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Repetition in Martial Arts Practice

Repetition may be the single most important factor in achieving martial arts skills. The human being needs repeated movements to work out the details and build the technique into what some call “muscle memory.” It should be obvious that practice makes perfect. However, some people may drastically underestimate how much practice some techniques will require.

In addition, many people may not know how to go about it. Practice can be broken down into segments. If a technique will require 1,000 repetitions to get correct, it can be broken down in to four sessions of 250 repetitions done on different occasions. It is not helpful, however, to wait a long time between sessions. Two weeks between sessions negates the effect.

In Wing Tsun, we want to build automatic responses into our cerebellum which is the physical learning center of the little brain as opposed to the cerebrum, or the part of the brain that does thinking. In self-defense, there is no time to think about it. Your body must move on its own. Training makes the movements automatic but we must do many, many repetitions.

It is much more effective in most cases, to separate the body parts in practice sessions. Wing Tsun’s ancient first form teaches us this idea. The first form starts with no foot movement outside of the stance set-up. After that the first section is done slowly with one hand at a time. The second section is done with two hands both performing the same technique. The third section is again done with one hand at a time but with more complex sequences.

Moving on to the second form, called Chum Kiu, taught at the intermediate stage, the hands each do a different movement and the footwork is adding to the complexity. Hands and feet are required to move in a coordinated way.

In personal training, this teaches us that we may take parts of the whole self-defense or fighting technique and practice them separately. When we feel comfortable with that, we can combine it with the other hand doing a different technique, then combine it with footwork.

In movements that confound you, it is possible that after you have warmed up after 10 – 20 minutes and you still feel uncomfortable with the movement you are practicing, you will be physically relaxed and resigned to the difficulty. A light bulb will often light up in your mind. You will have discoveries about your ability to learn.

-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg

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