Practice Your Basics

There’s an old rule of thumb in the martial arts that less than one percent of those who start out will last long enough to earn a first degree black belt. Less than one percent of those people will stick with training long enough to earn a second degree black belt. I’m sure that this statistic varies by system and school, by my experience shows that this is pretty accurate.

One of the signs that a person is not going to last long in the art is their level of frustration or boredom with practicing the basics (Kihon Waza). I remember demonstrating a fairly complex drill one time, watching a pair of beginners do it exactly twice, and having one of them say, “ok I got that, can we do something different now?” My jaw must have dropped. Here’s a beginner who believes he can master the martial arts by practicing each drill or technique once or twice – best of luck.

If you’ve ever been to a pro basketball game, what happens before the game? The teams come out on the court and warm up by practicing shooting baskets, they practice passing and throwing free-throws. The best skilled athletes in the world practice their basics daily. Professional boxers still jump rope, hit the heavy bag and speed bag every day. Even if you have gotten to a level of relative mastery – practice of basics is necessary to keep your skills.

At the risk of sounding like my grandfather who tells stories of walking to school in 9 feet of snow: When I was coming up in jujutsu, my teacher would sometimes have us practice the same 10 basic movements for 3 solid hours with no breaks. A lot of people dropped out, they didn’t have the mental fortitude to keep training like that. Those who stuck with it got very good very fast. The movements became second nature. Their body alignments and kinesthetic awareness grew quickly. Advanced techniques became easier to learn. They moved like jujutsuka.

One day, I spotted a man walking about 1/2 mile down a busy street. I couldn’t see who he was, but could tell by how he moved that he was one of my training partners. He spotted me walking towards him at the same time and his hand went up in a wave. I waved back. When I got closer,  sure enough, it was a buddy of mine from the dojo.

It is very difficult to practice basics too much. What you are doing with repetition is building efficient neural pathways and “muscle memory”. By practicing properly, and getting adjusted by an instructor with a keen eye, you will instinctively form proper body alignment when executing under stress.

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