“I do not fear that man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced a kick 10,000 times.” – Bruce Lee
The highest level of mastery, of anything, is when a person can express themselves in a way that seems both effortless and unpretentious. We all marvel at athletes in a state of flow, yet everyone has heard a musician solo and knows when it feels forced. We have seen comedians try material that doesn’t land, and it could be as simple as they haven’t made it theirs yet. It’s been said that the way to Carnage Hall is practice, practice, practice.
Repetition alone is not enough to make a technique your own. You must practice deliberately. Eventually, you can internalize technique.
Your coaches have probably told you before that there is no substitute for mat time, and that’s true. More hours on the mat lead to better outcomes. However, we can focus our practice to squeeze more out of the hours on the mat and truly make technique our own expression of Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai. Here are some ways to get there.
Forget what doesn’t suit you
Look, we’re all different. We’re shaped different, have different attributes, different ages and different lives. The person working 60-hours weeks and barely eating can’t expect to do something that a 20-year-old student can. Likewise, the ones that seem to have all the advantages can miss out on the grit that comes only through grind. Either way, the fact of the matter is we have to be brutally honest wth ourselves. We must be honest about our virtues and limitations. When we do this, it’s easy to let go of things that do not serve us.
One thing to consider is: where do you find yourself most often? If you realize that you favor certain things naturally, a stance, an angle, a grip or a sequence, take a hard look at how you’re getting there. We all have things that come naturally to us and other things that don’t. We also have some things that just won’t click, but we need them to. When we’re honest about our technique, our capabilities and limitations, we can focus on things we need to develop and start improving.
Finding where to improve sometimes takes a coach. With or without a coach, filming your sparring or matches is a great way to see what is and isn’t working. When you’ve identified what needs to sharpen up, come up with a plan. Once that plan is made, execute it. At first, trying to get something into your game and make it yours feels like writing with the opposite hand, but with time and effort it becomes yours.
Start by repping the technique on a bag or partner until it becomes a groove. Everyone is different, so try how other people apply the technique and don’t be afraid to modify it to your needs. Afterall, it’s you that has to do it. Not everyone is Roger Gracie. Spend a few weeks in this stage getting the feel of something.
Once it begins feeling more natural, pressure test it. Go into sparring and don’t attempt anything else until you try the technique or sequence you’ve been working on. On our equals or people better than us, this usually doesn’t work. They’re too good and our new baby technique might not be ready for prime time yet.
This is a great opportunity to train with different people — new students or people a lot smaller or younger. Try your new thing on less experienced peope and see if it can work. If not, go back to repping and focus on the gaps where it’s been faling. When you come back to sparring hunting for this same technique, it’ll be there for you and much better than before.
Someties, new things don’t work for a long time. Failure isn’t really failure anyway. It is your first attempt. You have infinite chances as long as you keep showing up. Even partial failure isn’t failure. It’s a tiny win.
If you only got part of what you wanted in training with your new technique, this is a victory. Getting the position alone can be success. Getting the position, then the grip or angle can be the win. A win does not have to mean successful completion all of the time. You get to define success.
While you are getting better, so is everyone else. Some techniques can be grafted into your game quickly; some will take years to perfect. Most importantly, hang in there — unless you take a hard look and make an honest assessment to stop walking down down this path. However, if you are working on something that honestly suits your expression of the art, and you’re finding success with it (big or small) keep at it.
We live in a time where everything is instant. Movies are streamed. Food shows up at the door with the swipe of a thumb. We get across the country in hours. While all this technology helps a lot, the only software you can update here is your mind and attitude. Accept that things can take time. When new techniques don’t work out for you, explore if it they’re worth your time and effort to keep pursing. If you decide yes, then never give up on it. Eventually you’ll have it.
The academy = the lab
If this new idea of yours keeps getting your back taken or getting you smashed, so what? This beautiful piece of feedback helps you see if your new technique needs improvement or change. You’ll discover weak points. Be a little daring and try weird ways to get there, even if it means getting beat. It’s ok to lose at the academy. We’re training, not competing. We’re learning and experimenting.
Get creative and take risks. As the lab, the academy represents the place to tinker and explore, especially with partners you trust and who can present novel challenges for you. If you’re willing to do this, you’ll get better faster and probably have more fun than people that just want to win. You’ll get no money, medal or promotion for beating everyone in the room if you just stay the same.
Don’t be hard on yourself
None of us are good at things we haven’t done before, or things we haven’t done a lot of. Accept that getting smashed will hapen. Knowing why you keep getting smashed and going back to the lab become essential. Always look honestly at what you’re doing and what’s working.
There is this magical, blissful moment when the thing you’ve been working on becomes yours. You learned it from someone else, but chances are, you do it differently than they do. You know you’ve hit this level of mastery when you’re able to share that with others. Teaching it means learning it twice.
You don’t get any shortcuts
Adding a new technique or idea to your Muay Thai or BJJ isn’t easy. Martial Arts doesn’t care how much money you have, or how poor you are, if you have a lot of friends or juggle chainsaws on a unicycle. What we are talking about here is something that money and celebrity cannot get you.
The only way to success requires looking at yourself as honestly as possible and putting in the work. You won’t just get better, you’ll be better — at everything you do in life.