Tip #6: Accuracy

By now, you should have incorporated regular logging of your training. You’ve probably noticed that you can move better when you’re relaxed and that you can relax easier when you breathe. If you’ve been doing the balance drills and dynamic swings in your warm-ups, your kicks will have begun to show increased speed and control.

Today’s tip is about where to place attention when learning new techniques, or practicing ones you already know.

When we watch someone who is really good at a particular movement, we tend to want to emulate their skill. Unfortunately, it’s not usually as easy as just watching and doing. We have to train our bodies and minds to perform the movement correctly. Chances are that the people whose skills we wish to emulate practiced a great deal to refine their technique.

Technique

What is technique? In it’s most basic form, technique is performing a particular action that produces the desired outcome in the most mechanically efficient manner possible. Technique is good mechanics. Nobody begins Taido with a prior knowledge of proper technique – the movements we perform in training are just too far removed from daily life.

We have to develop good technical mechanics through practice.

Accuracy

The key to developing technique is accuracy, and this should be the first goal when practicing any movement.

When your instructor teaches you a new movement, you should pay close attention to performing it as precisely as possible. Don’t tense up (we already know that relaxation is preferable to tension), but focus on moving your body exactly as the technique dictates.

In Japan, we teach students to avoid “muri” and “muda” – impossibility and waste. This means to avoid either forcing the body to do things that are unnatural, or adding unnecessary movements. Accuracy simply means to make the technique as close to correct as possible – without forcing it or cheating it.

Ideally, we want to discover the exact mechanics of each technique that result in the most efficient and effective movement. This can take a lot of practice, but it’s the first step to mastery. People with excellent technique spent time developing accuracy.

Precision

After some time of practicing for accuracy, precision will naturally develop. As we refine the technique, we will begin to notice certain things that make the movement easier and better. As this happens, we will start to develop a habit of performing the movement the same way each time. We want this precision.

If accuracy is the first goal in mastering a particular movement, precision is the second.

Precision means that the body responds like a machine when performing that technique. You should almost feel as if your body is a robot – a precision instrument designed specifically for performing the task at hand. This increases efficiency. You want to be able to hit the same target time and time again with the same amount of power and perfect control of your balance. (Hint: exhale).

Precision leads to control.

Control

Once you can produce predictable results, it’s time to try and change those results. Control is the ability to be achieve a desired outcome. Once you can perform senjogeri precisely in it’s most basic form, you need to develop the ability to kick at different heights and distances and at different angles.

Control comes after precision because control requires us to predict the result of achieving a particular movement.

Speed and Power

Speed and power are often held up as markers of skill or mastery. They aren’t. At least, not until they accompany accuracy.

Speed without accuracy is hit-or-miss. We may be able to respond quickly, but that doesn’t mean our technique will be effective. We may have power, but if that power misses the target, it doesn’t do anything.

Accuracy is the key. Accuracy leads to precision, and precision leads to control. If we can control our techniques, increasing speed is just a matter of doing the same things at a faster rate. Once we have speed, power comes from directing the kick or punch to the target with proper alignment (which requires accuracy).

If you really want to get good at any physical skill, focus on accuracy first. Then come precision, control, speed, and power.

Accuracy is Goal Number One

It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out or have been doing Taido for over twenty years. You have to focus on accuracy. Make a point over the next two weeks to focus your attention on performing each technique as accurately as possible.

Avoid any muri or muda in your movements and strive to hit the same target each time. You’ll find that every technique you decide to practice in this manner will improve.

Tip #5: Swing

I hope you’re putting these tips to good use and beginning to see results in your training. This time, I want to give you a little advice on stretching that you can apply in every practice.

As in the last tip on balance, I mentioned this one in my warm-up article. I’m repeating it here because it’s important on it’s own. It also complements the last tip in improving your kicking skills.

Building Dynamic Flexibility For Kicks

Dynamic flexibility is the ability of muscle tissue to allow a particular range of motion in a dynamic fashion. Taido is a dynamic martial art, and kicks especially require muscles to release quickly.

The common method of dynamic stretching is the swing kick. Most students have done this. Before I describe the technique, allow me to emphasize that swing kicks should only be done after the muscles are warm. They can be a component of the overall warm-up routine, but take extra care not to force the muscles into these stretches without adequate preparation.

The stretch is very simple. Stand as if about to execute a front kick. Swing the rear leg forward as if kicking, but do not bend the knee. Start out low – about knee height – and gradually increase the amplitude (height) of the swing for five or ten repetitions. Then switch legs and do the other side.

I recommend doing at least two sets per side. You should also do leg swings to the side and back. I’ll let you figure out the specific technique for these on your own, as they are both “easier done than said.”

If you’re unsure of how to do dynamic stretching in a particular direction, ask your instructor. I tend to do swing kicks after doing my slow kicks or 4CBD for balance. So my warm-up usually includes a sequence that looks like this:

  1. balance work
  2. swing kicks
  3. basic kicks

Of course, I do other things, too, but that should give you an idea of how to plug these in to your training.

Other Dynamic Stretches

Swing kicks are not the only way to stretch the body for dynamic action. Not all dynamic stretches target the legs. However, these are the most basic and important dynamic stretches to make sure you include at every practice (and even between practices if you want to dramatically increase your kicking ability).

If you have the time and space, I recommend doing these three movements (front, back, and side leg swings) every day after warming up the body and working on your balance. If you can’t do it every day, at least take about two minutes during your Taido practice to fit them it.

Resources

For more information of dynamic stretching and overall flexibility, check out Tricks Tutorials:

I recommend incorporating these techniques into your training gradually. Doing too much too soon will certainly cause you more harm than good. Begin with building the habit and build your abilities from that base.

Finally, don’t forget to keep a training journal. It was the first tip for a reason – it’s probably the most important- if you’re doing it, you’ve probably already seen why. If you don’t try it, you’ll never know how much it can help.

Tip #8: Posture

Some people have good posture. Others don’t. Students who already have excellent posture don’t need this tip. The rest of us need to get our acts together.

Of all the difficult-to-break bad habits, poor posture may be the king. There are a lot of reasons that poor posture is so common today, but that doesn’t make it healthy, or optimal for performance. If your normal standing posture isn’t up to par, you can bet that your posture during Taido techniques and movements is also sub-par.

Common Postural Errors

  • Butt sticking out in chudan kamae
  • Rounded upper spine in untai keritsuki
  • Bent back in ebigeri
  • Concave chest when punching

Benefits of Improved Posture

  • reduced tension and pain
  • better balance
  • easier movement
  • improved transfer of power into punches and kicks

Proper alignment puts the joints in their natural, healthy positions. This reduces tension and leads to greater ease of motion. Keeping your spine straighter makes it easier to balance and helps direct the force of your techniques into their targets.

Making Corrections

Knowing that we have so much to gain by improving our posture, the only thing left is to get to work.

Easier Said Than Done

The thing is, we all know that posture is important, but that doesn’t make it any easier to improve. As with any other habit change, there are two keys to success: awareness and consistency. If you’ve been keeping up with the tips so far, you know how to use these keys – write and review your training journal before and after each practice.

It’s Up to You

Teaching you how to fix your posture is beyond my powers as a writer. Whole books have been devoted to this topic, and I suggest you read one or two. Yes, your posture really is that important, both to your health and your Taido performance.

My best recommendations for improving posture are to take up yoga or finding a teacher in the Alexander or Feldinkrais Methods.

Do a little research and find out what the best strategy for fixing your own postural issues would be. Then begin to implement it consistently in your training.

Homework

So until next time, try to take notice of your posture during Taido practice.  Pay attention to times when your spine bends and any tensions or pains you have in your back. See if you can feel a difference in your techniques when you are conscious of your posture.

Tip #7: Perfection

We’ve all heard that practice makes perfect. In fact, this is totally untrue.

We naturally improve at whatever we do often, even if that just means we become very good at sitting in front of the TV. We are always practicing, even when we don’t think we are.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

Is your practice perfect?

The last tip dealt with accuracy. If you practice accuracy, you can expect to become more accurate with each practice. But what happens if you practice an inaccurate technique? You get very good at doing it wrong.

Everyone has experience with unintentionally developing bad habits that are hard to break. We all have them. These come as a result of practicing poorly. We may not have thought we were practicing a bad habit, but every time we repeat something, we get better at reproducing that result – we are practicing it. Bad practice makes us bad.

The way to turn this around and put it to proactive use is to be aware of what you are practicing. Pay attention to the things you do during training. Is your practice perfect? Are you executing each movement as accurately as you can? Are you focused on improving? Or are you simply moving to keep up with the instructor’s count?

Don’t keep repeating bad technique. If you’re not going to practice to the best of your ability, stop. Rest. Drilling sloppy technique will do nothing but instill tons of bad habits and make it incredibly difficult for you to change your ways later.

As one of my old band members used to say “half-assed practice makes you look like a total ass on stage.” If you practice with poor form, be prepared to look bad when you perform. If you really want to be good at this Taido stuff, make an effort to make as much of your practice as perfect as possible.

Tip #10: Watch The Foot

OK, so last time I asked you to be mindful of your foot and knee alignment and glossed over some of the reasons that this is important from a biomechanical perspective. Good stuff, and if you actually practiced it, you should be noticing better control of most of your techniques by now.

Today, I want to explore a tactical reason for being in control of your lower-body joint alignment. Actually, I’ll leave the exploring to you, as this point is so obvious (when you’re looking for it) that it won’t require much explanation at all.

Here it is:

When you are practicing jissen, pay attention to the direction of your opponent’s front foot.

 

Simple, right?

Why this is a good thing to pay attention to should be pretty easy to guess since some techniques are easier or more difficult with varying degrees of foot/knee alignment. All techniques make use of the foot/knee joint system in various ways, but the front foot will always control the targeting and momentum generation for the initial body movement.

Imagine standing in kamae with the left leg forward. If your foot is pointed to the right, it will be easier to perform senjogeri than it would to do shajogeri. Turn your foot the other way, and the opposite is true. Now you have a way to guess which techniques your opponent is likely to attack with.

Most players in jissen will tend to turn their foot slightly in the direction they want to move at they step in before initiating the attack. In extreme cases, you’ll even see some people putting their bodies in position for a certain technique well before they are close enough to attack, but even higher-level Taidoka will turn the foot, even when they are trying to mask their body mechanics.

Many people feint with their heads and hands, but their feet will give away their intended movements

Watch for this. It’s easier to begin being on the lookout while you’re not in the match yourself. Just notice it in other students’ matches. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself knowing what attack is coming more often. Responding appropriately is another matter all together, but knowing what’s coming is a big help in it’s own right.