Insights and Training Tips from Tactical Arts


Insights from the Tactical Arts Academy
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How to Make Every Repetition Count when Training the Filipino Martial Arts



With a busy life, getting in just a little time for training can be difficult. Though I own a school and teach Kali and Silat full time, I find it difficult to carve out some extra time to practice on my own. Because of this, I want to be sure my students and I both get the most out of our training sessions in class and out.

To do this, every repetition must count. You can’t afford to waste time when training. This is not to say you cannot enjoy the training. In fact, you must “play” with the technique to get to know it, to explore it.

The key is that you stay engaged. 
Pay attention to each movement you make and determine if you need to make any adjustments to the next one. If you want to improve, repetition alone will not cut it. Included here are a few basic tips on getting the most out of your practice through analysis and repetition.

Know what you want


Have a clear image of what you want your technique to look like. Know how it functions when done properly. When you know what your goal is, then you can move towards it. Watch demonstrations of the technique closely. Take notes on the technique. Review video footage of the technique. A good instructor will demonstrate the technique slowly and point of important areas to watch, such as the proper footwork, hand placement or position. Ask to see the movement demonstrated more than once in class when you are learning it. The more clear your mental image of the proper technique, the better chance you have of replicating it.

Have some standards

Identify the standards of your technique. Determine what qualifies as the proper execution of the technique. Identify what specifics must you do to make the technique viable.

To identify those standards, ask yourself questions like:

  • What is the actual target?
  • What is the proper angle for the strike or movement?
  • What is the proper distance?
  • What is the full range of motion?
  • Do I need to retract the weapon each time before the next strike?
  • Do I need to hold my wrist at a certain angle to make it work?
  • Does the strike need to be at a certain angle to protect my head or body?
  • Etc.

Find out what has to happen to make the technique work. Identify what parts of it, if any, have a tolerance for a little bit of sloppiness in the execution. Not everything will be perfect when you execute the technique at full speed. Sometimes that is ok. It just depends on the technique. However, the more precise you can be in your practice, the better your results will be in application.

Do not progress until you get it right


Break any compound movement, combination, or sequence of movements into parts. Practice those parts separately, then combine them, piece-by-piece, into larger combinations until you have returned to the whole sequence. This approach allows you to give focus to each element of the combination. This focus will help you pay attention to details that you may otherwise miss or have trouble identifying if you only practice the entire sequence. Allow yourself the time to get the individual parts right before progressing on. You should often test your ability to put the parts together so you can evaluate your progress, but do not move on until you really do have each part coordinated.

Get the mechanics right, then make sure they are consistent. First, focus intently on getting the right movement coordinated. Learn the proper mechanics. Understand the details. Then, keep practicing until you can consistently perform those mechanics. As you improve, you will be able to perform the technique properly without needing to be conscious of all the details. You want to continue to work on the mechanics until you can perform the technique without your full attention being required to get it right. If you are still holding the technique together mentally, "elbow down, wrist straight, hips loaded, mouth closed…,” then you just need to continue until you can do it without thinking. Do this before you add full speed and power.

Test it out

Once you feel you can perform the movement according to your standards and without too much conscious effort, add speed and power to the technique. Test the boundaries of your performance, then slow down and back off the power in order to analyze the failure points and fix them. Once you have remediated the problem areas of the technique, test it again. See how fast you can take the movement. If you can go faster than you did on previous tests, before your technique breaks down, then you are making progress.

Check left and right

Though the process is initially dangerous for your ego, you will get more out of practicing strikes and other single handed techniques with both your dominant and your non-dominant hand. Whether you refer to them as your "right hand" and your "wrong hand," your "good hand" and "bad hand" or "strong hand" and "weak hand," you only have two hands. Don’t neglect one of them.

I have found that when students frequently switch from their right hand to their left hand and back when practicing, they get better coordinated in a shorter period time than if they do everything with one hand, then, in a later session, do everything with the other. When they train with both during the same session, they often need fewer repetitions to get it right.

I believe this is because when practicing with both hands, you constantly compare the details of executing the technique with one hand, then the other. You become more engaged because you are forced to examine the performance of both your dominant hand as well as your non-dominant hand. You watch how your right hand does the movement, then you try to replicate the movement with the left. After that, you return to your right to see more detail and to check and see if your left moves more like your right. When you do this, you question the quality of both. You are forced to identify the precise angle, the hand, elbow, arm placement, the range, and the other details of the movement needed to execute the technique well. This is good practice.

Final Thoughts

Follow the tips above and you will get the most out of your repetition and maybe save a little time too. There are really no secrets in training. The tips above are mostly common sense. You just have to do the work. If you find pleasure in the work, then nothing can stop you. With each improvement you gain, let that progress feed your motivation to keep going. Just make sure that with every rep, you don't just count it, you make it count.

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