My thoughts, opinions and experiences in Karate
As an instructor, I often complain about the number of classes per week that my students attend, and I am forever urging them to practise more at home in between classes. It is important to me that they put in some practice, in order to consolidate what we do in class.
But what constitutes "practice"? For that matter, what qualifies as "training"?
For practice, I ask my students to spend ten minutes each day working on their karate. They should work on their kata, to try to remember it and improve it. They should work on their kumite - even if they don't have someone in the house to work with them. They should work on their basics, especially stances.
"We don't have time", they often whine at me. (Maybe "whine" is a bit harsh, but it sometimes sounds that way.)
"Do you watch TV?" I ask. "Because if you do, there are probably ten minutes of adverts every hour in between programs on TV. I am not saying you can't watch TV; just that you could work on your kata during the advert breaks."
My other favourite is to advise students to work on their stances while brushing their teeth. Holding a stance for the duration of the teeth-brushing, morning and evening, is a great way to achieve two things at once.
My point, when making these suggestions to students, is that we can alway find time to practise, if we want to. When making a cup of tea, I will often do a kata while I am waiting for the kettle to boil, and another while I wait for the tea to brew. Some people may think I am obsessed, but I prefer to think of myself as dedicated. I frequently remind myself that the difference between talent and skill is practice.
Training, in my opinion, is more formal than practice. Training involves going to the dojo, or at least setting specific time aside, rather than fitting informal practise around your daily life.
But just going to the dojo and going through the motions is not real training. Many people have gone to the dojo for years, without actually doing any real training. When we train, we must commit fully to the training. We must focus our mind, body and spirit on that training, in that moment. We must push ourselves and go beyond our "limits". We must train in an environment that puts us under pressure; training with superiors whenever possible.
But actually, I consider that training starts long before we bow in at the dojo. Training starts when we wash and carefully fold our karate-gi. (I don't say iron the gi, because I never do, but that's a different story.) Training starts when we set our mind to training and prepare for it. Training has started when we are on the way to the dojo. I know students that cycle to the dojo. I had a student once who used to do a ten-mile run before coming into class (but he was a marathon runner and eventually had to stop training because his knees gave up on the ten-mile runs...).
I teach in two main locations. One is at my house. An hour before the first class of the day, I am focused on training. My wife knows by now that I will seem distracted if she tries to talk to me at that time. I check the dojo to make sure everything is in order. I mentally run through the class plan. I get my karate-gi ready. I turn on the lights and open up. I have already "started" long before the first student arrives.
At the second location, I drive 40 minutes to Dublin to teach. The journey is spent in mental preparation for the class. But the training starts when I have to pick myself up from the sofa, tired after my day, knowing that I have to make the journey through traffic to get to a cold school hall to teach. This is my discipline. This is my training. The teaching part is easy. The effort and dedication to be there are not.
A friend/student of mine recently drove 1,400km to attend one of my seminars. In a sports car on good motorways that could be done in about 12 hours. In a van, on roads in Ukraine and Russia, it took him 24 hours to get to the dojo. And another 24 hours for the return trip after the seminar. He must have been planning the journey for days beforehand. He must have been dreading the boredom and tiredness that all long-distance drivers know so well. But he was focused. He was determined. He was already training, long before the seminar started.
Later this month he will drive 1,000km each way to my next seminar. Not much shorter, but a bit. He has my respect, not so much because of his ability in the dojo, but because of his dedication. Because he understands that training starts long before the class does.