Just Shut Up and Train
I have often been accused of teaching some of the most “cerebral” Karate classes. I admit that I like to have my students think about what they are doing, or at least what they are supposed to be doing, and why. But that does not mean that we use our brains instead of the rest of our bodies. I like to say that in my dojo “we train hard but we also train smart.”
Thinking about your training can help you get more out of it. It should accelerate your learning path. You still have to put in the time at the dojo, repeating movements and techniques to work the ideas into your body movements. But if you analyze your movements, you can make them better, and do that more quickly than by just repeating the movements without applying any thought to them. In fact, repeating incorrect movements over and over could make things even worse than if you had never done them at all. Repetition can create a negative muscle-memory (bad habit) which can take longer to “unlearn” than someone without any knowledge of the movement or technique could pick it up.
I usually encourage students to ask questions. But I also sometimes remind them that when there is a question, the first person to ask is oneself. Next, it would probably be a good idea to ask another student for his or her opinion; perhaps all that was needed was another viewpoint to make things clear. If these do not provide a sufficient answer, then ask an instructor. Of course if it is a question concerning how to do a certain exercise we are doing at that particular moment in the class, the question should be asked of the instructor right away.
This being said, there is a time for quiet contemplation and/or simply training for the sake of training, without any questions or explanations.
Once we sufficiently understand a given technique, we should practice it with increasing speed and tension, making sure to build the muscle-memory gradually and with enough control to maintain the proper form that we have already analyzed and proven to be correct. Even a very basic movement or technique, such as a stationary gyakuzuki (reverse-punch) can actually be quite complex when analyzed in detail. However, after we have a good understanding of the way it is to be done, repeating that movement (correctly) becomes essential if we are to really get our bodies to be able to execute it naturally and immediately when needed. There comes a time when we should repeat such a movement without thinking much about it.
There are fewer than a dozen classes each year at my dojo where I do not try to teach anything, maybe fewer than 5 some years. But, sometimes, usually when there are just advanced members for an evening or on certain special occasions, I may just line up with everyone else (not in front, in my usual position as instructor) and train for the sake of training. I go through repetition after repetition with everyone else in an effort to get my body to make sure it knows how to go into auto-pilot. The only reason I may need to use my brain actively is to push my body when it says it has had enough.
“Shut up and train” is something that is apparently still heard on a regular basis at many traditional dojo. There is a time to think and there is a time to train. Personally, I think the best is almost always a combination of the two; think about training while training. But, just as you are at this moment thinking about what you are reading, sometimes we need to just train without thinking about anything except perhaps the count (how many chances you have left to get it right more than how many have been done; or reaction to the sound of the count). We may need to convince the body to keep going after it complains about muscle soreness, for example by thinking about how good training makes us feel (or at least how good we will feel after it is over!).
Train hard. But train smart. But most importantly…keep training.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published December 2003)