Unequal training

I think I may have to coin this phrase, trademark it, write a few books, and get on the seminar circuit. The idea of “unequal training” as a strategy for learning is not mine alone. It was presented to me years ago and I have tried to incorporate it into my routine. However, I will take credit for the nice catch phrase. I love the term mostly because it sounds so counter-intuitive to what we should be doing.

If you have spent even one day in any martial arts class in the world, you have been introduced to balanced training. Punch with your right hand, then your left, then your right, then your left, etc. Use both sides equally. Kick, block, step with both arms and both legs equally. It certainly makes sense, especially as we try and overcome our inherent left or right-handedness. To use your whole body in martial arts you have to develop it all equally.

However, the same logic is often applied to the entire, and steadily increasing, mountain of material that you are learning. After even a few years of training you may well be trying to keep up on a dozen or more kata. You might also have weapons kata to remember, drills to run, grappling techniques to practice. In the first style I studied there were over twenty kata and, with weapons, over thirty. Just remembering it all took a lot of practice time. My current style has ONLY twelve kata but now I have been shown another eleven weapons kata along with drills and exercises and there is no end in sight.

Realistically, unless you practice all day, every day, you can’t train that much material to any real proficiency. Yet, at the same time, how do you decide what is important and what is not if your instructors felt that you should know all of this? How will you know where, in all that material, are the movements you most need and will most gain from? You don’t know what to give up and you can’t benefit from training it all equally.

Time for some unequal training. First, promise yourself you won’t forget anything you have been taught. Set aside time each week or month to review all the material for memorization purposes only. Don’t let too much time go by between these sessions. If the material hasn’t been practiced a lot, it doesn’t take much time to forget it.

Once you have scheduled your memorization sessions, pick one kata or drill and make it your focus for a week or a month at a time. Put all your serious energy into internalizing that one exercise. Pull all the lessons you can out if it and don’t switch to another until you have noticed real improvement.

Question. Will I develop further and faster by practicing all twelve katas, one time a day, for twelve months; or by practicing one kata a month, twelve times a day, for a year? Despite this being the same amount of total practice, I will improve faster by focusing on one kata a month. This is because the greater repetition of one set of movements will allow me to refine the universal elements found in all the kata. When I move on to the second month (and second kata), I won’t have to relearn those ideas because there is a greater chance they will be ingrained in everything I do from that point on. This is the great benefit to unequal training.

Remember everything but, as I wrote in one of my earliest posts, we have to find ways to move beyond memorization. Unequal training has helped me accomplish this and I hope it helps you too.

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