The Masters that I studied with agreed that their students who practiced their martial arts skills at home, as well as in class, progressed faster than the students who only practiced while in class. Students who practice martial arts at home develop muscle memory through repetition of movement.
- Grand Master Jerry Warren (Shorin Ryu, Judo, and Kuan-Tao) routinely instructed us to practice each kata at least 10 times per day, outside of class.
- Master Rod Kobayashi (Aikido) encouraged us to practice our wrist stretching exercises continuously throughout the day.
- Master Peter Deeley (Shorin Ryu, Fencing, Judo, and Unarmed Combat) consistently practices his martial arts skills at home several times a week.
The extra hours of practice make a significant difference in mastery of skills and developing basic skills that enhance in-class lessons.
Why practice at home?
Classes are very important and should never be missed, except for exigent circumstances. The skills and knowledge taught in class are invaluable. Students should also practice at home those skills learned in class because the limitations on class hours doesn’t normally allow students enough repetition to convert skills into muscle memory: only enormous amounts of time can do that.
Practicing martial arts skills at home can hone skills learned in class, improve fluidity, making the movements “second nature.”
Stretching – This is the most important thing you can do. You should always stretch before your class starts and at the end. Stretching should be slow, without any bouncing. Instead, relax into the stretch and allow gravity to act upon your body. Very slowly, using your abdominal muscles, recover from the stretch.
- Sit on the floor with your feet straight out in front of you. Slowing bend over and reach out to the air above your feet.
- Sit on the floor with your feet out wide. Pull yourself up straight. Turn to your left. Slowing bend over and reach out to the air above your feet. Repeat on your right
- Stand up with your feet together. Slowing bend over and let your torso and arms relax.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Lift your hands close to your shoulders and slowing turn to your left as far as you can without turning your hips. Repeat on your right.
Balance – Place a 2″x4″x4′ piece of wood on the ground, positioned so that it is flat. Step up onto the wood. Lift one leg 12 inches from the ground and hold it for a count of 20. Then repeat with your other leg.
Posture – Stand in front of a mirror, turn so that you are side-on to the mirror. Check to see if your spine and head are a vertical line. If you are leaning forward or backward from the vertical, adjust your spine and head position to the vertical line.
Endurance – Walking, running, swimming, and/or cardio exercise are the best methods to increase endurance. Please consult your doctor before beginning any cardio training program.
Breathing – Sit on the floor in tailor or lotus position. Place your hands on your knees. Sit up very straight with your chin parallel to the floor. Close your eyes. Using your lower abdominal muscles, very slowly draw in a deep breath through your nose. When you think you can’t hold any more air, draw in some more. Using your lower abdominal muscles, very slowly push the air out of your lungs through your mouth. Repeat for several cycles.
Control – Hang a ribbon from an overhead site, such as the rafter in a garage. Stand in front of the ribbon, with both feet shoulder width apart. Form a fist with your hand and strike just to the ribbon, but do not move the ribbon. Your fist should just touch the ribbon, without moving it.
Speed – Find a fire proof spot, such as a concrete pad. Place a taper candle in a holder down on the pad. Place a board to catch splattered wax behind the candle; then light the candle. Kneel or sit in front of the candle. Using your fist, strike just in front of the flame, on a level path. Practice until you are able to put the flame out.
Accuracy – Fix a soft bag to stationary post or wall. Put a 4″ target (e.g., duct tape) on the bag.
- Stand sideways to the bag, with your feet shoulder width apart. With your eyes open and looking straight ahead. Use your peripheral vision only. Make a fist and strike the bag on the target. Change sides. When you have mastered this skill, repeat with your eyes closed.
- Stand in front of the bag, face on, with your feet shoulder width apart. With your eyes closed, make a fist and strike the bag. Leave your fist there and open your eyes to see where your fist landed. Change sides.
- When you have this down, vary the height of the bag.
Types of specific skills
Most martial arts fall into one of two broad categories, throwing or striking, with skills specific to that particular art. For example:
- Aikido: grappling, throwing, joint locks
- Judo: grappling, throwing
- Ju Jitsu: grappling, throwing, joint locks, chokes, strangles
- Karate: striking, kicking
- Kuan Tao: striking, kicking
- Shorin Ryu: striking, kicking, throwing, joint locks, chokes, strangles
The skills you practice at home should be relevant to the art that you are studying. Some one studying Judo, but not a striking art, shouldn’t be practicing how to hit heavy bags. Instead, they should practice those skills that pertain to Judo, such as: side break falls, or back break falls. Practing falls should be done on a mat or soft grass.
Your instructor is a very important source of information on which skills it would most benefit you to practice at home. Lessons that you learn in class, such as katas (complex exercises), stretching, strength training, form, and endurance can be practiced at home, with your instructor’s approval.
Be very careful about practicing at home any skills which require a partner, either as a “spotter” or to act as an “attacker.” These types of skills should only be practiced in class, under the supervision of your instructor. And never use hard, unyielding equipment (i.e., trees, walls, bricks, wood, tiles, etc.) except under the supervision of your instructor. Ignoring this advise could result in injury. Training in the martial arts can be dangerous if safety rules are ignored or disregarded. Please, for your own safety, follow the rules for appropriate practice and consult with your instructor to obtain his or her approval.