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


  1. Hi, Sue: Really like your take on the "Do or Way" of karate. I do have one little hang up with this statement, " ... martial arts is essentially about learning self-defense ... "

    a martial art is not about learning self defense.

    Martial arts are about fighting. Fighting is not self defense. There is a difference/distinction and it is important if you use your martial arts for protection on the street [at least here in the US].

    Yes, I am a stickler for semantics. It is because the wrong term can induce false beliefs and/or assumptions about it.

    Great post today tho, pardon my pension for particulars. :-)

    Not a criticism but an observation.

  2. Great list Sue!

    I recently purchased Loren Christensen's book "Solo Training". You had mentioned it on a previous blog post...thanks for the book recommendation.

    As part of my solo training, I watch videos on kata application.

  3. Hi Charles, I am also a fellow pedant when it comes to semantics! However, I think we have different definitions for what we mean by fighting and self defence. I need to think about this one more fully so I won't comment any further just now, however expect a blog post on the subject in the near future. Thanks for your comment though - I like the way you challenge my thinking :-)

    Hi Michele, It was your post on solo training that got me thinking about this post. It was very remiss of me not to add a link - so I've now edited the article with a link to yours :-)

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