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8 Tips for Learning Martial Arts
8 Tips for Learning Martial Arts

If you want to learn martial arts, then this is for you.

I originally wrote this as an article for online Martial Arts magazines. But I thought I would share this with you.

Do you have trouble understanding and assimilating your martial arts as quickly as you would like? Or, perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of “I thought you said you practiced?”

The problem is that we do not pick up everything the teacher lays down.

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

And as a Bonus, there’s a great video with more tips at the bottom of the post.

8 Tips to Improve Learning Martial Arts

1. Keep A Notebook

Keep a notebook in your backpack or car. Jot down the subtle points that your martial arts teacher pointed out in class.

This handy notebook 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.

Your martial arts notebook can help you organize your over-active mind, allowing for the proper digestion of information.

Take some time after class or during a break (if possible) to write things down. You’ll want to not only take note of the new martial techniques you’ve learned but also about common movement patterns you observe, which will allow you to study and investigate.

If the martial art you’re studying has forms or kata in it (most likely, if it’s a traditional martial art), taking notes of the nuances, transitions, applications, and other tidbits would be highly beneficial. Aside from that, there are countless short drills that you experience in martial arts classes. Sometimes, just keeping track of these in your mind can be a bit overwhelming. Your notebook to the rescue!

Even the most practiced martial artist will find themselves returning to notes written years ago, making adjustments and updates, just as their martial art practice has grown over the years.

A notebook is also the perfect place to jot ideas or questions to bring up at the next 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 or Basic Skills.

There are no super-secret tricks, nothing mysterious about reaching deeper skill levels in the martial arts. There is no magic pill, no shortcut to success. The path to mastery is simply a process of layering the basics. Consistent, mindful practice will open new depths to physical movements. This practice will prompt questions for you to ask your teacher. Practice – Ponder – Ask – Tweak – Practice. Rinse and Repeat. Follow this, and you will gain a deeper understanding of the theories, principles, and techniques of your martial art.

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

3. Be Committed

The term 功夫 Kung fu 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, the teacher will notice it immediately.

Ask yourself this question: What if the teacher puts 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.

Being dedicated and committing might seem difficult at first, as you may find yourself relying on being motivated and that motivation tends to be from an external source. But remember that you have control over that!

Think back about various times you’ve felt inspired and ask yourself what lit the fire. Was it a movie, a song, or maybe a book? Then use that knowledge to your advantage.

Do you have a martial arts test coming up? Is there a tournament or sparring session soon? These things might give you a boost. Or it could be as simple as wanting to impress your teacher with your progress.

There are many ways to motivate yourself. The trick is to identify these tools and put them to good use. And to remember how to have Fun!

And if you need a little pick-me-up, here’s our current playlist of Kung Fu Music.

4. Be Open-Minded

Bruce Lee often used contrasting images of an empty cup and a full cup of tea to symbolize the concept of an open versus a full mind. (We often also use this phrase to represent varying amounts of weight distribution within stances and footwork)

You may already know a particular method to achieve the desired result and feel that it is the best – but keep your mind open.

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

5. See The Whole Picture

Consider this frequent movement in the martial arts: striking while stepping forward. Most students will focus on the hand motion. However, in so doing, much is missed.

Instead, observe the instructor’s footwork, waist movement, torso position, and other areas; pay attention to whole-body movement.

Ask your martial arts instructor or senior classmate to show you the movement again and again. Make mental notes of each subtlety of each part of the body. 

6. Be Mindful

After practicing a martial arts movement hundreds of times, you’ll come to a point where you don’t have to 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 move in a form – see the application, feel the energy, and intent.

7. Be Adaptable

Take a martial arts application that you are already familiar with and vary the possibilities.

What if you were to perform the same technique in a different stance?

Consider the opponent’s height, weight, body shape. Are they taller than your usual training partner?

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

8. Ask Questions

This one may seem obvious but needs to be emphasized.

Fill in the blank: “Practice Makes _________.”

Let’s assume you’ve practiced the movement a great many times. Now consider if you find out that you’ve been doing it incorrectly!

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 them, but don’t let that prevent you from doing it again in the future. Any decent martial arts teacher loves a challenge – it allows 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 to class.  😉

Read what a Northern Shaolin Kung Fu class was like on March 18th, 2015, Learn Mandarin via Podcasts, Read What Our Students Say, or Schedule a Free Trial class of Kung Fu.  

3 thoughts on “Learn how to learn Martial Arts”

  1. 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)?

  2. 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.

  3. It’s good to know that you will be needing to practice outside of class. My brother was telling me a couple of nights ago about how he wanted to learn kung fu because he has always wanted to learn since he was little. I’ll make sure to pass this information along to him so he can know more about taking a kung fu class!

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