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Kovar Systems
Point to Ponder

My 12 Rules of Martial Arts Training

By Dave Kovar

It is my belief that in order to be a quality martial arts teacher, I ought to be continuing with my training. So over the years, I have developed a series of training rules that have proven effective in my development and my longevity. It started out as more of an unconscious thing, but as time goes by, I’ve become more mindfully aware of these rules. The reality is, when I put these rules into practice, good stuff happens. Perhaps you will find them valuable for your training as well.

  1. Empty your cup. Most martial arts schools have a practice of bowing onto the mat before training and bowing off the mat after training. There might be several reasons why this is practiced, but for me, the most important reason is it gives me a chance to empty my cup. What I mean by this is when I bow, I try to leave both my preconceptions and my preoccupations at the edge of the mat, so I can enter with a clear mind, ready to learn. Making this a ritual before each training session can really aid in practice.
  2. Be present focused. The second step follows the first step nicely. Even though I make an effort to leave my outside worries at the mat’s edge when I enter, it’s still normal to be distracted at some point during class. Our mind can wander to what happened at work today or what we are going to eat for dinner tonight. The more we can become aware of our distractions though, the sooner we can overcome them. As it was once said “The secret of true concentration lies in the acceptance of endless distractions”. When you find yourself distracted, simply acknowledge the thought, and then re-focus on the task at hand. Over time, your focus will improve dramatically.
  3. Don’t compare.  It’s common for us to compare ourselves with other people that we share the mat with. Sometimes when we compare we might look really good, other times not as much. It really depends on who we compare ourselves to. The challenge is, comparisons are never fair. Everyone is running their own race. Sometimes I find myself comparing myself to a younger version of me. This is not fair either. The best thing that we can do is focus on giving our best.
  4. Be thorough with your warm-up. As I mature and age, this rule is becoming more important than ever. Beginning training with a good warm-up is a great habit for people of all ages, but it’s really a necessity for older Martial Artists. Nearly every injury that I have sustained in the last decade has been due to a lack of warm-up.
  5. Focus on one detail at a time. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot of room for improvement. If I tried to fix all of my flaws at the same time, I would get nowhere. I have found a better approach is to focus on one detail at a time. It’s the exact same thing that I would do with the student. Once I feel like I’ve made more progress, I might focus on another detail. A great question to ask yourself while training is “what am I learning right now?”
  6. Visualize the application. Is it real? Once you have a movement down well, I believe it’s important to imagine the situation where you might apply it. It might on the mat, in a ring, in a cage, or in a back alley. Remember, the more vivid you can make it, the better prepared you will be.
  7. Embrace fatigue. As of Vince Lombardi once said, “poor endurance makes cowards of us all”. Not only does training fatigued help us to become better conditioned, but perhaps more importantly, it gets us comfortable being uncomfortable. Chances are very good that if we ever have to defend ourselves, we will be fatigued. And if we’ve been there before, it will be easier for us to call upon the courage and tenacity that it’s going to take to overcome. Just remember that when training fatigued, make sure not to overdo it. Pick safe drills where the risk of injury is minimized.
  8. Be consistent. This is an often neglected rule. It is been my experience that you will not find an active Martial Artist over 50 that is not consistent. Inconsistency leads to injury. As my dad always said, “a little of something is better than a lot of nothing“. Try to get some training in every day
  9. Train safe. Listen to your body. As I mentioned earlier, training while fatigued is important, however it also can lead to injury. That’s why it’s so important to pick your techniques and partners wisely and make sure that what you’re doing is age-appropriate and skill appropriate.
  10. To Be Fast... Go Slow. Over the years, in my hurry to do a movement quickly, I have glossed over some details to only later have to go back and re-learn something. It is been my experience that relearning something is a lot harder than learning it right the first time. That’s why I try to focus on going slow and being smooth until I get a movement down really well, and then I gradually pick up speed. The result is that you develop less bad habits and more efficient movement, which leads to greater speed and power
  11. Stay Playful. Keep it fun. Everyone started training for different reasons, but what keeps people coming back decade after decade is not self-defense or fitness, it’s enjoyment. I find it really valuable to create an environment that makes it easier to have fun. Do the right drill; pick the right partner, whatever it takes to keep the process fun.
  12. Constantly review and evaluate. Have you ever had to relearn the same technique several times because you didn’t practice in between sessions? I thought so; me too. It has been my experience that if I take time at the end of a training session to think about what I’ve learned and perhaps even review it, then I retain it much better. This seems obvious now, but it took me decades to figure out.

I hope you find these rules as valuable for you as they have been for me and that they help you to continue with your training. Remember, martial artist first, teacher second, and businessman third!

Happy training!

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by Dave Kovar