You didn’t start your study of the martial arts to “go through the motions” of it all, did you? Of course you didn’t, but look around you in your next class and I’ll bet you spot a number of your classmates doing that very thing, going through the motions. It’s human nature to get distracted, to multi-task, and wander off course.
To deepen and strengthen your practice so that you stay on the mark and make reasonable progress, I offer you these 10 time-tested, Sensei-tested tips:
1. As often as you can remember to do so, say to yourself “I am aware that I am training” (kicking, punching grappling, or whatever it is you’re doing at the moment). For me, that never fails to get my head out of the clouds and back into my practice (I am aware that I am writing this!).
2. Use a training partner (or partners) to hold you accountable to more intense, more focused, and more “present” practice. Friends are a good thing!
3. Eat better food before and after ever class (and, of course that translates into ALL THE TIME). If you’re body’s jammed full of food-delivered chemicals, cups of coca cola, and crates full of unnecessary carbs or fats, you’re going to find you don’t function like the well-oiled machine you’re supposed to be. Contrary to the way a lot of people live their lives, what you eat IS important to your performance. In fact, what you eat IS self-defence.
4. Breath deeply, focus on breathing deeply, think about breathing deeply, and maybe, if you have a habit of forgetting, write “BREATH DEEPLY” on the backside of your hand. To see just how much this helps you, do it. You’ll feel the benefits right away.
5. Take your practice off of the mat. Courtesy and respect for others isn’t something that’s practiced in the school with people you’re semi-afraid of. It’s for that ding-dong at the supermarket (you can tell what someone is made of by how they treat the people that mean nothing to them). It’s for your Mom, who sometimes bugs you in a big way. It’s for the substitute teacher (yes, even for him/her).
6. Practice at home, a minimum of 10 minutes a day on the days you don’t attend classes. Little things add up, so even 10 minutes of practice can help you grow. Oh, and if you don’t think 10 minutes matters, try to hold your side-kick out for 10 minutes or try and hold your breath for 10 minutes. Yeah!
7. Read age-appropriate philosophy. Champions, whether in science, baseball, chess, jiu-jitsu, or cross-country skiing, all have belief systems that make them rise above hardship and overcome obstacles. They all learn to cope with defeat –and victory. Reading the words of someone with experience can be the next best thing to talking with them face-to-face.
8. Go crazy. Yes, act in a way that most people would consider very odd indeed. For example, when things start getting really hard, you pretend they’re getting easier. Crazy! When everyone else complains –and for good reasons too, you find the good in the situation and jump up to be the first person to turn whatever is wrong, right. Insane! When everyone else quits, you stick to it! You’re a nut!
Actually, you’re a martial artist.
9. Measure your own personal performance on a scale between 1 and 10, with “1” being your worst performance –and “10” being all out, focused, beautiful-to-behold effort. Try to operate as close to level 10 as you can during your classes (whether you’re standing still or doing difficult manoeuvres). And while you’re at it, try to LIVE at level 10, whenever possible. It’s a good thing.
10. I hate to drop this one on you last, as it’s a bit of a let-down after all this glorious focus on you and yours, but maybe the best way to deepen your own practice of the martial arts is to help other deepen theirs. Yes, that’s right, in the end, it’s not about you at all. Funny how it always works out that way.