It’s been said that the hardest part of martial arts training is getting into the car. I have seen this first hand when 11 people tell me they are coming to train and 2 show up. I don’t take it personally when people tell me they were “busy” or there was “traffic” or whatever. I know it really isn’t about all that – it’s difficult to drag your butt to training sometimes, particularly when you haven’t developed the mental toughness to push past a hard day at work and train anyway.

To get good at martial arts you also need to train solo. There is something about working on the mental and physical aspects of martial arts alone which pushes things around in your brain and makes them stick. You do not get good in class, class is the catalyst that starts the reaction – you get good in solo practice and reflection.

I want to offer up my couch potato plan for getting good at your martial art – even if you think you don’t have time.

The first part of the plan is to make an enjoyable game out of finding hidden time. One thing I suggest is to do some kind of training during TV commercials. If you watch 1 hour of network television a day (and most people watch more), you’ll have at least 20 minutes of training time. You could exercise during that time, practice a kata, throw some punches, whatever.

Like I said, make finding time an enjoyable game – even a couple of minutes here and there really add up.

Another TV related training method which helps reaction time is to do a technique (such as throwing a punch) while watching a show – as quickly as possible each time the scene or camera angle changes on the show. This is a good way to train the perception without a partner.

The next suggestion is to utilize waiting time, and I have two ways to do this. 1. Carry around a martial arts related book with you whenever you think you might have wait time and read. 2. Practice your techniques, or kata, or whatever in your mind without moving. Suggestion #2 will get you good incredibly fast.

When I lived in Boston I would frequently take the subway or a bus. While sitting there, I would  mentally go over foot movements, angles, drills, etc. It really helped me to improve. The mind has a hard time differentiating between vividly imagined practice and real practice. I probably got an extra 5 hours of practice a week in just doing this.

My next suggestion is to find sneaky ways to train. Make all of your movements martial movements without giving away what you are doing. For example, I use tai-sabaki (body shifting) movements to walk around obstacles. I am aware of how I open and close doors and do it in a way that could be translated into a strike or a throw. Doing this will help internalize your movements and burn them into muscle memory. Again – make a game out of it – be creative.

Next is walking around training. When walking around amongst other people mentally note their distance. Notice how you feel as they get closer or move farther away. What are they doing with their hands. If they are standing, do they have good balance or poor balance. Are there any bulges in their clothing that may be weapons. If they had bad intentions, how would they have to move to attack. Do this without staring at anybody. Train yourself to use peripheral vision and short non-threatening glances.

Finally is mental scenario training. Whenever you go anywhere – including changing rooms in your house, scan the room. Look for exits and notice if there are any obstacles there. What in the room could be used as cover or as an improvised weapon? What would you do if armed people came in intent on doing you harm. While you do this pay attention to your breathing and heart-rate. Keep your breathing slow and through the nose.

The important thing is to make these things as enjoyable as possible. If you do, it will be easier to continue doing them.

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