“I fear not the man who practices 10,000 techniques once, but the man who practices one technique 10,000 times holds my respect.”

I’ve liked this quote ever since I first heard it years ago from my then Sifu, but like a lot of quotes, there is danger in stretching it too far beyond its context. Let me explain.

Outside of my classes at the dojang, I’m a big believer in doing lots of small practice sessions. I’d much rather do a couple of 15 minute practise sessions every day than a couple of 1 hour sessions per week. I find I internalise the routines much faster and build the muscle memory more effectively with frequent small sessions. Not to mention that finding the willpower to do 15 minutes twice a day is much easier than bigger, less frequent sessions.

However, given I’ve just passed a grading, I’m at a tricky stage. I’m being introduced to new techniques in class, and I have to be careful how I start practising them.

Until I can perform the routines correctly, too much repetition brings the danger of imprinting incorrect technique, which will be harder to undo later. The flip side of this though, is that with too little practice I may not reach the point of being able to perform it correctly. Chicken, meet Egg.

So what do I do?

Here’s how I’m approaching this problem now:

  • Phase 1: While I’m learning the correct form, I still practise every morning. Initially though, I’m practising very slowly to ensure that I’m performing everything correctly. If needed, I’ll even start with just the footwork of a technique for a session or two, and once I’ve got that down then bring in the rest of the body. Importantly, at the end of every repetition I pause and correct my finishing form, to teach my muscles the right ending position, to imprint that muscle memory.
  • Phase 2: Once I can perform the technique correctly every time in Phase 1, I’ll increase the speed. But again, short sessions so I don’t get bored or tired and find myself falling into bad form. It’s also at this stage that I’ll start making a game of it, eg. If I’m setting out to do 30 reps of a technique, I might deduct 5 reps from my count for every error. A little incentive to get it right rather than get it done can be useful.
  • Phase 3: After my last grading experience, I’m adding a third stage, where I increase the intensity. Multiple techniques, almost no gap in-between.

I also find it more effective to fully engage the brain in the process as well. Rather than just grinding out rep after rep, for each one I focus on visualising my attacker and the scenario in as much detail as I can. I find this not only helps me internalise the technique faster, but again stops me from getting lazy and lapsing into bad form. However it necessitates short practise sessions, as keeping that level of focus up for very long is difficult.

I’m interested in hearing any other approaches, so leave a comment below if you have any other ideas.