How do You Practice?

Several students at the dojo are getting ready to have a belt test. The question being asked is how is your practicing going? Answers vary from “not well” to “I ran my kata 4 times today.” The question I want to ask is how do you practice?

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Sensei Mae Practicing Kata after class at the dojo

I recently heard the story of Ben Hogan and his remarkable career in golf (you can read the story by clicking here). My Dad had Ben Hogan golf clubs and I had no idea who he was until after I heard this story. When you read the story, you learn he was a pro golfer who served in WWII, came back and was at the top of his career. Tragedy struck and his car and a Greyhound bus collided leaving him close to death.  He not only learned to walk again after the accident, he won the triple crown of golf within four years of the accident.

How does this relate to the question of how do you practice? The article from the Ben Hogan museum says, “Hogan was known for his demanding practice regimen.” Of course the movie version of his practice regime was skipped as it is highly repetitive, full of discipline and focused work. That makes me wonder what our legacy of karate will be. Will we be able to say (your name) was known for his or her demanding practice regimen? Or more likely, “they said they wish they had spent more time practicing prior to the test”?

Here is an outside view on practicing from Ernest S. Williams in his preface to The Secret of Technique-Preservation, a book for trumpet players. In that book he wrote:

  • “All practicing should preferably be done when the performer is fresh and alert; but there should not be any ‘let down’ of the daily routine, even if some mental or physical fatigue is felt.”
  • “The first moment of the daily practice period must be devoted to ‘finding the technique anew.’”

To paraphrase Ernest S. Williams, his final advice is to practice when you perform and perform correctly when you practice.  He would have made a good karate sensei.

I am practicing for a test as well. I know that my effort is unlikely to equal Ben Hogan’s or even what it should be. Yes, I am working to pass the test. I practice daily. I have been practicing with intensity for the last month or so. As I have stepped up the intensity, the one thing that has struck me is that the more I practice, the more I discover about my kata and how the kata relates to other aspects of the test and karate. Pass or fail, the practice has been good for me.

I am interested in hearing how you go about practicing. Here is what I have been doing for the last month or so. I have a membership to a local LA Fitness and in the morning I spend quality time on the gym floor with some mirrors and several heavy 110 pound bags running kata.

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Getting ready to practice kata!

Here is my routine:

  • I generally run, warm up the arms and legs similar to our normal class structure, and lightly stretch.
  • I have a favorite blocking drill that I went over with one of the classes today that daily reminds me of how to execute blocks and strikes. I have to discover how to block and punch daily!
  • Then I run the katas needed for the test. I generally pick a different direction after running all of the test katas in succession to run them again.
  • When I make a mistake or need to improve, I stop, rehearse the “broken” section and then re-perform the whole kata.
  • The weapon katas are run using a small stick, a towel or anything else I have at the time. I do not bring my weapons to the gym. When the weather is nice, I do run the weapons outside and indoors I use some of the weapons to ensure my wrists are in the proper shape.
  • At the heavy bags I perform my 100 punches and practice self-defense by hitting the bag at the appropriate time.
  • I vary the speed of the workout from fast to slow to examine how and what I am doing when running kata.

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Getting ready to hit the bags.

Please let us know your routine for practicing when you are getting ready for a test and when you are just working on your karate. Post your comments in the section below.  See you in class soon.

What is Your Favorite Strike?

Today we did open hand strikes in class. Sensei Mae and I probably enjoy a good back fist more than any other strike. It was great that we got in several back fists today and kept alive the streak of participating in the 10 strikes a day challenge. We were practicing referencing and moving up and down the dojo floor with the back fist.

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Sensei Mae getting ready for her favorite strike

Of course the reason to have a favorite strike or strikes is to use it in self-defense or fighting. I have worked on a two strikes and one kick combination for sparring so I would always have a “go to” move. Like our self-defense on the tests at our dojo, this repetition allowed us to relax more in a fight. When I am more relaxed in a fight (which is not too often) I fight better. Having a favorite strike or two really is a benefit to my martial arts career.

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Sensei Mae lands a back fist on the bag as part of the 10 strike challenge.

Today we did open hand strikes including ridge hand and shuto. Our sensei reminded us that the open hand strikes were the most dangerous. We used Muay Thai pads in class today as a part of the drills. Ridge hand is very dynamic and we enjoyed using the pads. We always learn how to block a strike when holding the pad for our partner in the drill. It was a great lesson in the techniques we practiced today.

We were reminded that in a fight, the open hand strikes may be deadly, so please be careful when practicing on your friends. A good pad holder for the drill makes the drill a success. After several rounds of ridge hand and shuto, we performed them in combination. Our sensei shared with us that we could first break the opponent’s weapon, like their arm…and then attack the body. The combination techniques were fun to execute with our partners.

How are you doing on the 10 strikes a day challenge? In last week’s post we were challenged to get back to the roots of karate. I have met my daily quota for striking; it was easy to make 10 once I was at the bag, so I added more strikes than the challenge called for each day. Karate is fun! It is great to go home after work and in a safe place be challenged to hit things.

In my week with the challenge I have begun to notice that my kata is getting better when I need to throw a punch. This may have been what sensei had in mind when he issued the challenge. Of course our strikes in kata are not on the bag as the challenge has us practice. I can see the benefit for my kata in the challenge by concentrating on my strikes. How about your kata practice? Did it benefit from the challenge?

In class today I was instructed, I instructed others and I watched others perform. At the class prior to the adult class, several of our kids were performing a complicated bo kata with varying levels of proficiency. It is so great to see the kids’ progress and learn almost in front of us as the class progresses. I look at them and know that I look like the class participants in learning my most recent kata. We all go through this process of learning a new skill.

Hope you had a good class. I know that I enjoyed the class today. Please let us know your favorite strike in the comment section. I wanted to say hi to our Sensei Mark P who is with the Army stationed in Germany. I know he has a favorite strike. How about you?

See you in class soon.

Ancient Drills

Do you know any ancient drills? I am surprised that I do know some. Of course I was not aware that I knew any until we were in the middle of a blocking exercise and our Sensei said “you know that this is from an ancient drill…” Of course we did not know. We did appreciate Sensei asking the question.

I am not sure what it is about the thought that the “ancient” practitioners of karate did the same drill we were learning that makes it so thrilling to be associated with that particular drill. The sensation of doing the same exercise that made someone else great was part of the emotion I felt as he said that we were performing an ancient drill.

Our Sensei was able to teach an ancient blocking exercise that brought home the circular movement of good blocks and the truth behind all blocking. Here it is: properly performed, all blocks are shedding blocks. Of course we do not mean shedding like a Golden Retriever! We know that when someone is holding onto us a big part of defending ourselves is to shed the hold.

Our dojo knows self-defense and we have numbers associated with each of our various self-defense techniques to ensure we pass along our knowledge in a systematic way of learning. We had already learned how to block and perform self-defense moves. Included in these lessons was the shedding of holds, especially in number 3. This ancient drill teaching put a cap on the knowledge about blocking and self-defense for me and several others who were with me in class that day.

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Sensei Mae and Sensei Glen performing the ancient drill

Thinking back on my karate journey I know I have learned other ancient drills. How is it we have modern material or why not just learn the ancient ones? How have modern drills improved the ancient drills? Due to the infrequency of “ancient” drills being taught, are we right in assuming that karate is a modern art? Our Sensei says that all knowledge is open for discovery. He has learned, through practice, effective methods of teaching and essential truths behind moves. When our system was formed, he took the best of what worked and taught us that material. If it was ancient and did not work, we did not learn it at the dojo. Of course, ancient drills that work are an essential part of our curriculum.

Being a researcher, I looked up ancient in the dictionary (having been in existence for a very long time).  I found that we could argue that karate is “modern” or we can say a long time is 100 years making it ancient.  We live today in a modern world and we are learning a traditional martial art. I like the tradition in its best form.

Much of karate is shrouded in ancient mystery being practiced in secret societies or by the very wealthy. I had never given it too much thought. Of course it was the wealthy who studied karate, because who else in ancient times could hire a private teacher or even write it down.  Karate is said to have originated in some form prior to 1,000 AD. My experience comes from Funakoshi (the father of “modern” karate) through my Sensei in the last several years as I journeyed to black belt.

The point of our ancient drill is conditioning for our arms. The “ancients” were likely well off and required toughing up to succeed in the martial arts. The ancient drill we learned fit perfectly into Middle America where we are not working the land with our hands to earn a living or hitting a blacksmith’s hammer to fashion metal. Like the ancients, we also need to toughen up our bodies.

So, what is an “ancient drill?” One explanation is: if we can imagine Funakoshi taught the drill as an “ancient drill” or one pre-dating him and likely with no known school or author, then that would appear to qualify the drill as an ancient drill. Please leave me a comment below with your thoughts on what qualifies as an ancient drill.

Are you excited like I am to learn an ancient drill or exercise? Let us know in the comments below. I think that it does not make a difference how ancient is ancient to a newer student of the martial arts. It does influence how it makes me feel when our Sensei says we are performing an ancient drill.

It has always been exciting for me to imagine myself doing the same drill that the “ancient” practitioners of karate performed. Sensei Mae and I will continue to work on our conditioning and we are looking forward to the next ancient drill being taught.

What ancient drill or exercise are you practicing? Leave us a comment below. See you in class soon.