What separates the advanced practitioner from the novice student is superior technique.
What separates the timeless masters from the same advanced practitioner is effortless flow.
What is flow and how it ties into your technique is the topic for today. By the end of this article you will understand not only why you need to reevaluate your training to center around flow, but how to do so and when to make said transition.
The 3 stages of training
This is actually a concept I pulled from Aikido but it works for any style you train in. The reason this method works so well is because you are not allowed to move onto the next phase without a firm grasp of the current. Stuck at Phase 2? Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
Phase 1: Coordination
This is the most common area that instructors and practitioners focus on. All the Coordination Phase boils down is doing the technique properly.
- Are you aligning your body structure to fully maximize the power of your technique?
- Are you turning your hips over enough to facilitate an effortlessly high kick?
- Are you striking the area you’re aiming for?
- Are you keeping your balance throughout the technique and properly re-chambering afterwards?
The reason so much focus is placed on this phase is simply because it is the easiest area to focus on. It’s the most straightforward; you demonstrate the technique, the student imitates it. Monkey see, monkey do. At this stage, there is no resistance from external forces. It is practice in a perfect and forgiving environment akin to learning to drive in an empty parking lot.
Phase 2: Application
Ah, here’s where the monkey wrench gets thrown in. So you’ve been practicing your techniques for a little while now and you’re getting pretty good at it. You can send a target holder flying or put your training partner in a merciless joint lock…
But now it’s time for some free sparring and none of your super moves are working! What gives?
Up until this point, you’ve essentially had the training wheels on. There was no resistance from your partner. They were working with you, but now they’re working against you. Now it is your job to figure out HOW to make the same techniques work. This is probably the most frustrating phase to go through since there is seldom any gradual escalation from Phase 1 to Phase 2.
If you are experiencing frequent frustration transitioning from Phase 1 to Phase 2, here are a few things to help you troubleshoot:
- Is your timing off?
- Are you accounting for any size disparities between you and your partner (both height and weight)?
- Is your partner fully committed to their technique or are they holding back?
Make small tweaks to your technique, your stance, your timing, and your approach and make a mental note of how it works each time. Remember, just because it works one time doesn’t mean it work the same way the next. This is the most frustrating aspect of training, but also one of the biggest areas for growth as you learn how to adapt and make techniques work regardless of the situation.
Phase 3: Flow
Once you have P1 and P2 down, you can begin incorporating P3, or flowing your techniques together. What is flow? In its most basic form, flow is smoothly transitioning from one technique to the next without pauses. The easiest way to start working on flow are throw drills where you chain multiple techniques together; a merger of Phase 1 and 3, if you will.
Once you have that down, it is time to work on the ultimate expression of flow: Moving smoothly and effortlessly through each technique regardless of what your opponent is doing. That isn’t to say you just force your combination to work no matter what. Rather, you address what the opponent is doing with the appropriate response – be it a block, parry, or strike – and proceed on with your own assault. This is, by far, the hardest skill to master and many practitioners will never achieve this level of skill. I myself am nowhere near mastering this either.
To watch someone who has achieved this level of skill is mesmerizing. It is almost like they are clairvoyant and know what the opponent is going to do before they do it. In reality, they have honed their reaction speed to a superior level and have trained their body to act with minimal conscious thought. During your training, you might accidentally tap into this deep, subconscious level and find yourself performing a single strike or short combo with effortless and devastating precision, leaving you in awe of what you just did.
Regardless of where you are, continue training. Do not let your ego get in the way. If you are still in the Coordination Phase, stay there until you are competent enough to move on. Trying to apply what you do not comprehend will lead to sloppy technique and will ultimately hurt your progress in the long run as you will have to eventually go back to the previous phase and work your way back up.
Also, do not think this is a linear path of progression. There will be times -within the same class even- where you will jump around between phases. That is perfectly normal as you learn new techniques, troubleshoot old ones, and learn to apply your skills to different situations. Approach your training with a patient, methodical mindset and keep making gains, no matter how small.
Until next time, keep on kicking!