more with a slow swing, the reason being that we don’t induce the startle model, rather the opponents response is from his cognitive processes and if there is no model for your action his response is often zilch – trust me it works.
It is not the speed of a technique that wins the day it is surprise, that pre-emptive shot that takes the opponent out of the game before they know they are in it. If you tell someone what you are going to do they will often be able to defeat your speed – depending on the distance involved. Strike halfway through a sentence, or by means of asking a question, however irrelevant to occupy their brain for a fraction of a second. Speed is often necessary, but it is only a small part of the story. I know fighters who are not particularly fast but they manage to score more than other, faster people. Raw speed by itself will not win the day.
Finally, the other problem with attempting to move fast is that the effort needed to ‘take off’ gives the game away as there is so much ancillary body movement. It’s the tell tale signs that a person reacts to. So speed without it being disguised is not much use. The fighter I mentioned above who scores well is the one capable of movement without giving it away, in other words smooth, accelerative, but with non-telegraphed movement. Ali had that skill if you watch him punch, yes he had speed, but it wasn’t telegraphed.
The key is relaxation. If you had a scale of explosiveness movement from 1 to 10, then you must have a similar scale of relaxation. The relaxation is momentary and is like a physical sigh before exploding. If it doesn’t happen and tension is present then that tension is translated to the move being telegraphed. It’s difficult to practise but if you want to move fast it is the key.