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Learn how to learn Martial Arts

8 Tips for Learning Martial Arts Kung Fu PATHS Atlanta

Originally written as an article for online Martial Arts magazines, I thought I would share this with our Kung Fu students and readers:

Improving and speeding up your learning of the martial arts.

Do you have trouble understanding and assimilating your martial arts as quickly as you would like? Or, have you had the disheartening experience of a teacher saying, "I thought you said you practiced?"

The problem is that we do not pick up everything that is being taught to us.

We must Learn How to Learn more effectively. Here are eight simple techniques to speed up your actual martial learning.

Eight Techniques to Improve Learning in the Martial Arts

  1. Keep A Notebook

    In your backpack or car — keep a notebook to jot down the subtle points that your martial arts teacher pointed out in class that could be forgotten.

    This is also a great place to put theories, strategies, and philosophical tidbits, as well as mistakes, tweaks, etc., that your teacher actually pointed out in the martial art class.

  2. Perfect, Maintain, Use & Watch The Basics

    "If your Horse (stance) is weak, then you have nothing at all."

    This common phrase (at least in Kung Fu) exemplifies the importance of mastering the fundamentals of your system. For example, in most Kung Fu styles, we have this thing called 基 本 功 (Jī Běn Gōng / Gei1 Bun2 Gung1) or Basic Skills.

    You may be ranked "Grand High-Master of Cool Moves," but if you don’t have a solid foundation, how do you expect to exert maximum power?

    By revisiting the basics of your style, often you’ll find that advanced techniques will be much easier to pick up.

  3. Be Committed

    The term Kung fu literally means mastery of skill achieved through hard work, although it is a generic term used to refer to Chinese Martial Arts in general.

    You get out of it what you put in.

    From experience, I can tell you that if you don’t practice outside of class, it shows – and in a big way.

    Ask yourself this question: What if the teacher put forth the same amount of effort in teaching as I do in training?

    Make a specified time for your training and stick to it.

    Commit yourself to betterment, be it by the day, week, or month.

  4. Be Open-Minded

    Bruce Lee often used contrasting images of an empty and a full cup of tea as a way to symbolize the concept of an open versus a full mind.

    You may already know a certain way to achieve end-result X, and feel that it is the best – but keep your mind open.

    Consider that a set of movements will, oftentimes, hold numerous nuances you never considered.

  5. See The Whole Picture

    In a seemingly simple movement, such as striking while stepping forward, there are usually countless hidden subtleties that play key roles in the martial application and its variations.

    So although it may seem obvious that our attention, as a learner of the example above, should be drawn towards the hand movements, that is not the case.

    You should observe the instructor’s footwork, waist movement, etc.; pay attention to whole body movement.

    Ask your martial arts instructor or senior classmate to show you the movement again and again, if you’re having trouble with this, making mental notes of each subtlety of each part of the body.

  6. Be Mindful

    After having practiced a certain martial arts movement hundreds of times, you’ll come to a point where you don’t have to consciously think about how-to-do-it anymore.

    Unfortunately, many people stop there, and end up simply going through the motions.

    When you feel you’ve plateaued with a movement – there’s nothing left to draw from it – push that technique to another level by visualizing the opponent as you execute the technique in a form – see the application, feel the energy and intent.

  7. Be Adaptable

    Take a familiar martial arts application and vary the possibilities.

    What if you were to use the same technique from another stance?

    What if the opponent were taller than your usual training partner?

    What if you took the same movement and "translated" it into a joint-locking maneuver instead of the obvious strike it represents?

  8. Ask Questions

    This one may seem obvious, but needs to be emphasized…

    Fill in the blank: "Practice Makes _________."

    Now consider the possibility that after many repetitions of a certain movement, you find out that you’ve been doing it incorrectly!

    Now imagine trying to correct that movement. We know how difficult it can be to break habits: A lot of time and frustration could have been saved by simply asking questions of the instructor.

    And one of the most important questions to ask before going home to practice the move is, "Is this the way to do it?"

    Sometimes it may feel uncomfortable if you ask the teacher a question that initially seems to stump him or her, but don’t let that prevent you from doing it again in the future. Any decent teacher loves a challenge – it lets them momentarily pause the teaching mode and explore the movement in an "out-of-the-box" method, which is not only educational, but just plain fun.

You don’t need a photographic memory.

Just apply these guidelines. And with practice, your martial arts learning skills will improve.

In no time at all, you’ll find your techniques have really improved and if you go to tournaments, you will also find that you come home with more than you went in with. 😉

Why Wait?
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2 replies
  1. Oracle3927 says:

    Trying to write down all the stuff we learn in a class is a pain (even in shorthand).

    Any suggestions on how to get notes together or compile the gist (besides cellphone videography)?

    Reply
  2. Dave says:

    This might help. Take your cliff notes at class or immediately after, then when you get home practice all of the new stuff you learned again. After that, review and sort your notes. Not only does that help me get the relevant stuff into my notes (never really my strong suit either :)), I find that practicing, even lightly, new material a couple hours after I learn it really helps it stick. If I wait until the next day to “set” a new technique, sometimes even the best notes won’t help me. But that’s just me.

    Reply

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