Perfect the Parts, Master the Whole

4 02 2014

You ever notice how some martial artists seem to do everything well–while others are just plain sloppy? Even when they train just as much, are just as committed to learning, and work just as hard? And maybe some of you–regardless of how much you practice–can’t seem to get past the “good” level and become excellent

Wanna know why?

Well, it ain’t simply explained as saying that they are “good” while others are “not so good”. There’s more to it than that. ¬†It’s a simple concept. I call this concept “Perfect the parts, master the whole”. It probably isn’t how much you practice. Rather, what may help you get results could be HOW you practice.

In a nutshell, this is how it works (using forms performance as a point of reference):

  • Develop not just your footwork and stances, but each part of your footwork and stances–your balance, the appearance, the formation of the stance, the deepness of your stance, adherence to the integrity of the stance while moving, positioning, angle, flexibility. Follow me?
  • Do the same with your hand techniques, kicks and blocks–power, speed, position of both hands, crispness of delivery, posture, hand formation…
  • Practice short series of movements, 40 – 50 repetitions at a time. The series should be no more than 10 or so movements. The majority of your forms practice sessions should consist of this, although you may focus on a different part of the series every few repetitions–like stance, power, fluidity, etc.
  • Occasionally take ONE technique and drill it hundreds of times. I wouldn’t consider yourself to have achieved proficiency of a form until you have done this with each technique of that form at least once
  • Something as simple as a step-turn should be isolated frequently in practice and perfected. You should do this until each time you execute that particular movement–it is done precisely, sharply and needing no adjustment. In fact, you shouldn’t even need to look and make sure you performed it correctly. In other words, perfection will become a second nature habit

Too often, martial artists treat the entire form as one unit. As a result they train for very general objectives, such as endurance. However, especially for Kung Fu forms, there are too many techniques that only get practiced a few times per training session. Take for example, your style’s first form (for many Jow Ga practitioners, it is Siu Fook Fu). How many times do you perform this form per training session in its entirety? 10, 12 times? If you train the form full speed, full power it’s probably even less. Considering which technique we are discussing, in a practice session (if you do the form 10 times in that practice session), you may only be getting 10 – 20 repetitions of a technique per training session. Compare that to my routine: ¬†taking two or three techniques, and doing them 100 times per training session. And this is full speed, full power–which you may not do at all if you are trying to do an entire form.

It takes about 500 repetitions of anything to approach “good”. It takes about 10,000 repetitions to become “great”, and only if those 10,000 reps were focused, technically sound repetitions. Most martial artists do not train this way. Instead, what they call “training” is more like “practice”–a casual, moderate rehearsing of those techniques where you may sweat and leaves you “feeling good” after training instead of sore and in pain. All martial arts training, including forms practice, is “fight training”. Fighters who approach training as if it were an aerobics session will almost never approach the level of perfection and fighting dominance they aspire to. It takes a patient, focused, tough practitioner to isolate something as simple as a step-punch and drill it thousands of times to arrive to the lonely status of “one of the best”. Training sessions will hurt, they will be boring, and they will be long. They aren’t entertaining. They don’t exactly look like a scene from a Shaw Brothers film. But they will bring you the skill and mastery every man or woman reading this article wants–but very few of you will achieve… Even some of your “Masters”.

Please take a look at the following clips. This is the “Half Step” used in Jow Ga. I will explain this skill in more detail in the next article, but observe how Instructor Sharif Talib is practicing a movement that many take for granted. Perhaps you may have had explained to you once or twice in your martial education, but once you learned it you most likely have forgotten about it and simply performed the movement while practicing other higher skills. However, improper use of the half step will result in

  1. poor centerline alignment
  2. the lack of using the shift for power, speed, penetration and reach
  3. loss of speed in the delivery of punches
  4. improper weight distribution

By giving this part of a larger technique–the step-punch–its due attention and perfection, you improve your effectiveness and delivery of the entire technique.

But more on that next time. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

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