Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The benefits of training solo...

Though martial arts is essentially about learning self-defence, a process which requires at least two people (attacker and defender), it is also an art that can be practiced solo. I think that all martial arts have at least some elements that can be practiced solo. I love doing solo training at home and karate lends itself better than many martial arts to this end.

So what things can you do on your own that will enhance your overall performance of your marital art?

Here's my top ten list of solo training activities:

1.General fitness training. Which ever martial art you do, you don't need a partner to work on your general fitness and all martial arts require a relatively high degree of general fitness and strength to be done well. Fitness training should encompass endurance, strength and flexibility exercises.
2.Specific fitness training.  Depending on the art that you do and your objectives within that art you may need to do specific fitness training. If you do competition sparring then a higher than average level of carido fitness may be needed. You may need to strengthen specific muscles to improve kicking height or do flexibility exercises that specifically open up the hips. Or you may need exercises that work on fast twitch fibres to increase punching speed. All martial artist will have specific fitness needs over and above their general fitness needs. The trick is to identify what those needs are for your art and work on them.

3.Kata/Forms training. Not all martial arts include kata but many do and the advantage of training this in your own time is that you can do it at your own pace; choose the kata you want to work on and repeat sections you have particular difficulty with. There are all sorts of ways of practicing kata that you may not do in normal classes e.g. you can do kata as a flow drill with quick but soft flowing movements; you can practice with your eyes closed; facing in different directions; just do the leg work (that's really hard if you haven't tried it) or train it with full power and correct timing. If you are at home or in the gym you are in full control of how you do it.

4.Kihon training. All arts will have a set of fundamental principles or techniques designed to get you moving your body correctly and working on basic body mechanics and alignment. In karate much of this kihon training can be done solo though in other arts I accept that a partner may be required. I spend a lot of my solo training time practising kihon, often in front of a mirror so that I can see if my limbs and trunk are aligned correctly for the various techniques. Again, the advantage of solo training is that you are in control of which techniques you want to work on and how you want to do it.

5.Sparring combinations. Sparring combinations can be worked either against the air or against a heavy bag. Working it solo is a great chance to put together new combinations or practice old favourites. Obviously this is not a substitute for sparring with a partner but it is a useful adjunct that helps lay down a few memory maps for specific combinations.

6.Self defence with an imaginary partner. Yes, you can do some partner work without your partner being there! If you are trying to commit certain self-defence combinations to memory, such as ippon kumite or goshin waza techniques, then you can walk through these with an imaginary partner. You won't know how well  you can get them to work until you try them on a real partner but at least you'll remember what you're supposed to be doing.

7.Mental martial arts. Solo training doesn't all have to be physical. You can spend valuable time just thinking through kata or combination techniques to help fix them in the mind.

8.Reading. Reading about martial arts, whether it be about history, culture, technique or philosophy, should also be thought of as a form of solo training because it all enhances your general understanding of martial arts. Reading makes you think and broadens your martial arts horizons. By understanding your art (and others) in a cultural and historical context you become better able to interpret kata and look at how techniques can be transferred to a more contemporary context.

9.Writing. Writing is not everyone's cup of tea I know but it can be very useful. Writing can just consist of making your own private notes about techniques or keeping a training log. Alternatively writing can include researching and producing articles for a blog, if you are so inclined. For me, writing is very much a part of my solo training and my blogs are the place where I do most of my thinking about martial arts as well as communicating with other like minded people.

10.Meditation. Some will say that learning to meditate is an essential skill for every martial artist. You may or may not agree with this but having some quiet time alone to clear the mind and relax the body or to practice correct breathing can be as valuable to the martial artists training as any physical training. Martial arts is a mind-body thing so training the mind should have some priority in your training schedule.

This is my top ten ways of training solo. You may know other useful ways of training solo for martial arts, so why not leave a comment......

This article was inspired by Michele's article on Solo Karate Training

Friday, 18 March 2011

Slowing down, speeding up and Iain Abernethy seminar....

I decided to slow down a bit this week. I don't think I've been giving myself enough time to recover between sessions.

Over the last few weeks the schedule has been:

Monday 1.5 hour workout at home in the morning followed by 2.5 hours of karate classes in the evening,
Tuesday push-up challenge,
Wednesday 1.5 hour karate class,
Thursday push up challenge,
Friday 1.5 hour workout at home,
Saturday push up challenge and
Sunday 1.5 hour kobudo class.

So, not a lot of time for recovery between sessions! My muscles have been aching and I've been more stiff than usual following a session so I think a slow down was definitely needed.

This week I've laid off the push up challenge. I repeated week 5 last week and still failed to achieve 45 consecutive push ups in the exhaustion test. I decided that rather than repeat week 5 again I would take a week out and then try the exhaustion test again to see where I'm at.

I've still managed to fit in my two long home training sessions but I've concentrated very much on karate rather than general fitness. I had been determined to pin down my ippon kumite techniques this week but alas time ran out on me. This will definitely be my job next week...

Sensei was clearly not aware that I was trying to rest up a bit this week and decided to have a fitness binge with us on Wednesday. This consisted of push ups, sit ups, squats, burpees, running around....and that was just the warm up. We then moved onto pad work and after doing a few minutes of punching we were straight into doing the following sequence: 10 kicks with each leg of - front kick, roundhouse kick, back kick, side kick, spinning hook kick and jump kick! Just when we thought it was all over Sensei shouts 20 push ups! Followed by a 1 minute plank, followed by standing in shikko dachi (horse stance) for 1 minute. Get a drink! Then immediately into kata with bunkai demonstration. After doing 3 different kata : Get your sparring mitts on! Two rounds of sparring was then followed by some stretching. There was definitely some soaking wet gis after that session!

Last Sunday I attended a seminar with Iain Abernethy. This is the second seminar I've attended with him and it is always a great experience. I can't believe how fast that guy can execute self-defence techniques - you just wouldn't stand a chance against him! Anyway we focused on the bunkai from pinan nidan (there's always more to that kata than meets the eye) and then looked at bunkai from Bassai Dai. This was especially useful for me as Bassai Dai is one of my kata for shodan grading. Iain is such an easy, approachable guy with lots of amusing anecdotes to tell in between teaching us. Apparently he was impressed with our standard of kata which he said made it easier for him to teach us bunkai. Nice to know I can do something right!

The photo above shows left to right: Steve Hegarty (my instructor), Iain Abernethy and me!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Training review and update

Where is the time going? When I started this fitness program and my black belt training I had 24 weeks to go - that's nearly 6 months, now I only have 14 weeks left and that doesn't seem very long at all. So much to do, so little time to do it!

One of the problems I'm facing is proportioning my time between general fitness training and specific karate training, particularly the stuff on the black belt syllabus. Over the last couple of weeks I've moved from doing mainly fitness training to doing mainly karate training. This is because there is so much to cover and I need to make quite a lot of progress in certain areas, particularly in some of the kihon (basics) which are very detailed and prescriptive.

A kick can't just be any old kick it has to be a super high-quality 'Marks & Spencer' style kick. Well some of my kicks are only 'Tesco' quality at the moment (some may even be 'Budgens'). No disrespect meant to these supermarkets - they operate in different customer markets but you get my drift. 

So how do you get from Budgens to Marks & Spencer with your kicks? Well it's just a case of checking your technique is correct and then practice, practice, practice. So this is what I have been doing. Lots.

However, spending much of my home training time practising basic kihon has meant that I don't have a lot of time to follow my general fitness program so I have had to prioritise and double up where possible. So instead of shadow boxing for endurance training I now go through all 12 of my kihon combinations several times. Believe me, when you are putting all your power and effort into performing these you really work up a sweat and get your heart going!

I am still doing squat training, balance training and the push up challenge on a regular basis and I try to do the flexibility exercises at least twice a week. The push up challenge has actually become the most constant exercise in my week. I have been following the program with almost religious zeal and I'm making progress. On Saturday (the end of week 5) I managed 120 push ups divided into 8 sets (with 30 done in the last set). However, I didn't do so well with the exhaustion set - I could only get to 35 whereas I needed to get to 45 to move onto the next week of the program. So I am repeating week 5 again this week. But hey, 120 push ups in 15 minutes (with short breaks between sets)? No way I could have done that a few weeks ago!

So, where to go now? I think I will be reviewing my training aims and re-planning my program a bit to reflect the need to spend more time practising specific karate techniques. I need to be thinking about by ippon kumite techniques (1 step sparring) and self defence techniques as well as continuing to practice kata and kihon. However, strength, fitness and flexibility are also important so I still need to fit this in somewhere.....

Keep you posted. Happy training!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

A private lesson experience

I've been a little distracted this week with sorting out my computer virus problems (see: Computer Virus Frustrations!). This has now been sorted out but it has made me a little late posting on this blog this week!

Despite a few wasted hours fixing my computer I have still been following my training program, though not as frequently as I would have liked. I suppose the real highlight of the last fortnight was having a private karate lesson with my instructor. I've never had a private lesson before but my instructor offered it to me for free as a thank you for helping him with the junior class over the last 18 months.

I found the private lesson both exciting and scary. Exciting because it was an opportunity to specifically work on things I needed or wanted to work on and receive lots of individualised feedback and advice but scary because all the attention was on me and all my negative points were exposed and dissected in detail. However, this is the nature of martial arts training - one improves more quickly if negative points are highlighted and corrected early so I was very grateful for the feedback.

My instructor filmed me performing my punching and kicking combinations and also my kata. Seeing yourself on film is a revelation and not necessarily a pleasant one! My punching combinations didn't look too bad but I thought my kicking combinations were pretty awful on the whole. My back kick is too low, my front kick doesn't snap back enough, my roundhouse kick is off-line and my side kick lacks power. I can work on all this though, at home, and it WILL get better. Seeing yourself look bad at something really motivates you to want to get better at it. The other negative thing about seeing myself on film is that my gi makes me look enormous, especially around the hips - these things really aren't designed to flatter!

My kata performances are a work in progress. My Bassai Dai performance has strong points and weak points. I hadn't realised until this lesson that I had actually misinterpreted some of the moves and was doing them incorrectly. These errors have now been pointed out,  so I can work on them in my own time. In fact I've been working on them quite hard since the lesson and I reckon that if I was filmed again you would already see some improvement in my performance.

The lesson focused entirely on basics - punches, kicks, stances and kata. These are things every karate-ka needs to work on constantly so it was very valuable to work on this in a private lesson. The hour flew by and left me feeling pretty tired, both mentally and physically. I would definitely recommend a private lesson, particularly if you have certain issues that you need to work on. 

Have you ever had a private martial arts lesson? Did you enjoy it or find it too intense?