Learn, Practice, Train.


Learn, Practice, Train.  Improving your martial arts experience.

If you’re a teacher or student, you typically call it “training”. We go to the dojo and we “train”. But over the years I’ve noticed that we really need to break the experience down a bit.


Learning implies seeing and studying something new for the first time. In reference to martial arts, learning is seeing and experiencing a technique for the first time. When learning a new technique, movements should be broken down to their simplest form.  From what i’ve seen of the Densho (Japanese scrolls or writings explaining classical techniques) they are written and illustrated to help in the learning process.  Learning a new technique should be done slowly with much contemplation of movement and placement of hands, feet, body weight etc.  This needs to be a slow process and should not be rushed. When learning a new technique the uke (attacker) should move slowly and allow the tori (“receiver” or person practicing the technique) to study and explore the movements of the technique.  This should be done under the watchful eyes of an experienced instructor, without the guidance of someone who has learned, practiced, and trained the technique, you’re wasting your time.  Books and videos should only be used as a reference tool for someone who has gone through all three steps.


Practicing, is the process of deliberately repeating the learned technique many times to commit it to “muscle memory”.  A physical movement, that you have “learned” must be repeated properly many, many times for your body to remember it instinctively.  It is not enough to be able to repeat a movement from memory, if you have to think about a movement or technique to repeat it in a real life and death situation, you’re too late.  Your body must move instinctively without conscious thought, the only way to train your body to move in this manner is to repeat the movement or technique literally thousands of times. This is practice. When first starting the practice of a technique you should move slowly with the uke and tori moving in a fluid, slow pace. As your body becomes more comfortable with the technique the speed can be increased. But as you increase the speed of the technique you have more of a tendency to get “sloppy” with your movements.  This is why you still need an experienced instructor to watch and correct sloppy movements. When sloppy movements are pointed out you should slow down and correct the problem. Contrary to popular belief, Practice does not make perfect, Perfect Practice makes perfect.


Training is applying the technique in a realistic training scenario.  This is the fun part. After all the long hours of learning and practicing, we get to play.  Again these training scenarios should be set up and overseen by an experienced instructor.  These scenarios should start with the uke and tori well apart and unthreatening, then should move into a conflict, escalation, and then attack and execution of the technique, followed by checking surrounds and making sure there are no additional threats.   After you have learned and practiced numerous techniques, the training scenarios can become more complicated and advanced, adding multiple attackers as well as multiple weapons.

Now what i’ve described above is “optimal” training. I have never met anyone who had the discipline to stick to such a rigid guideline. Each section would take years to become proficient with just a few techniques. Most dojos that I have visited do all three (learning, practicing, and training) every time class is held.  The session is usually tailored to the students who show up for the class.  A technique is usually shown by the instructor and new students need to learn the technique, intermediate students need to practice the technique and advanced students need to train the technique.  The problems start to arise when the new students are not given the time to learn a technique before they are thrown into a training scenario, some can handle it and just do the best they can others get frustrated and soon drop out.  One of my biggest frustrations is with students who don’t give a newer student the chance to learn the technique.  One example I see way too often is an uke throwing a punch at someone “learning” a technique and while the tori is trying to figure out the proper movements the uke gets “squirrely”, meaning, they quickly throw another punch and say something like “hah, I got you”. This does no one any good. You, as students, are in the dojo to help each other, not frustrate each other.  The learning and practicing stage are never a competition and the training stage is very seldom a competition, if ever.

When a dojo has enough students to separate the students into beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes things, I think, go smoother. But in smaller schools this is just not practical.  But there are many advantages to a smaller school and if everyone knows the difference between Learning, Practicing, and Training things usually go very well.

Learning, Practicing, and Training also have proper times and locations for individual use. Training (as described above) is very seldom wise in a small room (say the Honbu Dojo in Japan) when you’re sharing the very small space with about 100 of your closest budoka. Unless specifically instructed to do so, at seminars and workshops, you should always start with Learning as your mindset. This, to me, is common sense and courtesy. But I have seen people. in Japan, in a room absolutely filled with people, training at full speed with no regard for their surroundings, this (again, I believe) is foolishness.  Part of your training is learning to pay attention to your surrounds.

In the Bujinkan organization Henka (variations on classical techniques) are a very large part of the training.  All of the Shihan that I have heard talk about henka say that henka should only be practiced after the basic technique has been learned and practiced long and hard. I tend to agree with this idea. Learn, Practice, and Train the basics, then we can look at henka.

Some people never “learn” the technique properly. Most never even get to the “Training” stage. Some have been told everything should be “free response” there should be no “set” techniques, just feelings. It is no secret that Soke has said these very things. But he also said that he only teaches to the highest level students. Once you have “mastered” most of the techniques then, yes you need to let them go, but your body has been trained, it will not forget. At this stage you are free to use any part or henka of a technique you want and it will most likely work because of the countless repetitions you performed early in your Learning and Practicing days.

More thoughts from my pea brain.

Hope any of this helps in some way.


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