Whether you’re a long time student or a new beginner, there’s always lots to learn in a martial arts class. It can be overwhelming sometimes. How can you maximise your learning in each class?
If you don’t know what you’re trying to learn, how are you going to know the best way to achieve it? Long term goals are important, but what I’m talking about here is a goal for each class you attend.
If you’re a complete beginner, your goal could be something as simple as “learn how to stand properly”, “learn how a class is structured” or even “learn if this martial art is something I enjoy”!
Once you’ve been to a few classes, you could start with more specific things. Improve your punching technique, get better at a technique on your next grading syllabus, learn the name of a specific thing, and so on. Some of these goals might span a few classes, or you might have a selection of mini-goals which you pick from when you find out what the class will be studying that day. It’s no good having a goal of improving your punches if Sensei is trying to teach kicks!
(On that note, if you do have something very specific you want to improve or ask about, try to catch the Sensei before the class – they might be able to work it into their lesson plan.)
The point is not to be too rigid about it, but to know what you’re trying to achieve.
It seems obvious, but if you’re not paying attention you’re not going to learn much.
The Japanese have a phrase – ichigo ichie – which is sort of equivalent to “sieze the day”. You have one life, one opportunity. You can never stand in the same river twice, so make sure you pay attention when you do.
By “pay attention” I don’t just mean “listen to the teacher when they talk”, but also “pay attention to your own body, how it feels when it does the moves. Think about the principles you’re applying. Pay attention to your partner’s body and what it does when you do certain things. Which brings us to:
Work with your partner(s)
Everyone has something to teach. Everyone has something to learn. In Shorinji Kempo (and in many martial arts) we aim to work together to improve everyone.
If you’re working with a partner you should be trying to help each other understand. Each of you will know something different. Share that knowledge freely and accept what is shared in return.
And try to work with lots of different partners. Everyone has slightly different viewpoints, different ways of explaining. And different bodies! Try them all out and you’ll find it easier to identify the common principles that make the technique work on everyone.
Take it seriously
The more effort – both physical and mental – you put in, the more you will learn. There are no shortcuts here, no way to avoid the work.
Treat each class as a study opportunity, and put in some work outside of class too. That thing that your teachers tried to tell you about going over your notes after a class to make sure you understand everything you were taught? That applies here too.
And yes, it’s perfectly ok to ask the Sensei if you can have five minutes to write something down if you’re being taught something complicated!
But not too seriously
If you’re not having fun, something is wrong. The practice of a martial art should be rewarding – mentally and physically stimulating. It should be something that you look forward to doing, the highlight of your week. You should have friends in the dojo, and you should not be afraid to smile or laugh as you talk to them.
If you follow these guidelines you should get a lot out of each and every class. Soon you’ll find yourself making more progress than you imagined was possible.