Sun Dragon Martial Arts and Self Defense, NFP

Train Like You're Testing

April 18, 2024

For the past week, I've had something I heard when I was up in New York on the white board at the dojo.  Unfortunately, in order to have room on the board, I had to replace Sean's very good advice that pickle juice is good for relieving cramps, but I think it's worth it.  "Train in class like you're taking promotion and train in a promotion like you're taking a class."

There are a lot of ways to train and I try to find different ways to bring these modes to the training floor, because they all have distinct advantages.  You can go full power, full speed, rawwwrrrrr. (a technical term) You can train slow.  You can train playfully.  There are other training modes as well, but I want to write about these three a little bit.

Rawwwrrr training is the approach we often think of when it comes to karate.  It's hard, fierce, all out, leaving you exhausted afterwards.  It's wonderful.  Combine it with hitting bags or ripping through a kata and you definitely know you've been in a class afterwards.  It's great for pushing the limit and pushing your body when you're working on things that you already know well enough to do without thinking too much.  It doesn't work well for learning new things.

Training slow is a wonderful approach when you're first learning a technique or when you're trying to get quality, accurate reps into your body.  Because it doesn't have the high pressure of Rawwwrrr training, you can take the time to get it right.  Good, quality reps are what locks a technique in and makes it yours for life.  

Playful training is a training approach when you're trying to unlock creativity in yourself or your students.  Rather than being tense and tight trying to make your body do something it's not accustomed to doing, or driving your body to the point of exhaustion, play is light, low intensity interaction that allows you to try different things, try things in different ways, fail, try again, fail again, succeed, puzzle, and keep going without getting locked into a spiral of negative feelings.  You get to keep going and trying with slight variations or dropping failed experiments for new approaches.

The one thing that you need to have for any of these modes to succeed is focus.  If you go Rawwwrrr past the point of focus, even with technique you're very familiar with, your body can go it's on way and you hurt yourself, overextending, losing your technique, not recognizing that you're past exhaustion.  If you train slow without focus, rather than burning good technique into your body, you teach your body and your mind to go slack and mushy and your body identifies this softness with good technique.  If you train playfully without focus you can create the biggest dangers, both to yourself and your partner, as even light interaction can lead to injury if you're not focused on the weapons you're using and the targets you're aiming for.

That's where training like you're in a promotion comes into play.  Whatever mode your instructor has you training in, you need to keep your focus up, as if you're in a promotion.  Locked in.  Rawwwrrrring with all you've got.  Slowly working technique, always staying sharp.  Playing, without goofing off.  When we train without focus, no matter what mode we're training in, we're essentially wasting our time or teaching our bodies that bad habits are actually good habits.  And if we bring that sort of focused intensity to whatever it is we're doing, whatever mode we're doing it in, when we come to a promotion we're automatically going to slip into that mode where we present our very best karate to our instructors, our family, and our friends.  It becomes a celebration of our best.

As you progress through the ranks, you get the opportunity to present your karate in promotion less and less frequently.  If what drives you to get better is the promotion process, as those promotions get spaced further and further apart, your motivation can wane.  But, if you're training like you're promoting, if you're bringing that focus and determination to every class, every kata, every drill, then you're getting some of that same motivation kicking in every class.