How Do You Learn That New Skill?

Each time I come to class I learn something new. Sensei Mae and I are open to the uncomfortable feeling that accompanies learning new things. How about you? Do you know that you have to leave the comfortable behind to learn new things?

As teachers we know that students have to be open to learning new things. We are also student at the dojo and we do not always want to learn new things. I am sometimes uncomfortable in trying a new technique or kata. It may be just as simple as you want me to move how? Of course, I am thinking that others are watching me…and I am not doing it correctly. When we are learning a new thing we should keep in mind what Helen Hays said, “The expert at anything was once a beginner.”

Last week we discussed Learn, Practice, Apply . This week we are diving into the practical aspects a little more, how we learn and then how do we practice. My comfort zone is to do what I know and practiced. Of course, I only know what I have practiced. I sometimes like being able to show off my skills. This never has ended well for me. I just want to share with the world that at the very least I believe I am good at something. For me it is great to have acknowledgement that I mastered a technique. The avoidance of criticism or thoughts on how the technique could improve every now and then is a good feeling.

Learning a new skill, like gyaku-zuke (reverse punch) is best done slowly little pieces at a time. The sensei on the floor teaching the technique will usually explain it and then demonstrate how it works. Every time I see and hear a new technique I am amazed how easy it looks for the one who mastered the technique. So just picture me in class learning gyaku-zuki for the first time. I had punched bags and I had a brother, so hey—I have hit things before. This training was unlike hitting a bag or my brother. I was shown how to perform the technique correctly and allowed to make mistakes hitting the bag and then with our Sensei holding a pad for us to hit.  Performing this part slowly and under supervision moved me along rapidly in understanding the gyaku-zuki.


Performing this part slowly and under supervision moves you along rapidly in understanding.

Being in a karate family was a great assistance. We all went home and showed off to each other how this technique worked. Of course we all picked up this simple technique slightly differently. When I ask the question, “why didn’t you tell me this?” the answer from our teacher may be we were not ready or more likely, I did not listen to the whole explanation.


How good are my notes? It was easy with Sensei telling me. Now I have questions!

In my example, “how much do you rotate your hand” or “where does it start from?” and even a question on “where does the punch end?” were items we did not fully write in our notes after the first time we learned this simple technique.  Of course none of us could agree on the spelling for gyaku-zuki in our notes.

We tried it out at home and came back to the next class with questions that were readily answered by our Sensei. Now we wanted to fill in the gaps in our notes. We practiced some more on the dojo floor and came back home with the basic concepts corrected and even learned how to spell gyaku-zuki for our notes.


What can you apply from this simple process to your learning and practice?

What can you apply from this simple process to your learning and practice? Here are some of my thoughts

  • We can perform techniques if we are open to getting out of our comfort zone
  • Sensei needs to supervise initial practice at the dojo and follow-up after you have tried it home to see if you are beginning to learn the new technique
  • Practicing and note taking is a key part of the process to learn new skills
  • The sooner a correction is made the easier it is to make the change.

I am happy to say that we learned gyaku-zuki and it made learning other punches easier with the foundation of knowledge we had on that first reverse punch. You too can do it! Be open to the teaching, practice slowly to master the skill under a sensei who knows the technique, try it out at home, come back and receive refinement and help others. Remember to Learn, Practice, Apply. Continue to monitor even the most basic skills and you will keep adding to your learning and understanding.

See you in class soon.

Learn, Practice, Apply

Happy February. How are your resolutions going? Are you spending time practicing or working on your karate? Did you promise yourself that you would do more karate practicing this year? Now is the time to take up our challenge to practice more.

Of course we do not mean the satirical reference we had when looking at our dojo’s Facebook page this week. We saw a posting “from” Bruce Lee asking if you had practiced enough. Of course the schematic followed the trail to encourage us to keep practicing. It is great to practice, and Sensei Mae and I believe you should be practicing. All of us know we should practice more than we do today.


Did Bruce Lee really say you should get back to practicing?

Here is my schematic for the cycle, not just constant practice as advertised by Bruce Lee, but learn, practice, apply, re-learn, practice, apply…


Not just practice. Learn, practice (take notes) and apply!


Before we practice, we should learn the move or activity and write it down in our notes. We recommend pen and paper. Take a look at Sensei Mae’s blog post about taking notes. A good journal helps keep things straight. I often find that in writing it down it shows the gaps in my understanding and knowledge. If I can write it down, I know that at home I can practice.


After we have been taught an activity or move, we should practice that activity or move. Helen Hays said, “The expert at anything was once a beginner.” To get the most out of practice, we should begin as slowly as the move allows and build up speed as we determine our technique is correct. Our head Sensei demonstrated a jumping move in black belt class last week. He jumped and come down pretty quickly. Here is the reference back to the notes; if you have a karate friend, asking them to watch you pays off for the both of you.


After you have learned and practiced the move or activity, you are ready to apply. In the application stage it may be running kata for your Sensei or using the move in a fight at class. Whichever the application after the execution, you will receive feedback. The move worked in the fight and your classmate was impressed, or the move did not work and you will need some refinement. I know in my journey I have learned several katas, and they are never perfect–they require refinement and re-learning.

Re-Learn, practice and apply again (and again…)

As we grow in our martial arts practice, we will follow the learn, practice, apply, re-learn…sequence on several techniques and activities. Part of the joy in karate and moving up in the ranks is working on perfecting a “simple” technique. We all learned a front kick as white belts. When I was practicing for my black belt test, I was still refining the front kick to ensure my foot and ankle placement was correct.

If you want to grow as a martial artist, the timeline of only practicing shown at the beginning is incorrect. Of course we must practice. Proper practice occurs after we receive proper coaching and receive feedback on how well we have learned and applied our martial arts. Keep practicing. If you would like feedback on your technique, drop us a line here at the blog or reach out to Sensei Mae on Twitter @letstalkkarate.

See you in class soon.