Monday, 22 March 2010

Karate training - is little and often best?

Karate has a big advantage over some other martial arts in that much of it can be practised without the need for a training partner. Kata and kihon can be done alone and one can practice various kumite moves against a bag - so I have no excuse not to practice at home!

In fact we have a small gym at home so I really don’t have an excuse. However I still don’t get around to it as often as I intend. The problem is I always feel that I need sufficient time in one go to make it worthwhile, at least 45 minutes. Then I may need a shower afterwards, so now its an hour. If I don’t feel I’ve got an hour spare then I find myself making excuses not to bother!

Yesterday my husband read me something from one of Funakoshi’s books (not sure which one) in which he says that he recommends that karateka train for only 10 minutes at a time – but do this 3 times a day. This got me thinking – even I can spare 10 minutes at a time. What can you do in 10 minutes? Quite a lot actually. It’s a nice chunk of time to focus on one particular thing. In ten minutes you can practice one kata 6 times or drill some combinations or just practice a kick or other technique you’ve had a problem with. Alternatively you could do a focused 10 minute workout – just upper body or just abs or stretching etc.

If I could manage this 3 times a day then that’s an extra 3.5 hours of training a week on top of the 5.5 hours a week I do in classes. That would be a total of 9 hours training a week! I think that’s a respectable amount of training. Those extra 3.5 hours would just slot in around the rest of my life.

Well I decided that a Monday morning is always a good time to start on a new schedule so before breakfast I spent 10 minutes practising sword draws and a stance kata that I learned last night in kobudo class. My new bokken is great by the way – its shorter length means that I can draw it cleanly out of the saya and my movements are much swifter and less wobbly.

When I got home from work this afternoon I spent 10 minutes going through my 2 karate kata – Rohai and Neiseishi. I went through each one 3 times. Before I go to my karate classes this evening I am going to spend 10 minutes going through the white belt syllabus because I have been asked to teach 3 new white belts that are starting today. I think this could work for me!

Now I need to work out a schedule of what I will do with each of these 10 minutes slots so that the training becomes coherent.

How do you organise your own practice time at home?

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Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,

Great topic, I think you’ve touched upon a very common problem here. Training at home is generally far more difficult in material terms (no partner, not enough space, no suitable room, no or not enough equipment) and organizationally (in class you’ve got your sensei to give you directions, basically you don’t have to think too much and just do what her or she says) not to mention time-management wise so it’s certainly not easy to motivate yourself to actually put in the work. While I do think training by yourself can never be so efficient and fun as training in the dojo it’s still an important add-on and it can greatly help your progress, especially on the basics. It’s simple really: the more time you devote to developing your skills the better you’ll become, at least as long as you’re not reinforcing faults (my advice would be to only train the material you’re absolutely sure you understand).

I really should train more on my own, although ju-jutsu is a two man’s activity and I really don’t have much room or equipment (I live in an apartment and the garage is strictly for the car not a punching-bag) it’s not a valid excuse since it is actually very do-able to practice techniques by yourself (using one’s imagination to visualize the opponent and run through the techniques much like kata in karate) and shadow-boxing along with basic strength exercises can be done in my room. What I try to do is train as much as I can: I’ve already found two victim… uh partners to train with outside of class to help prepare for the exam, I usually spend about an hour training with sensei on Mondays to work on technique and to ask questions and sometimes I stay at the gym a little longer to do a few rounds on the punching-bags there (either empty handed or with sticks). Taking seminars also helps, even if they’re not in ju-jutsu (you’ll still learn useful things and you’re keeping busy physically: yesterday I broke the record with two hours of ju-jutsu followed by a 5-hour escrima seminar) and it’s also good mental training since I always go with sensei so there’s plenty to discuss in the car. …

Anonymous said...

That being said I’m going to try to do more and work out at least a little each day, the Funakoshi-method you suggested sounds interesting and it’s probably easier to motivate oneself this way than planning elaborate routines that get canceled as soon as something better comes along. With the upcoming ju-jutsu exam (probably in may or june) I’ve got plenty to do and now that I’ve devoted myself to escrima I have to practice that too… Yesterday was a great seminar: even though it was exhausting (both physically and mentally) I had loads of fun and learned a lot too. The seminar was superbly organized: (first double stick, then single stick, then unarmed vs dagger, dagger vs dagger and finally Filipino boxing) the content was presented in a logical and ordered fashion and the teachers were very friendly and approachable. What I still find a bit odd is how loose and informal escrima-classes usually are: in ju-jutsu you bow a lot and especially if you approach a teacher or yudansha you stop at a certain distance (just outside of your attacking-range) and you bow with your hands at your side (indicating you’ve got no hidden weapon).

Even though the guys who taught were very high ranking (both were pangulong guru or grandmaster, they even created their own style which is officially recognized by the International Kali-escrima Federation) they were very down-to-earth and readily shared their vast knowledge even with a pure beginner such as myself. They’ve got this system whereby if you follow their seminars on a regular basis and practice a lot in your own time you can actually take exams and advance in rank. Obviously the standard is high and passing won’t be easy but I found escrima to be a wonderful fighting art: highly efficient, very aesthetic and fun to study and I’d really like to learn more about it. Naturally this means practice and more practice, especially the double stick drills (called sinawali in the FMA) are quite difficult, especially so with a partner (you’ve got to watch not only your sticks but his as well) and with the countless variations that exist. What is cool is that it’s basically a weapon-based art: first you learn weapons then empty hand although in this style (at least at seminars) it’s usually taught alongside the rest. I like dagger the best, then empty hand and then stick. At higher levels you even learn machete or sword, the staff and sword & dagger (espada y daga). How cool is that?

With regard to the issue I think mental training is just as important as actual physical training: thinking about what you saw in class and visualizing it in your mind is almost as efficient as actually doing it (you’re conditioning your mind and this is at least as important as training your muscles), meditation is also very beneficial in improving memory, relaxation and keeping on open mind (both to learning-possibilities and attacks).

Good luck with your training,


Anonymous said...

One more thing: years ago our French teacher used to say that in order to study better it's more benefical to study 15 minutes each day than two hours for two days. Apparantly psychological research showed the memory retains the information better when it's freshened up regularly than with reviews that are far in between (even if you put in the same or even more hours).

I'd say this should apply to the martial arts as well (learning is learning after all and the MA are in large part about remembering correct sequences and details) and if an authority like Funakoshi advises this methods there must be merit to it.

Sue C said...

Hi Zara,

If someone as motivated as you can have problems training at home then it must be a very common problem! I absolutely agree that 'mental training' is very valuable, particularly for helping to remember and internalise kata or bunkai combinations. It all helps to stimulate synaptic connections in the brain.

I'm glad you're enjoying the escrima. Since training with the bo I've decided I like sticks so my next weapon after I've graded with bo will probably be the tambo.

My ten minute sessions are going well (okay its only day 2) but I practised my sword draws this morning and after lunch I will spend 10 minutes on Rohai kata because a was getting one technique wrong last night and I need to sort it out. Later I may go through my punching combinations.

Anonymous said...

It would seem you’re pretty motivated yourself, for me it’s easier since I don’t have children and a household to take care of so that automatically means more free time. I think the tanbo is an excellent choice: the dynamics of a short weapon are completely different from a long one and a short stick can come in very handy in a self-defense context (finding something the size of a bo would be difficult at best). Do you only learn kata in kobudo or striking-patterns as well? In escrima there are about 12 angles applicable to any weapon, as far as I know there are no kata since the training centers around partnered exercises and free sparring (usually with either protection or soft stick). For my shodan exam I have to know some of the basics of hanbo (the half staff) which is actually quite fun since it’s wielded differently than an escrima stick (with both hands just like the jo and bo) and it packs quite a whallop when used properly, in escrima it’s very common to practice stick-strikes on a bag or other object, is this the same in kobudo or not? Another part of the curriculum is the pocket-stick, the Kobutan as it is known in Japanese martial arts, in the Philipines it’s called ‘dulo-dulo’ or palmstick. I like this weapon a lot since a) it’s actually one of the few weapons that are legal to carry here in Belgium (at least when you hang it from a keychain, otherwise it’s considered illegal… go figure) and b) it can be easily concealed in your palm making for a nasty surprise when he wants to attack you with fists or weapons.

Basically the palmstick is used in much the same way as any stick (following the same basic patterns), it’s used to smash the opponents limbs, attack the vital points on his body and it can be used to assist locks and takedowns although that’s a much higher level. Another major advantage is that it’s usually not lethal, in sharp contrast with the knife which is basically considered a deadly force instrument, since escrima truly is a warrior-art (meaning it’s primary use is to kill people in warfare) and it’s still used that way in tribal disputes and other forms of high level confrontations in the Phillipines attacks are directed to vital points. The way the knife is taught in our system (from brown belt on) is basically defensive: you only cut the incoming limbs in order to make his weapon useless (cut the hand and the weapon will fall), you abstain from going to the body since this is considered lethal and you retreat as soon as you’ve captured the assailant’s weapon (if he wants to sustain damage by continuing to attack that’s his choice not yours). You don’t want to go to jail for using excessive force and you certainly don’t want to take a life when it’s unnecessary.

In the spirit of this initiative I’m going to practice some kicks later on, they’re not my strong suit since we don’t use them all that much and they can easily be practiced on your own. After that maybe some stick-work in the evening, tomorrow I’m meeting a friend for a two hour training session so that should be enough for one day.


PS: about that record, not only did I break the record in terms of training hours a day I also broke the record of maximum consecutive days (at least my personal record)… Friday two hours of JJ, Saturday about 3 hours of training in preparation of the federal seminar my sensei gave which was a success btw, Sunday JJ and escrima seminar and yesterday two hours of exam-training with someone from the club. I rule!  Luckily there’s no training today so I can relax and recuperate.

Sue C said...

Hi Zara,

Remember I'm learning my kobudo in a jujitsu club! Do you think they would just stick to kata? With the bo I am learning basic strikes and blocks as well a couple of sweeps, so obviously I do these with a partner. As the syllabus progresses I will eventually have to do free sparring with a partner who is using a different weapon.

The level 1 tonfa grading involved defending against various strikes, demonstrating 4 different locks and techniques involving take downs.

With the sword, though there is a lot of kata with this, I am also having to learn to do some throws. I am basically learning jujitsu on a 'need to know' basis, which is not ideal but Sensei seems to think I can cope with it! One technique involves defending against a sword strike using a half shoulder throw. I've had to learn it without the sword first but now I'm practising it with the sword (it's the opponent that is holding the sword but I have to control the sword as I throw him - not easy!).

We don't practice anything against a bag - we don't have a bag!

I think my record for training is a 5 hour grading on a Saturday (karate), followed by a 2 hour grading on the Sunday (tonfa), followed by 2.5 hours of karate classes on the Monday!

Beth said...

Hi Sue, I've been a lurker for a while, but this is an interesting topic for me. It's taken a while to get used to training on my own, but now I absolutely love it. I feel it's as important to follow up at home what I do in the dojo, to make sure I understand it for myself, just like homework in school. I love training at home, and even in my office at work! Just like they talk "incidental exercise" for people trying to lose weight, things like taking the stairs instead of the lift, etc. I do "incidental karate". While I'm waiting for the pot or kettle to boil, I'll practice a kata in the kitchen (you'll be surprised how little space it requires!), or practice perfecting my stances or a particular technique. At work, I might do some press ups against the office desk (door closed!) and I do my upper body or calf stretches while I'm waiting for my lunch to heat in the microwave in the lunch room. While I'm walking to and from the car, I'll really focus on walking with correct posture... all the really fundamental stuff to karate.

I disagree with Zara: training at home can certainly be as fun and efficient at home as it is when you've got your dojo around you. I find it the most efficient use of my time. For me it was a matter of finding my motivation from within myself, rather than letting the motivation of the rest of the people at the dojo carry me. That and I realised that training with myself was one of the hardest opponents I'll come across. Once I was able to move past my own confidence getting in the way, and quiet down that internal chatter and just get on with it, it's now very natural to me, whether I'm at home, in the dojo, or wherever.

As for reinforcing faults, well that can be a problem, but have found the opposite happens if I don't train on my own: I'm always looking to others for reinforcement or guidance, instead of learning to understand a kata, technique or stance for myself. Practicing a technique on my own, outside of the dojo, really gives me the headspace to think for myself and discover and understand how and why it's working. Then I can take that back to the dojo and practice my understanding with partners.

Anonymous said...

Everybody’s entitled to an opinion but I don’t get your reasoning: while ‘fun’ may be a subjective concept that is hard to define and set criteria for I think it’s pretty obvious training in the dojo or at least with a partner has clear advantages and thus is more efficient (you’ll accomplish more in less time): for one there are sensei and sempai there to correct you, you have a partner who can give you feedback and with certain techniques you absolutely need someone to practice with like locks, throws and chokes. Martial arts isn’t some dance you can learn and perfect by yourself and train at home, the true meat of it is in partnered exercises (whether free or prearranged). It’s like the difference between practicing alone on a bag as opposed to practicing strikes with a partner who’s wearing mitts: practicing on the bag is useful since it allows you to develop power in your strikes and it’s a great work-out yet practicing with a good partner who offers you moving targets (much smaller obviously) and who’ll throw a technique back once in a while to keep you on your toes is obviously way more efficient and you’ll learn much more. Doing kata and training by yourself is supplementary exercise, certainly not the main thing, at least not when your goal is proficiency in fighting (you fight a real, live opponent not your imagination). I know most karateka will probably disagree but kata without proper understanding of the applications is nothing but empty movement and proper understanding can only be gained by practicing with a partner under qualified supervision. I’ve never understood why you’d teach a series of moves first and only then (in some styles not before black belt) teach what that sequence of moves is supposed to accomplish. In ju-jutsu it’s the other way around: first you learn application, only after you have achieved a high level of competence you’ll move on to kata (which are also paired btw), one might even wonder why kata are even considered a necessary part of training but that’s another matter entirely.

As to reinforcement of faults: you always make mistakes (no matter how good you are) and half the time you’re not even aware of them yourself. That’s the potential pitfall of training by yourself and that is why I said it’s easy to reinforce mistakes which are hard to eradicate later on. Pride before the fall, if you can figure everything out by yourself why would you even need a partner or a sensei? Martial arts isn’t an intellectual exercise and you certainly can’t learn it the same way you would any academic subject. For most subjects all I need is a good textbook and some quiet time to myself, in my martial arts training I really need a partner and a teacher who’ll show me and correct me. You don’t go the dojo to ‘be motivated’ (clearly motivation should come from within otherwise you won’t keep at it), you go there to learn techniques and practice them under qualified supervision. You can review them at home and it’s certainly a beneficial exercise but in my opinion you can’t claim you reached understanding by yourself (unless you happen to be a genius) let alone become proficient by yourself: how will you know your block was a good one until you actually make contact with the opponent’s arm, how will you know your punch was a good one until it connected? You may be able to practice the mechanics of techniques by yourself but the application clearly is something else entirely.


Sue C said...

Hi Beth, glad I've tempted you to 'come out' with this post!

It's great you've found a way of integrating your karate training into just about every aspect of your life! It just shows that karate can be practised just about everywhere and is probably unique in this respect compared to other martial arts.

I think the mindset of the karateka is slightly different to that of the practitioner of more pragmatic fighting arts because the aims in karate are not just about becoming an efficient self-defence expert in the street. The ideal of training for both physical and mental self-improvement, mastering control of one's own body and trying to achieve perfection in movements is just as important. These aspects of karate can be practised alone and at home.

Zara, I will leave Beth to follow up on your comments if she so wishes. Just like to say you have exactly the right mindset for jujitsu which is why you will be good at it (please take this as a compliment) whereas I think Beth has the right mindset for karate. Do's and Jutsu's are philosophically different and I think it is important not to judge a jutsu with a 'do' mindset or vice versa - one will always find the other wanting! There is room for all of us in the martial arts world.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue, why would I be mad about you saying I’m good at ju-jutsu? I think the distinction between the do and jutsu-arts is too absolute: ju-jutsu too has a do-side in the form of self-improvement and perfection of technique, only we do it through self-defense and exercises with a partner and not in the form of kata. You can’t be truly effective if your don’t hone your techniques and you don’t strive for a calm, empty mind and a stout heart (fudoshin, mushin). Martial arts training without proper ethics and eastern philosophical & cultural background is mere barbarism (you train to hurt people after all and the more effective you become the more gentle & compassionate your spirit should become), it will lead to an inflation of the ego and in the end it will likely do more harm than good. On top of that there is the immensely rich history and tradition behind the art and I for one cherish that and if I bow to my sensei I also bow to the generations of teachers and warriors that have gone before and have given us this wonderful art. You should become effective and stay pragmatical (the jutsu-dimension) but you should also strive for wisdom, compassion and a positive outlook on life (the do-side), too much emphasis on either one is deplorable and won’t lead to the development of a balanced martial artist. Even escrima (a true, undiluted warrior art) has this side and if you study under a proper teacher he’ll make sure you grow as a person (if you teach someone to kill you’d better make sure he or she is emotionally stable and has a clear understanding of right and wrong), this is called ‘being trained as a warrior with wisdom’. ...

Anonymous said...

In Inosanto-Lacoste escrima there is a salutation that exemplifies this spirit (the gist is more or less the same in other styles): you kneel down one knee, the right hand in a fist touching the forehead (with or without a weapon), the left hand open under the heart. Then the hands change: one hand points to the sky, the other hand is balled in a fist and points down. After that the hands go back to the original position, then you stand back up and put the fist under the open hand. With this the following words are spoken: “I come with an open heart and an open mind, I acknowledge the hand of friendship as superior to the hand of war, I will take what we learn into my heart & mind, may we shed no blood”. In essence this means the art is practiced for the sake of peace & the protection of good and justice, in the Japanese martial arts there’s a similar saying: “the sword that cuts down evil is the sword that gives life”. Clearly the open hand in the raised position represents peace (the higher aspiration), the fist that is down represents war & conflict. To me this is the do-side of the arts: to cultivate yourself as a person (physically, mentally & morally) and do right in this world. Nevertheless do without jutsu is powerless and some styles have become too stylized, stuck in tradition (‘there is only right way of doing this, because it is tradition it’s all good’) and have put too much emphasis on the spiritual and the ethical aspects and as a consequences their effectiveness suffers. To me the essence of the martial arts is to learn how to employ violence as effectively as possibly, with the hope you’ll never have to use it and with the added benefit of a good health, friendship with like-minded individuals and a deep appreciation for life & the good in the human heart.

Of course my point of view isn’t the supreme wisdom (everyone that claims they know everything is sadly mistaken and pretty shallow-minded to boot) and everybody does as he or she is inclined. I will never claim ju-jutsu is the ultimate fighting art (no single art can claim this title and it’s still largely how one employs them and makes it alive that’ll determine effectiveness in reality) and it too has its flaws but I do have an educated opinion as to what is effective and what constitutes proper training and what does not. I could be wrong and I try not to judge too harshly (I’m still learning and relishing new experiences) I just happen to agree with Bruce Lee and others styles and traditions aren’t the nec plus ultra in the martial arts and should always be tailored to the individual and modified based on rational and empirically verified principles. Based on that I don’t see what a bunch of people standing in line doing the same routines against an imaginary opponent could ever accomplish but at the same time I recognize the right of those people to do what they do and I don’t disrespect entire styles based on my still limited experience. Criticism is not the same as outright condemnation (I don’t think karate is useless as a fighting art) and certainly not disdain or proof of a superiority-complex.


FredInChina said...

Very good question Sue,

Alwyn Cosgrove prioritizes things in this order:

Effectiveness first.
Intensity second.
Frequency Third.
Volume last.

It is likely that short, intense, effective, and frequent sessions will show progress to whatever you wish to accomplish.

For some things, baby steps over a long period are better & cannot be taken in large doses, especially at first.
Comes to mind the hardening of weapons (seiken) - I have installed a makiwara in the room I am working from and two to three times a day (I keep records of it), I will hit it for 80 to 120 reps each hands.
At the same time, I will do wrist and hands exercises to improve my grip.

Over time, these small workouts add up in small increments and I believe they make a difference.


Sue C said...

Hi Fred, thanks for your inputs. I'm definitely finding short periods of focused training is working better for me than trying to do long but relatively infrequent ones.

A makiwara post in the office? That's cool.....

Beth said...

Just responding to Zara's comments here:

Sorry it's taken a while to respond, I thought I'd subscribed the comments but hadn't. Obviously there are techniques that can only ever be done with a partner (chokes and holds are obvious ones), however there are certainly ways to train at home by yourself that help prepare you for training against an opponent. Obviously we're thinking different things here: I'm not talking about just training kata at home, I'm also talking about hojo undo.

You bring up the example of the difference between practicing alone on a bag and practicing strikes with a partner. Practicing on bag doesn't give you a good feel for what it's like to strike a person -- that it can hurt like hell when your fist strikes bone if you're not prepared for it! -- and likewise, when you're training with a partner, your partner doesn't want to be struck, say, in the jaw or ribs repeatedly because they have to be able to go to work the next day. However, hojo undo exercises, like training the makikwara at home, you can train what it's like to strike and be struck, work through the pain mentally so it's not such a shock when you're training with a person. It teaches you good technique, such as keeping a strong wrist while you strike and to punch consistently with the first two knuckles. With training blocks, as you say, you wont know your block works until you block against another person! But you can certainly reduce the mental shock of blocking a hard strike by working the makiwara at home.

The nigiri game (gripping jars) I have found to be improving my grip and posture, and I can train my grip over and over again, for as long as I want. I have found the advantage of the gripping jars over the western grip strength equipment is that it it's virtually the same hand position as when I actually grip someone, so I train both my technique and stength at the same time. I can then hone the *timing* of when I apply a grab with a partner in the dojo, but my technique and strength work is already there from my home training.

Things like the chi-ishi teach you good technique by themselves: if your posture and technique is poor, the chi-ishi will wobble all over the place. If your posture is good, armpit closed (don't want to be struck there!!), you're tight but relaxed, the chi-ishi will work with you like it's not there. I guess I learn by doing: my instructor can tell me something 10 times (for example, keeping my shoulders down and relaxed), but the chi-ishi physically teaches me that same lesson in half the time: if my shoulders are up and tight, I can't do the exercise! It makes sense. So my instructor's feedback and my personal experience come together to make it efficient learning for me.

Sue C said...

Hi Beth, thanks for getting back on this. I gather from the amount of okinawan style 'equipment' you use to assist training that you a goju ryu stylist? Sounds like you have all angles covered with your home training schedule!

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