For many “Wax on, wax off” is a nostalgic phrase from our childhood conjuring the image of a scrawny kid wearing a bandana on his head, standing on one leg with his arms in the air, looking like a goob.
Who would have thought that the Karate Kid would teach us a valuable training lesson?
Repetition breeds success
By repeating an action over and over, countless times, our bodies create neural pathways. These pathways allow our body to quickly and efficiently perform the action with little to no conscious thought needed. Some terms you might recognize are “muscle memory” or “greasing the groove”.
As a fledgling student, you have to be conscious about EVERYTHING you do in class. Everything is new and unfamiliar. You are constantly looking down at your feet to make sure they’re in the correct stance. You go through your forms slowly as you try to remember what comes after that down block.
As you continue to practice, you become familiar what a proper back stance feels like. You don’t need to think so hard about the next move in your form.
Practice even longer and you don’t even think about the stances or techniques anymore. Your body just does it, like turning on autopilot.
But autopilot is dangerous
Autopilot is great because it allows us to use little brainpower on the task at hand so we can focus on other things. The problem is people tend to go on autopilot and NOT focus on anything else. Their brain goes dormant and they just go through the motions when they should be using the spare brainpower to focus on more advanced principles.
Here’s an example:
A student is learning a new form. All the brainpower will initially be used towards memorizing that form.
As the student memorizes the form, they can use more processing power to ensure their kicks/punches/blocks are strong, technically sound, etc.
Memorization → Techniques
As he gets his techniques the way he wants them, he can then focus more on his stances…
Memorization → Techniques → Stances
Once all the basics are covered and he can perform the form without constantly needing to self-check his stances and techniques. He can then focus on the “flavor” of the form by changing the power, cadence and other, more subtle aspects.
I used forms in the previous example, but this principle applies to everything; kicks, punches, blocks, stances, breathing, mindset, you name it!
Creating new neural pathways (aka muscle memory) is as simple as repeating something over and over again.
There is a caveat however…
If you repeat a bad technique over and over again, your body will remember that bad technique and instantly go to it instead. That’s why your instructors constantly critique your stances, and techniques. Once those pathways are created, it’s MUCH harder to re-write them to do said action the correct way. You’ll be fighting against the current.
“Amateurs do it over until they get it right. Professionals do it over and over until they can’t do it wrong.” -Dick Couch, Sua Sponte
this week’s challenge
Find one thing you want to improve. Just one thing. Doesn’t matter if it’s something you struggle at or just something you want to make even better.
If it’s an individual technique, perform it PERFECTLY at least 100 times per day.
If it’s a form, go through it PERFECTLY at least 10 times per day.
If at any time you become so fatigued that your technique suffers, quit for the time being. Your goal isn’t to just get through the set number of repetitions and be done with it. You’re goal is to create the CORRECT neural pathways. Quality before quantity. Assess yourself before and after the week. Take pictures. Better yet, take a video. Ask others which technique/form looks better.
Work towards a goal of performing the technique 10,000 times.
The end result, will be a more efficient (and effective) strike, with minimal conscious thinking involved.
Give it a try and tell us how it works out for you.