Monday, August 18, 2014

What I learned at the WTKO Training Camp, part 4

continued from part3.

4. Go slow.

This is a point that I’ve seen a lot of people write about in physical training, both those in favor of it as well as caveats against it.  Practicing a technique fast means you cannot study what your body is doing and it’s harder to fix the problems.  You may learn sequence and you may get a good workout by going, but are you getting better?

The biggest benefit to practicing slow is that it’s hard!  Ever try to kick something slowly?  Regardless of whether or not you practice martial arts, imagine standing on one leg, bringing the other knee up towards the chest, extending the foot so the leg is straight, then recoiling the foot back and then down to the floor, and take about 12-15 seconds to do one rep. You’ll have muscles working hard to support your balance and leg extension.  After a few of these in a row, odds are you WILL be sore, where you can do dozens of those fast – maybe even hundreds if you’re trained – before you get sore.  So going slow works the muscles in a much harder way, on a basic level.

Even kneeling is hard when it’s slowed down.  Chieko Kojima (from Kodo and Hanayui) does a drill where you start standing and slowly kneel to a 10-count, then come back up to another 10-count.  And it’s a slow enough count to where you realize your leg muscles are not what you think they are.  You’ll be fine for a while, until all of a sudden, you’re not!  Then it’s fun standing back up…

You can also adjust a technique that’s slow much easier than if it’s going fast (with some exceptions for momentum).  If I’m lunging forward with a punch at full speed, I can’t always tell you exactly when my fist rotated, how close it was to the body, or if I was tightening the right muscles as I did it.  I have a general idea, but if I go slow, I can see and/or feel all of those details so much easier – and fix them if need be.

With a partner, slow training is invaluable.   Even though there were about two dozen or so higher-level black belts told to go slow at the camp, many of them couldn’t slow themselves down.  They had conditioned themselves to try techniques fast.  Why?  Well, I can say that sometimes I feel that speed will give me the power needed to make a technique “work”.  It just feels good to do it fast, even though it’s sometimes a hollow accomplishment and makes it really hard to improve on things.

For taiko, going slow means you can’t really get the snap of the bachi into the drum, but maybe that shouldn’t be the point of slow training.  Maybe instead you can focus on arm extension, connecting everything together, timing, etc.  You might find you’re bored playing a piece by yourself slowly, but I bet you could also find a lot of things you do that you can fix or do better.  The trick – and it’s a very hard trick indeed – is to make those changes happen when you go back to regular speed.  It could take a lot of slow reps or maybe even increasing the speed gradually with each rep with those issues in mind.

Momentum is really the only thing you lose when you train slowly.  Depending on what you need to work on, that could be very minor or tremendously important.  Do you need the explosiveness of the core muscles squeezing together in an instant to understand how to generate power?  Or are you looking to understand flow and how muscles connect one motion to the next?  Is the impact of the technique what you want to focus on?  Or are you trying to see where you can work on control?  Slow training isn’t for everything, but it is a revealing and powerful tool.

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