The majority of martial arts training is geared toward all of the things that you need to do to improve and advance. Regardless of style, there is usually a long list of techniques to learn, exercises to do, drills to perfect, and so on. With so much time spent on what we should do, perhaps it would be a good idea to consider the things that we should not do.Minimalist Martial Art.
The whole idea of minimalism, de-cluttering, and other philosophies geared toward getting rid of the junk that we seem to accumulate, but don’t need, is a concept easily applied to martial arts training. This is certainly not a new idea. If one pays attention to the wisdom of the venerable samurai Miyamoto Musashi, and his treatise on strategy from the 17th century, The Book of Five Rings, he spells it out quite simply: “Do nothing which is of no use.”The first step in the process is to question why we do what we do. This can be difficult, I know it was for me, as we tend to do what we’re told by our teachers, our fellow students, and do things that we’ve picked up elsewhere (books, videos, etc). However, we all learn and grow, and something that may have been a great drill, exercise, or technique years ago, may not serve the same purpose any longer. It may be time to move on. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What do you practice, and what are your goals? Does your practice match what you want to achieve? That may sound simple, but I know for myself, my practice was quite different than my goals. I wanted to get better at weapons, but I was hardly practicing them at all. Why? I didn’t want to give up time on things that I had done for years. A change was needed. Either I was going to have to cut some things and add others, or reevaluate what I was trying to accomplish.
How long have you been doing a particular drill, technique, or exercise? That’s not to say that you should jettison something just because it’s old. The purpose is to remember the reason why you started doing it in the first place, and consider whether it is still valuable to you. I was still practicing drills to fix a bad habit long after the bad habit had been fixed. The drills had done their job. Time to tick the box, and move on.
Do you have a program of practice with metrics to determine success, or is it just a familiar activity? We like what we know, and it can be very uncomfortable to make changes. While we shouldn’t necessarily make changes for change's sake, we shouldn’t keep doing what we’re doing just because we’re used to it either.
Evaluate The act of questioning your practice and focus is an important first step. The next step is to evaluate whether the things you do are effective or not. If you are doing a kicking drill, is this the best one? Are the kicks getting better? If I video myself now and compare it with a video from months ago, is there improvement? As with many things in life, the secret to success lies in the questions we ask ourselves. If you are going “back to basics,” are you improving your basics? If your basics are the same as when you learned them, then something is amiss. The goal should be an improvement upon those basic skills to bring them up to a higher level, and not just to be good at practicing them. There is a difference between busy and productive. They can appear similar, but the results are very different.
Execute If you have questioned the efficacy and effectiveness of your practice, then most likely, for some things, it will be time for the axe to fall and sever that which no longer serves you. As a big believer in lists, I suggest simply sitting down and creating a new training schedule or routine. Write it out and start making the necessary changes. Here are the steps:
Question why you do what you do.
Evaluate if the activity is truly building your skills, abilities, or techniques or just keeping you busy.
Eliminate anything extraneous or that no longer serves a purpose.
Execute a newly pruned-down and powerful practice program that gets you to your goals.
As I mentioned previously, questioning can be difficult, but it is important to do. If things are merely done by rote, then we run the risk of making our practice a ritual that may not yield the benefit it once did. I think one should question most things. Question authority. Question convention. Question your own beliefs. It is important to know why you do what you do, and deal with things how they really are.