During my childhood I played the piano. It was my passion and I put in thousands of hours of practice until I was about 20 years old. Needless to say I got pretty good at it. Even after a 20 year break from music, I could still play the piano well. The key was not only lots of time spent practising, but also making sure that the practice I did was of good quality.
Martial arts is no different to learning a musical instrument. To become good at it you need to practice a lot. As a general rule of thumb, you need to put in about 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. For most of us who do martial arts recreationally, we will never achieve this level of practice. Even if we train for 5 hours a week for 50 weeks of the year, it will take 40 years to reach 10,000 hours.
While mastery may not be achievable for most of us, any practice will make us better. However, in my experience many people who train in martial arts either do not practice at all, other than during class time, or do not know how to practice well. It is not simply a case of repeating something over and over again, mindlessly. Practice must be deliberate, mindful, and structured to be effective. Here are some of the practice traps people fall into.
1. Unstructured practice: Most people practice without a plan. They just go through their material in sequence, practicing everything once or twice. While any practice is probably better than no practice at all, the benefits of this type of practice are limited. The time that most of us can devote to practising is relatively short, so we must plan for how we are going to use that time most effectively, to ensure everything is practised properly.
2. Only practising what you are good at: It is common to focus on the things we are good at as this makes practising more enjoyable. However, we will improve more by practising those elements that are the hardest. This means we must break down our practice into components to ensure we devote practice time to the hard stuff, even though this might be difficult or less fun to do.
3. Always starting at the beginning: Most people practice by starting at the beginning. For example, when practising forms in Kuk Sool Won™ (patterns in Taekwondo or kata in Karate), most people will practice the entire form from start to finish. This approach makes you good at the material at the beginning and the easier components of the form. A better approach is to break the form down into segments and practice those. This ensures you practice and get better at all elements, including the harder parts.
4. Not being mindful: Many people just go through the motions when they are practising without thought or awareness. Practice must be deliberate and mindful to be effective. This means we need to really think about what we are doing. By being aware while we are practising, we can pick up and correct any mistakes we are making, refine our skills, and develop a deeper connection with and understanding of the material we are learning.
There is a saying that practice makes perfect. It doesn’t. Practice makes us better. It increases our physical skills, as well as our knowledge and understanding. Effective practice is not something that simply happens. We need to consciously develop good habits. This requires effort, thought and self-discipline. However, the rewards from disciplined practice are significant. You will get better, more quickly, and develop a deeper understanding of your martial art.
In my next blog I will focus on the third of the three P's; perseverance and martial arts.
JKN Jane Hurst
First degree black belt and school owner
Kuk Sool Won™ of Onewhero
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Caroline is a 5th degree black belt and Jane is a 2nd degree black belt in the traditional Korean martial art of Kuk Sool Won™ . They run 2 Kuk Sool Won™ martial arts schools in New Zealand.