Should you practice your techniques on both sides of your body?
I have heard instructors state that you should be able to do your moves well with both sides of the body, left and right. I have heard other instructors preach that it is beneficial to focus on making one side as skilled as possible with a certain technique, with less need for balance. There are strong arguments to be made for either viewpoint, and I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer. I recommend that students practice new moves on one side only, until they feel comfortable with the move, at which time they may start learning it on the other side.
While I do not have a definitive answer to the original question, I would like to explore certain reasons why either viewpoint has merit, and in which situations one might be more practical than the other.
Ideally, we would like to be able to do a move well on both sides of the body. Realistically, however, it is much easier to become proficient on one side of the body with most techniques, at least in the beginning. Generally, I would rather be very good at doing a technique on one side than mediocre on both sides.
However, with certain techniques and positions, such as escaping side control or sweeping my partner from half guard, I try to practice both sides equally. With these moves, I may be forced to do the move on either side of the body in sparring; I generally will not be able to choose.
So here are a few questions that might help us determine which strategy might work best in a particular situation:
1.) Do I understand the move well enough on one side to attempt learning it on the other side?
2.) How much time do I have to train? Do I have lots of time to learn both sides, or should I focus on one side only?
3.) Is this a move which I could be forced to do on either side of the body, or is it a move where I can generally choose the side, regardless of what my partner does, in a sparring situation?
Keep this in mind when practicing and you could see even greater progress!
I love martial arts books and videos. They are a lot of fun to read and watch, and are readily available in book stores and on the internet. Some martial artists say things like, “You can’t learn martial arts from books,” or “Videos are no substitute for an actual school,” and I would generally agree. However, I believe that these statements are referring to cases in which the books or videos are the ONLY methods of learning being used. By themselves, books and videos are practically useless. When the viewer or reader has access to an actual dojo or training area, with dedicated training partners, the books and videos become invaluable SUPPLEMENTARY training tools.
Besides learning new techniques, I find that reading books or watching videos at home makes me more excited to get back on the mats; it helps to cultivate a real passion for the arts.
On that note, I am excited to announce a new feature to our members section of the website, the “Technique of the week.” Videos will be posted each week with useful tips to help our students keep learning even outside of the school!
Why is right now the best time to study martial arts?
There are many reasons why this is the best time to be a martial artist, or to begin training in the arts. One reason in particular really seems to stand out to me. In the past decade or two, the arts have really gone through a renaissance of sorts, taking them from an interesting form of exercise to a profound art of self-development.
I began training in the martial arts approximately 25 years ago. Since then, I have been very fortunate to study several different styles of martial arts with many great instructors. These instructors taught me wonderful things, and their teachings represented some of the best knowledge and material that was generally known at that time.
However, due to recent advances in training methods, techniques, and a deeper understanding of what actually works, I have made the majority of my progress in the last 4 years. I believe that the arts have come such a long way that one year of martial arts training now might be as valuable as 5 years of training would have been a few decades ago.
To understand why this might be, consider the recent surge in popularity of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Here we have a sport that allows for a wide variety of techniques, with two fully resisting opponents. However we feel about such spectator sports, MMA has definitely opened our eyes to new ideas and training methods regarding self-defense.
There are some martial artists who were fortunate enough to be using these methods long before MMA became popular; for most of us, however, the growth of MMA represented an awakening that helped us identify gaps in our old training methods. Certainly, others will have had different experiences, but I feel that my own journey through the martial arts has been the norm over the past several years: a shift in training to place more emphasis on benefits to the student.
This should also come as no surprise if we consider all the advances being made in other fields. Professional athletes are able to enjoy longer and more productive careers thanks to a deeper understanding of the way the body works and improved training methods. However, the advances that have been made in the martial arts recently are, I believe, even more radical.
I have no doubt that right now is the greatest time to study the martial arts!
Goal setting seems to be crucial to the martial arts. Each class, students work toward their next stripe or belt. The topic of this blog may be goal setting, but I want to start by talking about how I think that goal setting can be over emphasized in some situations, or, perhaps, how certain aspects of goal setting may not be given enough thought. I will share some strategies that have worked for me (and some that did not) in hopes that my experience will benefit others.
A great deal has been written on goal setting as it relates to success in any field. The idea that setting a solid, specific goal will help to motivate us is crucial to a lot of books that I have read in the self-help field. Many books that I have read left me with the belief that if I set good goals I would become a huge success, whereas if I didn’t have solid goals I was doomed to a life of failure and mediocrity.
I even read about a study done on a graduating class of Harvard, where 3% of the class had written goals, and greatly outperformed the remaining 97% who did not. Intrigued, I performed an internet search on this study, because I planned on sharing it with my students and wanted to provide them with more info. Unfortunately, I learned that while this “study” seemed to be a tool used to emphasize the power of goal setting in several books, there was no record of it ever actually occurring. When questioned about this study, the authors that cited it all claimed to have heard it from other authors.
Now, my goal here is not to criticize the people who cited this study. I myself was about to tell our students about it, and was only able to learn the truth via the wonders of the internet, something that was not really around when this “study” became such a powerful example. What bothered me, however, was that if goal setting really were the “end-all be-all” to life, there would be many real studies out there proving this, without having to rely on the Harvard study which apparently never occurred.
I decided to investigate further. A quick internet search revealed that while there are some studies claiming to show how powerful goal setting is, there are also numerous articles written by psychologists explaining how goal setting does not work.
Now, I guess we are setting and achieving goals of all sizes all the time. For example, when I sat down at my computer my goal was to type this blog. But in this case we are talking about big goals that demand time and effort: What do I want to do for a career? What belt do I want to achieve in the martial arts? Can I learn an instrument or a foreign language?
It may seem like I have used the first half of this blog to attack goal setting. However, that is not my intent. I have known people who were very successful in their chosen field who swear by goal setting. My “goal” so far has just been to point out that the data regarding the effectiveness of goal setting is inconclusive at best, and challenges the notion that we MUST decide exactly what it is we want out of life. It seems to me that there may be a missing link somewhere in the traditional concept of goal setting.
This leads me to an observation that I would like to share with you: People generally succeed the most in things that they enjoy doing. This may seem obvious, but I know that I’ve overlooked this fact countless times when attempting to set goals for myself. I know that I myself have set many goals that I never achieved, and I feel that the main reason why was that while I may have greatly desired the end result, I did not (or would not have) enjoy the process required to achieve said result. With many of these goals I was attempting to force myself to go against my nature.
I recently learned that Michael Jordan, widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time, had a “love of the game” clause put into his contract that allowed him to play basketball anywhere, at any time. Similarly, I believe that martial artists who achieve the highest levels do so because they enjoy coming to class and giving their best effort on the mats. They are happy when they achieve their belts, to be sure, but the greatest reward is the fulfillment they attain from the training itself. If there were no belts, they would still train.
This is why I believe that as an instructor I have a huge responsibility to make every class as exciting and enjoyable as possible. I also feel that as an instructor/mentor/future parent maybe my job is to encourage my students to explore and discover their own passions, rather than pressuring them to write down their goals.