Self Training

Self Training


Some Karate enthusiasts prefer to train alone. Others find it necessary, perhaps due to unusual work hours or their remote location away from others who train. Instructors who have many beginners in their classes may find it difficult to train along with their students. For whatever reason, many people train alone on a regular basis, or at least try to. This article is meant for them.

How often?
While some may have time for only a couple of hours of exercise each week, others may find that they actually have a couple of hours every day, when adding up all the 10-15 minute periods of available time. Even while I was working 70-80 hours per week in Tokyo, I found that I had at least an hour or so during the week and several hours on the weekends to train. My main problem, though, was that these times usually did not coincide with the hours of operation for the dojo.

How long?
Training more than 30 minutes at a time may be difficult for some busier people. For shorter sessions, though, do not skip the warm-up/stretching entirely. To abbreviate a stretching session might be fine, if only concentrating on a certain technique and/or if the training is not very physically demanding. But at least make sure the muscles are warmed up sufficiently and that the muscles have already stretched to a point before the practice beyond which they will not stretch during the exercise. Practicing a technique for only 10 minutes can be beneficial to your training, if done with the right attitude and attention to detail.

Is it really important to get to a proper dojo if you’re the only one there? When it comes down to it, isn’t any space good enough? While a wooden floor is ideal for most types of practice, the reality of self-defense tells us that training in a variety of locations might have some advantage. Stopping to do a few blocks and punches while in the middle of a short run might make very good sense, for example. A small room can even suffice for an entire kata performance, if all the moves are done one step at a time, with shifts in between.

This is probably what you are after in this article. What techniques should be practiced? This is obviously up to the individual. Here is my idea. If time is short, practice only the most basic techniques for repetition, then add more complex kata and combinations in moderation to review the wider range of techniques. When I only had 30 minutes or so in the evenings, for example, I would often do 100+ each of pushups (with feet on the stairs), sittups (some variation) and squats, along with some kicks and punches.
Sometimes, for example, I would practice a few hundred kicks over the arm of my sofa, to ensure that I was properly lifting my leg high. Other times I would do kizamizuki/gyakuzuki combinations at a jacket hanging on the wall for target practice. Still other times I would do block/counter combinations, with various stepping/shifting patterns. All of this would either follow a 20-minute bike ride back from the office or some other activity for a warm-up,, with a short stretching period for the days I did more kicking. I would do kata on the weekends to round things out.

You may want to vary your practice routine, to keep from becoming bored. But remember that most techniques would not be usable in a real-life encounter unless practiced on a regular basis. For this reason, I would select a focus for a particular day, but keep the techniques basic and practice many repetitions of whatever techniques are the focus that day. Additionally, if you are not sure if your technique is correct, better not practice it too much; habits become hard to break. A wise man said “Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” For 3-days/week, maybe have one day for punches/strikes, one day for blocks, and one day for kicks, with some shadow-boxing and kata thrown in as well.

Keeping track
Keeping a journal of progress and ideas may seem childish. But it really is helpful sometimes. It doesn’t have to be a detailed record of every technique you practice. Especially when a new concept is studied or a new theory is developed, however, I suggest you write it down for reference. I kept a journal of some of the classes I attended in Japan. In hindsight, I should have written more. Better late than never–I have created lengthy lists of training and technical theories since then, which I refer to when I am in need of a new subject to teach my class or particular focus for my individual training.

Thinking about it
Although it may seem obvious to you, some people don’t realize that using the mind is important to physical training. Maybe you don’t have time to physically practice your Karate everyday. But is there absolutely no time at all for thinking about Karate? While thinking, reading and talking about Karate are no substitute for physical training, they can be great complements, helping make the physical portion of your practice time more efficient. I became accustomed to making almost half of my training non-physical in nature during my busiest times at work. Don’t get into an accident while driving, or get into trouble for day-dreaming at work or school. But when you have nothing else going on for a few minutes, maybe the time would be more productively spent thinking about Karate technique, strategy, or other training points. And again, write down important revelations for reference when you have time to get physical.

Training with others
Take the opportunity to train with others when you can. Some instructors think that they should not practice with their students. This may be OK for someone with enough time to train separately. But for some of us, there isn’t that much additional training time available. Also, when an instructor comes to visit the area, do not make excuses such as “I’m not in shape” or “He’s not an instructor in my organization.” If there is an opportunity that looks like it has value, don’t let it pass you by.

Bringing it all together
Training with others is valuable for improvement. But independent training can also be rewarding. This is a time to focus on yourself; not to compare yourself to others. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, right? If you want to work out to work out, there may be other options just as good as Karate. If you have decided that you want to do Karate, though, think about your objectives and get to it. And, as always, don’t forget to smile once in a while, even when training alone. It may be hard work, but training should be enjoyable, too.

Also see article on Training Self-Tests.

For more on the subject of training by yourself, please see

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published September 1999)