There really is no substitute for a quality instructor. No matter how many video tapes or books a person investigates, a good teacher is the only one who can instill the proper basics and techniques used to make a style effective. We rarely spot all the defects in our own methods, so having a keen eye watching us is critical for improvement.
Unfortunately, we can also become dependent on our instructors. When we go to class, we receive a steady stream of information and corrections designed to make us better. Much like television, it is easy to get hooked on that kind of access. Furthermore, when watching an instructor or receiving advice, it is more like passive learning rather than active. During passive learning, we aren’t challenging ourselves to discover improvements for ourselves. Therefore, we are never really following our own path, we are merely tiptoeing behind our teachers, trying vainly to step exactly where they stepped.
That is why, in addition to going to class faithfully, a martial artist must spend time by him/herself.
Here’s the top 5 reasons I think solo training is worth the time and effort:
5. Resolving Stress
Like most people, I get those days where I am stressed out. Rough day at work, car troubles, rude waiter…whatever the cause, there are just times when the fuse is short. It’s during these times that training on your own can have miraculous effects. Frustration and anxiety are energetic emotions, and kata/bag training serves as an excellent means for giving those tensions an outlet.
Anger driven emotions aren’t the only things that can be resolved; also consider uneasiness, restlessness, and depression. These are states that drain energy and life out of a person. Kata training (both dynamic kata and breathing kata) serve to build spirit and resilience in the practitioner. Often times getting back to the most basic elements of living – breathing and movement – help to put extraneous matters into perspective.
4. Confronting Inadequacies
One of the scariest things about martial arts training is confronting all of that which we don’t know. Many practitioners prefer never to look it in the eye; instead, they focus on proclaiming their excellence in what they do know.
When training alone, you’ll be confronted with this decision as well – will you just run your kata pattern a couple of times, and then hit the bags? Will you focus only on making changes that will help you win trophies?
Or will you take that deep plunge, asking who, what, when, where, and why for every movement?
3. Internal Discussion
Because of all the great info you are receiving in normal martial arts class, there is little time for internal discussion. Integrating corrections and new techniques is hard enough! When you’re alone, you can allow your mind to wander. You can take the time to ask yourself questions.
One of the highest goals of martial arts training is to achieve mushin, or a state of no mind. In mushin, reaction and instinct are in command. The mushin of a trained karateka can only be achieved after martial matters have been internally argued to complete death. Much like in zen satori, the mind just gives up, and all that’s left is technique melded with instinct!
Experiment too much in class, and you’re likely to get a raised eyebrow from your instructor. Think about it – how can he/she be sure that you’re experimenting in a growth-productive manner, instead of just screwing up? Experimenting with technique and body movement on your own is an embarrassment-free alternative.
Of course, this one comes with a caveat – you have to be careful your experimentation doesn’t lead you away from the core principles of your style. The hardest thing to break in the martial arts is a bad habit…so don’t get yourself locked into one if you don’t have to.
1. Developing Questions
My final point here I recommend to you with trumpets blowing in the background, arms flailing, and anything else that gets your attention. All too often, in a state of apathy, practitioners expect their instructors to deliver grand martial secrets to them. One day, they suspect, sensei will unsheathe a scroll; and on that scroll will lay the shadowy death touches they’ve been longing for.
I hate to burst bubbles (that’s not true), but the way to success is a bit less dramatic. Basically, you just have to ask the right questions. This is a remarkable, built-in function of the martial arts. You can’t grow as a martial artist until you ask the right questions to elicit interesting and provocative responses from your instructors, and you can’t ask the right questions until you’ve put in exhaustive efforts into your training.
Pretty clever stuff, huh?
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One final note – training alone in different locations can have different effects. Training alone in the home can serve to comfort you with familiar surroundings…but it can also lead to easy distraction. If possible, secure some alone time in the dojo. A dojo has an innate sense of purpose and helps keep you focused. Furthermore, the quiet watches of the dojo help connect you with the true spirit of your martial art.
Finally, if you have the means, train outside with nature.
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Mastery often makes a difficult task look easy. Anderson Silva dispatches his opponents fluidly, routinely, and authoritatively. When I watch Anderson Silva fight, I can’t help it – I have to say WHOA!
“The Spider” is an MMA fighter for UFC, but comes from a Muay Thai and Jujutsu background. Silva is an amazingly well rounded fighter. He has an extensive reach that usually puts him 2-3 inches outside of his opponent. He is most well known for his explosive striking, but is also very impressive on the ground.
When watching Silva, I can’t help but be impressed by his calm and collection. His natural body language is the same in the ring as it is outside, and there is no explosive increase in zanshin when he fights. That’s because he is prepared at all times. Fighting for him seems as natural as riding a bike is for Lance Armstrong.
There is one important thing to remember for Silva – he makes many of his opponents look like amateurs. He goes up against the top mma fighters and swats them away. Let’s take a TV time-out now, because I think a little video will show what I’m talking about:
He’s got awesome control of distancing and timing, and a lethal arsenal of techniques. But all of his talent and skill isn’t what makes me like him – it’s his personal demeanor. He shows a great deal of respect and honor to his opponents and to the establishment of combat. He bows and demonstrates Muay Thai ritual, not in a wannabe fashion, but as someone who has trained for a very long time and has ingrained those methods into his being.
Anderson Silva resembles a traditional warrior fighting in mma, and a lot of the other combatants should look up to him and follow his example.
**Spoiler Alert** – Silva’s latest knockout over James Irvin was another display of prowess. I won’t ruin the details for you, but SIlva dispensed of Irvin in short order. He proved something martial arts instructors have been preaching for years – a well placed technique, delivered with precision and power, can eliminate even the toughest opponents.
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I’m fortunate enough to find myself writing this post from Ocean City, Maryland. We are in a hotel called the Marigot and the accommodations have been stellar. During my stay here, I’ve ridden some waves (and been wiped out by some too), eaten some great seafood, and watched a bunch of people from our 11th story balcony. Is there anything more useful for a writer?
Yesterday, while chilling out on the balcony, I spotted two guys standing side by side…and bowing. I lifted a karate eyebrow and paid closer attention to them. Right before my eyes the two began performing kata seiunchin! I was pleased.
Allow me to apologize for not snapping any pictures of them, I was watching too closely to think of it at the time. It was actually a bold move on their part – they chose the middle of a crowded, public beach in the middle of the day to practice their karate. No doubt they were receiving some sidelong looks from people all around, but they proceeded anyway. Kudos to them.
Seiunchin is not practiced in my style of karate, but I’m familiar with it from my interactions with other martial artists and some of the video/book material I’ve encountered. It is an excellent kata utilized by styles such as Goju-Ryu and Isshin-Ryu.
As the two beach practitioners proceeded through the movements, I noticed the trademark deep stances and transitions used to undermine and off-balance opponents. Check out this video of Tatsuo Shimabukuro demonstrating the pattern –
As you can tell by Shimabukuro’s smooth movements, this kata can be done as mobile meditation, much like a tai chi chuan form; but it can also be “hardened” with more emphasis on hip movement and sharp strikes.
The strong sanchin dachi (stances) worked very well for the sand on the beach, as it did not dig the exponents in too hard, but provided a solid base.
The two beach karateka were helping improve each other’s technique, but I believe they were missing one very important part of training on the beach – the rhythm of their surroundings! Sensei Bill Hayes discusses beach training in his book My Journey With The Grandmaster and explains that Eizo Shimabukuro would use the sounds, sensations, and timing of the beach to adapt his kata. They would train the power of their kiai overtop waves and storms, and allow each step of their kata to be strengthened or relaxed by the flow of the waves.
Of course, the karateka I was watching couldn’t afford to rip kiai, lest they be escorted away by lifeguards. But I still think the point for them, for myself, and for anyone else considering beach training, is to try your best to forget the technique itself, and realize how it interacts with everything around you!
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