As students move from basic levels of competence in the Martial Arts, they will have developed many habits in their training. The first excitement of studying a new discipline has worn off and is replaced by a deeper desire to become skilled in the Martial Arts.
One of the most important habits a student can develop is that of attending classes and training in the Martial Arts. By making attending classes a matter of habit rather than a choice, we are setting ourselves up for success. If we can set aside regular time for practice, it becomes part of our day, rather than a decision that has to be made. When we have to ask ourselves, ‘shall I go to class today?’ there will definitely be times when the answer is ‘no’. If our training days are a habit, we resist the distractions of the outside world and build habits that support our goals.
Another important habit is that of mindful practice. Training mindfully means not simply going through the motions of the class, but being actively engaged mentally as well. Thinking about the techniques you have been asked to practice, and trying to to make each one a little bit better than the last. Thinking about how you can put your techniques together in combinations and creating your own sequences. Getting in the habit of thinking about your martial arts as you perform it. In this way we develop habits that help us take our training to the next level of understanding.
Yet another habit that supports us in our practice is letting go of expectations. We see some students in the habit of expecting tips or new belts at certain intervals. Unfortunately, this is relying on external recognition from someone else to feel good about our training. This is not a helpful habit. A better habit to form is to ask yourself the question after class – ‘Did I learn something today? Did I get better at something today? Did I enjoy training in martial arts today?’ If you are in the habit of asking yourself these questions, and answer ‘yes’ to even one of those questions, you will feel good about your training. Feeling good about your training is a great habit to get into!
Habits are formed by repetition. Over and again students hear their Instructors repeat basic phrases— ’Hands Up’ ‘Breathe’ ‘Look at your target’ – this is to try and set correct habits in students from the very beginning. In martial arts we repeat actions over and again to develop habits. Then we add extra factors – jumps, spins and jumping spins to build further skills, however everything is based on getting the foundations correct. This is why good technique habits are so important to develop.
The important thing to understand about habits is that the way we perform in class over time will lead to habits, and these habits are what will come to the front under pressure, such as at Gradings or in real life confrontation situations. The habits we develop in class can be supportive or hindrances under pressure. If we get into the habit of ‘walking through’ our practice, our bodies learn that this is the way to perform those techniques. If we get into the habit of always practicing with focus and power, this is how our body learns to perform.
Once we have developed a habit that we do not want to have any longer, we need to find a way to get rid of it. The easiest way to get rid of a habit is to replace it with a different one. So for example, if we have a habit of tapping our pen against a table, rather than making ourselves stop completely, instead we replace the old habit with a new one, so perhaps when we have a pen in our hands we twist it in our fingers, instead of tapping it on the table. While this is only a small change, once this change is made it is easier to then replace the habit again with something else. While this is just a little example, the idea holds true with larger habits as well.
Students should look very carefully at the habits they have when performing their basic techniques, and be sure that they are constructive habits that support the practice, rather than habits that get in the way of the correct practice of the martial arts.