When I was first doing Judo, I was the “question ask-er”. Teachers know what I mean. I was the kid that before I even had a chance to absorb the material, was asking a million questions. I asked my teacher some question, and he responded by saying “you can ask me anything you want after 10,000 reps!”. I thought he was blowing me off, and I was definitely pissed. But later on he said “It doesn’t matter if you understand it. Your body has to understand it, and that takes reps.” After a lot of pondering and research, I hve come to realize the wisdom in what he was saying.
Brings me to this. A student wrote me after a class that was particularly frustrating for him. He’s been training for a long time and felt like he should’ve been better at the kick we were working on than he was displaying. Those of you that train understand how INFURIATING that can be. I’m posting my response to him in the hopes that it might help others out there experiencing the same frustration, and just haven’t written yet! Hopefully I explain better than it was explained to me! -Jay
The main thing that’s hindering your improvement in Muay Thai is that you’re artistic, and goal oriented. I know, that makes no sense. But artistic people by definition are people that can see a thing in their mind and set out on shaping it in reality. They create. There in lies the problem. You don’t create these skills, you acquire them. Bear with me. for a movement to occur the appropriate antagonist muscles must relax and allow the prime muscles to tense causing the appropriate motion. Any muscles firing or not firing, or the slightest mis-timing, and the movement suffers.
The problem for you lies in your mindset. When you see the sculpture isn’t what you see in you’re minds eye, you try harder (tensing more muscles not helping), or try it a different way (tensing/relaxing different muscles, not helping) or, scrap it and try again from the start, or scrap it and move on to new project hoping to revisit it after you’ve “improved” as an artist/athlete. Probably sounds like your artistic process, yes? Well, the body is different. Yes these activities are conceived in and directed by the mind (hence the Art term), but the actual product is a movement. And movements are “acquired”. You’re body has it’s own “artificial intelligence” so to speak. It literally learns (independently of your intention) on it’s own which muscles to tense and relax through it’s own experimentation. This is subconscious, In fact your “trying” to get better only makes it worse (this is where your goal orientation gets you!). Every time you try to make an improvement, you are in essence asking your body to learn an entirely new movement!
How do you improve? An old Judo method is the best thing I’ve ever heard for this. Don’t even try to do it right (or ask me a question as my teacher said it!) until you’ve done it 10,000 times. Seriously. After that many “thoughtless” repetitions your body will have worked out most of the mechanics on its own (this is coordination. Subconscious self learning on a proprioceptive level). If you “try” to fix it before that, you are in essence asking you body to start at 1 with a new move. Make sense. Your body needs time to acquire it’s own kick. Sounds Zen, but it’s pure science. Throw 10,000 kicks, or armbars, or whatever, and THEN try to tinker. Tinkering with something that doesn’t yet exist is pointless.
What do you think about, then, if not how to do the kick? Generalities. Looseness, Relaxation, the timing, the feel. Not the individual things. The muscles, the toes, etc…
You paint right? When you painted in the beginning, what were you looking at? Your fingers, your posture in the chair, what parts of your arm was tense? No, you looked at the canvas! You were unaware of these things. You looked at the canvas and allowed your body to sort itself out. Only now that your an artist can you look at little things like posture, and pinky position, and how those things affect you. But forever, you thought only of the canvas!
When you kick, where is your mind? On the bag? Or on you. You’re fundamental issue, is that with martial arts you think you are the canvas. You’re not. You’re you. The bag, the opponent, is the canvas!
1. Change focus. Think of the canvas, not your self.
2. 10,000 reps without trying to fix it. Acquire the thing before you tinker
3. allow yourself to be good. You allow for yourself to be artistic. But not this yet. Allow it. I believe in you, and I know more than you!