Training Hard And Training Well Are Not The Same Thing
We want to get the most out of our training. We look up to people who train hard and constantly push themselves. It seems obvious that the harder you train the better you will be. In judo we respect the people who train harder, with more intensity than anyone else. All that sweat dripping on the mat has to mean something, doesn’t it?
I was practicing piano and one of my weaknesses there struck me as identical to problems most of us have in the dojo practicing budo. All practice is not equal. Some kinds of practice give far superior returns on the time and effort invested than other types of training. Poor training habits and techniques waste time. Worse, they can lead to ingraining bad habits and techniques which actually make us worse at what we are studying than we were before the training
I was practicing some etudes (French for, get this, kata) that are fundamental exercises for training the fingers on the piano. These are the boring exercises everyone rushes through so they can get to the good stuff, the real music, the real budo. Music etudes are like kihon waza practice in budo. These are the fundamental movements that you have to practice beyond the ability to do them properly, beyond the ability to do them properly without thinking about them, to the point where you can’t do them incorrectly.
The tricky part is practicing them correctly in the first place so you don’t develop bad habits that slow you down later. The first, most common, and biggest mistake with etudes and kihon waza is to treat them as mindless, boring exercises. These exercises teach your body and mind the most critical foundations of everything else you will do. If you try to rush them, or try to avoid thinking about them by thinking about your laundry or your job or your friends while doing them, you will likely be doing them wrong, and drilling this wrongness into your bones.
To do basics correctly as a beginner, you have to think about how you are doing them. When you have stopped being a beginner, you probably don’t have to think about the basics when you are doing more advanced things, but when you are practicing the basics you still need to think about them. If you don’t, you risk letting mistakes and poor technique slip in. You also miss all the benefits that come from mindful practice. Be aware of what you’re doing. As you are practicing basic techniques, look for things that can be improved. In 100 repetitions you’ll be lucky if you have 10 that you love. You’ll also be lucky if you only have 10 that you hate. The rest will be somewhere in between. The goal is to be aware of every repetition and to try and drag your worst reps up to the quality of your mediocre ones, and the mediocre reps up to the level of the best. Like all of budo, this is a never ending activity, since as soon as you improve, you’ll start trying to reach a higher level.
Another pitfall on the practice path is rushing. If you’ve ever heard a young (or in my case not so young) musician rush through a section of piece, you’ve heard how wrong rushing can be. Don’t rush your practice, even if you don’t have much time. Rushing through things is worse than not practicing. If you don’t practice, you don’t improve, but you also don’t pick up bad habits. If you rush something you are doing it at the wrong speed, which is just wrong. If you don’t have a lot of time, just do what you have time to do properly. When you rush, correct form is only the first thing that is lost. You also sacrifice the rhythm and feel of proper technique, and you lose the awareness of what you are doing. In this sort of situation, you’re training can only move backward as you reinforce bad form, bad timing and poor thought.
One of the most popular parts of Judo practice is also one of Judo practice’s biggest weaknesses. Randori, or Judo style sparring, is fun, so much fun that often students would rather do this than work on their basics. There are lot of things that can go wrong with randori though. The first problem is all that fun. We are all susceptible to this one. It’s easy to spend all our time doing the fun parts of training, whatever it is, and neglect the parts that don’t grab our attention and gratify our hearts. This is true in all arts, even in koryu budo where there is very little sparring type practice. There are some kata that are just more interesting, and others that frustrate me until I am ready to scream because I just never seem to get them right.