One of the most important jobs of a martial arts instructor, especially one who works with younger students, is as a disguiser of repetition. The reason behind that is because every form or technique – every strike, block, stance, movement, or whatever – needs to be practiced hundreds of times before it becomes second nature.
It goes back to the famous Bruce Lee quote: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10000 times.”
Mastering even something as simple as a straight punch can take months of repeating before a student can do it properly without having to think about it. Unfortunately, the days of an martial arts master lining up his students in perfectly straight rows to punch for hours on end while maintaining a horse stance are gone. Very few modern students, and again we’re going back to the younger ones, will return to a class attempting that sort of training regiment (even though, honestly, ALL of us would benefit from it).
That brings us to the problem of having to disguise as much repetition as possible while, at the same time, keeping the class fun and exciting for the students. There are a series of drills we do on the floor to battle the ennui of endless repetition – drills that will give the students the needed practice without them even realizing they are doing it. Now, this list of drills is by no means a complete – we’re constantly trying new things and improvising based on the needs of the students themselves. It is only meant as a guide or set of fallback tools.
Around The World: Have the students perform a technique 5 times facing in a different direction each time (forward, left, behind, right, and back to forward).
Line Drills: get the students into lines and have them repeat a form over and over against across the length of your dojo floor. You can have them work at their own speed or make it a race. Either way, make sure the technique is being done properly each time regardless of the race. Improperly practicing a form is as bad (or worse) as not practicing at all. You don’t want to have bad form saved into muscle memory. If a student is getting sloppy, have them start over and focus on form over speed.
Exercise: create a mash-up between warm-up exercises and your forms. As students are in the middle of an exercise (running in place works really well) call out a form and have them repeat it before returning to the exercise (‘5 snap kicks – go! Now back to running!’). You can make this a game by telling the students you want to see who can perform the move fastest, but make sure to be strict on proper form and technique.
The Circle: Get your students into a big circle and have each one look at the person directly across from them. That is their ‘opponent.’ The idea behind the circle is to have a student attempt to out-perform their opponent. Ask if their stances are as low, punches as strong, or blocks as good as the person they are facing off against.
Work the Bags: Our students, regardless of age, love to pull out the stand-up bags. The physical interaction allows them to properly visualize what we’ve been asking them to see in their head with most practice. It also reinforces proper technique – nothing will wake a student up like firing off a bad reverse punch into a Wavemaster.
Do It On A Sensei: I’ve found putting students in a line and having them come up and perform a move (punch, block, take-down, or anything else) on me gets the students pumped.
For Katas, there are a couple of good exercises to disguise repetition:
Performance Levels: Instruct the students to perform a kata at three different levels of intensity – a ‘third place’ level that is a little sloppy; a second place level with more intensity; and finally a first place, full strength, full speed version.
Burn-Out: This is one I hated early in my training (remember, I started out at 40 years old AND at around 380 or so pounds!) but learned to love as I advanced. Burn-out is having a student do a kata three times at full speed/intensity without stopping. Having a student go all-out three times in a row will help with their endurance and cardio. The other thing you’ll find is that their form and technique improves as they go on. The reason being that, the more tired a student gets, the less they THINK and the more they DO. The burn-out helps save form into muscle memory and lets a student stop over-thinking.
These are just a few of the drills you can do with students to help disguise the repetition they need to go through in order to get their forms down. My personal goal in each class is to have students do whatever form or technique we’re working on at least a hundred times before class is over. Keep your students excited and engaged, and you’ll keep your students!
If you’ve got fun drills you’ve done in your own dojo, feel free to tell me about them in the comments below. I’m always interested in hearing what other teachers are doing.
-Mathias Nastos, The Karate Geek