Kenpo Budokan Karate: White Belt: Lessons: 24 – Practicing, Perfecting, Patience

A group of school children practice martial ar...
The Great Mosque, Xi’an (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Practicing, Perfecting, Patience

In the martial arts we have a mnemonic that we use to help students understand where they are in their studies. We call this the 3 P’s – Practicing, Perfection, and Patience. You must practice to achieve perfection, but must be patient because reaching this takes time. You’ve come a long way since your first class 22 lessons ago – it’s a good time to reflect on what you have done and record in your training journal (remember the one you wrote down your goals in at the very beginning), what you feel comfortable with, and what you still need work on. A key with all of this, is that progress takes time. It took me 32 years to get to the point where I was confident enough to start sharing the CMATOS material off with the world, and it’s going to take another couple of years before the adoption of the system is more widespread.

But you shouldn’t let the fear of time keep you from continuing onward. If you started studying a year ago, where would you be today? If you started 5 years ago, or 10 or 20? Where do you think you will be tomorrow? Your goal should be to a continual strive to improve your proficiency in the art. The ultimate goal is perfection, but if you get there, your next goal should be to be even better than perfect. It is all a continuous improvement of your skills and your efforts should all be directed towards that end.

All About Practicing

When is the best time to practice?

The best time to practice is the time when you feel you don’t want to practice. You had a long day at work, and are getting home late. You usually work out at 6pm but it’s now 10pm. Should you practice? Absolutely. You’re feeling sick and nauseous. Should you practice? Depends on if the doctor has ordered you bed rest or not. If no, then you should at least make an effort to go through the motions and keep up with the consistency in your practice.

The great thing about being sick and tired is that your body works in weird ways, and if you practice (even if it is nothing more than going through the motions), the muscle memory that develops becomes ingrained even deeper into you. This being said, we’re not saying you should go out there and kill yourself by practicing when you are bedridden – but we are saying that your body can take a lot more than you think it can and you should “strive” to practice as much as possible. In a self defense situation, you can’t tell your attacker, “sorry I’m too sick or tired to defend myself, come back in a few days when I’m feeling better.” As we have said before and will say again, the more you sweat in practice the less you bleed in battle.

So sickness and long working days aside, when is the best time to practice – whenever you have set aside as your “practice time”. This time should be consistent and inviolate so that you do everything in your power to stick to the practice schedule. If you miss a practice for some reason, make it up as soon as possible (the same day if possible). The longer you stick to the routine of practicing at the same time each day, the easier it becomes. If you are a morning person – set aside time in the morning after your normal gym workout to go through a practice session, if you are more of a night owl, practice in the evenings. As we say – do what works, but above all, be consistent.

How much should I practice?

24×7. Seriously. Even though my day job doesn’t involve breaking boards or body guarding some spoiled starlet, I am always thinking about martial arts. It’s my passion. I spend at least 30 minutes a day practicing (most days closer to 2-3 hours), but due to scheduling conflicts, work travel, etc… I’ll find 30 minutes somewhere to at least run through the material (maybe not all of it, but at least what I am focusing on for the week/month).

On the flip side of the coin, all work and no play makes Mr. Salaka a sad man. The same needs to be said about training. Training too much too soon can be detrimental – and if you are just starting off with the training, 2-3 times per week should be sufficient. Once you’ve been training for a while, bump that up to every other day, then every day, and soon you will find that the more you practice, the more you want to practice, and the cycle repeats itself. This being said, even though you should dedicate yourself to training and training consistently, you shouldn’t be so focused on training that you completely miss what is going on around you – and for this you really need to think about your priorities. I don’t want students to call me up 10 years down the road to yell at me because they spent the first 10 years of their child’s life practicing and never spending time with their family.

It is all about balance and prioritization. As with everything, the more you practice, the better you will become – Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours for you to become an expert in something. Let’s say you train 2 times a week for 30 minutes a session. It would take you 10,000 weeks (191 years) to be an expert with the CMATOS material at that pace. Train 2 hours per week and you drop to 95 years. Train 2 hours per day and it will take you 13 years to get there. Can you get there faster? For some people with innate talent – yes, but for the rest of us, it’s all about putting in the hours. The more you train the better you get, simple as that.

How important is consistency?

More important than the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, is the element of consistency – both consistency in the time and duration of your practices as well as the consistency with what you practice. Common knowledge is that it takes 21 days to get into the habit of doing something. While this is true to some extent to get you kick started, you have to be consistent through and through to really get into something well. Unfortunately, all it takes is one day where you say – “ok I am not going to practice today because of X”, to get out of that habit extremely quickly. As you most highest priority you need to fight those urges and make your martial arts not a “habit” to practice, but a way of life that you “just do”. We said above that the most important time to practice are those times when you don’t feel like practicing. The more times you can “power” through those emotions, the less times they will crop up in the future.

Second most importantly to practicing at a set, regular schedule, is making sure the way you are practicing is the way you are going to perform. Too many times I see martial artists out there “just going through the motions”, going to class, merely showing up to grace their instructor with their presence, and not putting anything into what they are doing. Although there are times and places to “just go through the motion” (e.g. sick, tired, etc…), your consistency should be focused on sharp solid techniques, and not just motions in the air – so when it does come time to perform (either during a test or in a situation) you are ready and able to.

 All About Perfection

Perfection is our aim, but it is something we will never reach. Our goals are levels of proficiency. A white belt performing the Master 8 Fold form should look a lot different than an 8th degree Black belt performing the master 8 fold form. Even though it is the exact same material, the exact same movements, the exact same material, there is something elemental about the differences in the performance. The key to this is the level of proficiency. A white belt has performed the form a couple dozen times, an 8th degree has performed the form a couple of thousand times. That makes all the difference in the world.

This is especially true about the upper belts, all the CMATOS material that you have is tested at EVERY SINGLE belt level. Your Short 1 Kata should look much better than the Short 1 Kata you performed for your previous belt. One of the reasons why there is such a long time in rank between the upper belts is not so much a matter of learning the new material – give me 6 months and a dedicated student and I can teach them the complete CMATOS material front to back to 8th degree black belt. Will it be any good? Not really, but the level of proficiency of a person through this accelerated curriculum will be no where the level of proficiency of someone who has been studying the material for 32 years. The reason why time in rank increases at the upper levels is because you need to show an increase in your level of proficiency of all your previous material. If you’ve gotten your Short 1 to such a high level of proficiency, how much time do you think it is going to take you to improve the Short 1 Kata to something even better. If it’s already perfect, making it better is going to take a huge effort and time to get it “to the next level.”

To all my “big” kenpo brothers out there

In order to effectively be able to defend yourself you need to be in some sort of physical shape. Strength and endurance are huge parts of being a solid martial artist. Unfortunately for a lot of kenpoists out there, many of the great instructors are somewhat on the large side (myself included) – the image of the martial artist that you see from the ESPN US Karate Open or the movies usually doesn’t hold and the image that most people think of when they look at a martial artist is their level of physical health. What people need to realize is that there are Athletes and there are Martial Artists – sometimes you get both in one package, other times never the two shall meet.

So here I am – I put in 2-3 hours of practice a day, and am in the gym most days of the week doing cardio and weight training – yet I still don’t look athletic by any shape of the imagination. And that’s not my goal. One thing kenpo has taught me is efficiency of motion – and one thing kenpo is great at is allowing a huge range of people to participate in the martial arts that they would not otherwise be capable of. This being said, I can still out-spar and out pace most of my students. I may not look like it, but when you see the numbers I can put up in the gym, or if you see me training, you realize that this book is not what it shows on the cover.

It can not be stressed enough, you must be in physical shape in order to be able to defend yourself. This does not mean you need to look like an athlete, and have abs of steel – but it does mean that you do need to spend some time working on the physical aspect of the art (including strength and endurance training). The last thing you want to be is in a situation where you have to react, you may have the skill, but if you don’t have the physical capacity to react (not enough endurance), you are going to be in a world of hurt. The good news is that because of the nature of Kenpo you don’t need to be an athlete to be successful. The bad news is, you do need some level of physical endurance in order to be effective.

In a nut shell – you need to not only be training the material you are learning through the lessons, you also need to get yourself into a good level of physical shape.

All About Patience

Rome wasn’t built in a Day and the CMATOS system did not just materialize overnight. It all takes time. My day job involves leading people through software development – and we have a saying, you can’t take 9 women and make a baby in 1 month. Some things just take time. Martial arts is one of them. As a hobby it is great, but as a way of life it is even better. As we discussed throughout this lesson, it’s all about practicing consistently so that you achieve that next level of proficiency. And this will take time. Some people are naturally gifted, and will pick up the material and run with it and be ready to test for a black belt in a very short time span. Others will take years between belts. Martial arts is not about racing through the ranks and “being the best”, but rather it is a marathon – learning what works for you, adapting your practices to your situation, and growing as an individual. When I started martial arts at 4 years of age, I was still growing, and was able to do full splits. After a bunch of accidents, and several knee surgeries later, I’m a bit restricted in what I can and can not do. No more back flips for me, but I can still spar with the best of them. After 32 years of training there are things I could do then but I can’t do now, but at the same token, there are a ton of things I can do now that I couldn’t do then.

You should also stop comparing yourself to others. Yes you should compare yourself to your instructor and others to help improve your skill and aim towards that as our goal (use them as models and demonstrations for the techniques and forms). But as far as their skill vs your skill – this is not a competition on who is better (there will always be someone better out there). The goal is – are you the best you can be. Your best is what you are aiming for, and once you reach it, you should aim to make your best even better. It may be that your best is better than everyone else, or it may be that your best is worse than everyone else on the planet. It DOES NOT MATTER. It is YOUR best and what you should be aiming for.

Regardless of what your goals are, it is going to take lots of practice and time to achieve them. Those who are determined to race through the system just to earn ranking are only going to hurt themselves in the long run – and learning like that, you will end up hitting a wall where you will have to let your skill catch up with your level (rather than your level catching up with your skill). Take your time, practice it until it hurts, then practice some more. And then, only once you feel 100% confident with the technique or material, start learning the next.

Closing Thoughts

Martial arts are a marathon, not a sprint – it takes time, determination, and patience to progress. In addition, it requires a dedication to consistency – both in practice and in skill. Finally, it requires a change in mindset – you need to focus on your goals, not on what others are telling you. Take your time, and above all, do what works.

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