Monday, 26 October 2020

How to make the most of your Training

What is the best way to learn and improve in martial arts training?


The usual advice is to just keep turning up, train hard and eventually you'll get better. There's a big difference between ‘training’ and ‘good training’. What qualifies as good training?
What an up and coming fighter may consider ‘good training’ may actually be doing them more harm than good in the long term.
Are you actually learning anything & improving? Are you fixing the holes in your game and correcting mistakes or just going through the motions hoping everything will fall into place? Do you actually have a clear plan of what you are trying to achieve with each training session or are you just spending all your training time mindlessly rolling, sparring and hitting pads without any specific objectives?
A famous study of chess players found the keys to what separated the best players from the rest and the same principles can be applied to martial arts training. Most people assume that the sparring and competing are the keys to success in combat sports and that the fighters who spar and compete the most are the ones who will improve faster.
The chess study compared between players who played lots of tournaments and those who spent more time doing ‘Deliberate Practice’ rather than just playing. They spent their time studying the game, building key skills and fixing their weaknesses. Obviously, this training was less fun and can also be frustrating as you will often feel like you aren't making progress but over time it adds up to a huge & insurmountable difference over your competitors.
Why can you not get the same results from just sparring all the time and then competing or fighting?
For the same reason that the chess players did not improve as much. Many of your rounds of sparring would be against more experienced training partners. During these rounds, you would spend most of your time defending and probably unable to successfully execute your own techniques.
Other training partners would be of a lower skill level. During those rounds, you probably aren't being tested and would therefore get away with incorrect technique or tactics.
It is possible that you may gain some benefit from sparring against higher or lower skill level training partners but the real question is do the benefits outweigh the costs in terms of time. Could those same rounds of sparring be spent on a different activity which would lead to greatly improved results over the course of your training career?
These small differences don't seem like much at the time especially since due to selective memory a student is likely to only remember the good parts of each training session. However, everyone only has a limited number of hours in their day so it's vital that you squeeze as much benefit out of every training hour as possible if you want to reach the highest levels in your sport.
Here is a summary of Deliberate Practice also known as Progressive Mastery. Which I adapted from the book High-Performance Habits.
  • Determine the skills you need to master - For example, Choose a combination technique, one specific type of guard pass or a takedown. Your coach should be able to assist you with choosing which skills you need to master to achieve your goals.
  • Set specific goals related to mastering that skill - For example, your goal is to consistently use this technique in sparring against experienced training partners. The type of goal you choose is very important. It must not be too easy but also not impossible. It should be what is known as a “Stretch” Goal - something that is achievable but will stretch your ability in order to achieve it.
  • Understand the meaning of achieving this goal and mastering this skill in your journey - Understand what it will mean to your overall development if you are able to successfully master this key skill. Being world class at this technique will allow you to reach your competition goals.
  • Understand the key success factors that will make or break this technique and develop your strengths in those areas. For example, grip strength, balance, mobility. Work to develop these specific attributes in order to achieve your goal. Do this while simultaneously correcting the weaknesses in your technique.
  • Get a clear visualized idea of what the technique or skill should look like if applied successfully by carefully observing your coach, training partners or videos of experts then compare to video of yourself practicing the skill or using it in sparring or competition.
  • Schedule challenging practices developed by your coaches - for example, your goal could be to use the chosen technique in each round of sparring against a line up of fresh opponents.
  • Measure your progress and get feedback - Keep track of your training, write it down, what worked and what didn't work, video your sparring sessions to get accurate feedback of exactly what you did right and wrong. Ask your coach for specific feedback about exactly which part of which technique you need to improve or work on.
  • Socialise your learning by practicing or competing with others - This is usually the easy part in terms of martial arts training because you will mostly be in classes alongside others.
  • Continue setting higher-level goals so you keep improving - Once you have mastered the skill or are able to consistently apply it against resistance then set higher-level goals so you can keep improving and avoid stagnating.
Teach your training partners what you are learning - When you attempt to teach the skill to other training partners it will force you to think about and understand it more deeply which will ultimately help in your own skill development.

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How to make the most of your Training

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