You Get Out What You Put In

RJJ LogoYou will notice that I frequently mention two concepts. The first one is journey. To me, the martial arts are a journey, a process. Something that is on going, never ending. The second one is of differing views. Every one has different life experiences and different physical attributes. This colors your perceptions. I know this article is going to be about practicing but I wanted to start off by tying everything together.

Some people have the view that you go to class to practice. That is fine and after years you will eventually get decent at the art. However, I am of the view point that you also have to practice outside of class. I don’t necessarily mean practicing punching and kicking at your house. I am not talking about taking rolling falls in the back yard. I am not encouraging you to practice that new wrist lock on your kids, or showing your spouse that you can, in fact, take them down.

Instead I am speaking more of the intangibles. Things like practicing situational awareness, learning how to watch things from the corner of your eye, learning how to recognize potential threats before they become threats. I encourage you to visualize techniques, going through them in your mind as if you were actually performing them.

Mental Skills

Peripheral Vision

I used to sit in the chair, outside of the dojo at the swim center, and stare straight ahead. I would practice using my peripheral vision. I would see how close people could get to me before I could see them coming. I noticed the more I practiced, the better I got, that is the further away I could notice them.

It is hard to focus on things out of the corner of your eyes. You don’t get many details. However, you can get good at detecting motion. If the motion is coming at you fast, that should be a warning sign to pay more attention. The further away you can detect that motion, obviously the quicker you can be warned of potential threats.

People Watching

Some thing I like to practice now, is watching people. See how they move, how aware or not aware they are. See what they focus on, what they notice. I watch to see how close they let others get to them before they are aware of them.
You can infer a lot about people by how they walk. Do they walk heavy? Do they limp? Do they almost float along? Do they stagger? If you see someone staggering towards you, that is a sign you should check your surroundings.

I have noticed, at least out east here, people don’t pay attention. They are wrapped up in their own lives. They are either on their phone or looking right in front of their feet, totally oblivious to the wider world around them. Criminals have a name for these type of people… targets. I have stood still just to see how many people will notice me or run into me… some of them even apologize after colliding with me.

You have to be aware of your surroundings. It is a skill that has to be practiced, just like striking, kicking, falls, and all the rest. I know how easy it is to slip into autopilot. You drive to work, passing the same things, day in and day out. Your senses get numbed and you stop paying attention. To me, the first rule of self defense, is being aware of your surroundings. I feel this is something we all need to work on, and far too often ignore.

You don’t have to run around, sneaking up on people. Just pay attention. Take time to smell the roses as they say. Observe and react to those around you. I can’t say it enough, be aware of your surroundings.

Physical Skills

Earlier I mentioned I was not talking about practicing punching and kicking. This is only half true, I feel that practicing those things outside of class are of great benefit. However, I feel that is just part of the equation. Some things that I practice outside of class are things like stances, strikes, kicks, and footwork.

Master Doug used to suggest some things to do and I completely agree with him. One of his favorites is to get into a main stance and slowly squat or lower your center and then raising back to a normal main stance during commercials. It is a great exercise helping strengthen muscles used in kicking. I would add in doing this slow squat motion with all my stances.

I have a couple of favorites to add. The first one I like to do is kicks. However, I prefer to do them as slowly as I can. When you do this, you don’t get the bounce or motion and momentum that helps you get the kick higher. Doing slow front snap kicks (about a 10 seconds per kick) I find I can only kick about knee high. When I do them with ‘full speed and power’ I can kick to the sternum on myself. I practice all my kicks this way. 10 kicks per leg, slow and steady. It really works the muscles as you lose the advantage of momentum.

My next new exercise is a strength and balance exercise. I get into a stance (I use the ‘Aikido’ stance but use whatever works best for you), and raise my left (front) leg into the chamber position so that the thigh is parallel to the floor. I hold this here during the whole exercise. While in this position, I throw three left hand jabs and then slowly squat on my base (right) leg. That is one rep. I am doing 5 reps before switching sides.
I try to do a different exercise each commercial break. I tend to alternate, doing stances one break, kicks the next, etc. Before I know it, I have moved through each exercise.

The last thing I like to work on is footwork. What I mean by this is simple, I practice shifting stances. I will start moving forwards and backwards in a stance. Then I will practice moving forward, turning, and moving back the way I came. Next I will practice moving from stance to stance; not left to right but actual stances like Karate stance to Judo stance to Aikido stance to Crane stance.

The last part of working on my footwork is that I practice slowly, working to ensure that my balance is good through the whole motion. Starting with stance, the transition to the new stance or other side. I want everything to be smooth and balanced.

In Conclusion

Mat time or class time is only part of the equation. You need to work on your skills outside of class to truly get better. I like to think of it as learning an instrument. You go to your lessons where your instructor gives you feedback and tips. However, if you only practice at your lesson, you will never reach your full potential.

These are skills and need to be practiced. If you don’t practice, your skills degrade. Your timing starts to get off, you lose your flexibility, and eventually you will begin to forget the techniques themselves.

I titled this article, ‘You get out what you put in‘. This is true of all things in life. The more effort you put into your passions, the more rewards you get out. You can’t do this half way and expect greatness. So train hard, learn what you can from who you can, and have fun!

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About the Author

My name is Clayton Søby and I am a Nidan from Rushmore Jukite Ju-Jitsu. I started studying Jukite Ju-Jitsu in August 2001. I still train when I can. In the meantime, I keep busy writing a monthly column for the website and studying Aikido here in Maryland. I hope to see you in class whenever I can make it back to visit.