Many people wonder how to make movements automatic and reactive in developing their martial arts skills. I can understand disappointment if you practice all your basics regularly on your own and see little if any results. Besides increasing the repetitions, how are martial arts skills built?
I will speak for Wing Tsun Kungfu since it is the martial art that I have spent the most time with. However, I believe it is the same with other arts as I spent years in Korean karate and Filipino Escrima. One should think about the intent of the movements.
In solo practice, one should think how the technique is applied as you perform the technique. In Wing Tsun, we teach the application along with the techniques. If your movement has a certain purpose and you think about that purpose as you perform them, your movements become more purposeful! They have meaning. If you are supposed to be defending against a fast hook punch, you should think deeply how you are to make it a successful defense. It cannot be successful if all you do is weakly throw your arms in the air.
In Wing Tsun, we learn to expel all the energy from the end of our fist at the end of an air punch. Likewise, in wall bag hitting, we expel all the power in our arm when we contact the bag, whether it be 10% power or 100% power. We should be doing this in solo practice.
We can also speed up the movement and put some emotion into our strikes. If somebody is going to knock our head off, one should react with appropriate alarm and energize ourselves to put our attacker out of action. If such emotions scare you, maybe you should take up checkers or badminton. This is self-defense, after all. The benefits can be realized when you act like a martial artist.
When practicing with a partner, some ground rules should be established with the instructor’s permission and your partner’s agreement or just with your partner when doing it outside the martial arts school. The degree of enthusiasm and the level of contact or no contact needs to be understood between the participants. In Wing Tsun practice, many actions are nullified almost before the get started with the “sticky hands” aspect. A defender can feel a movement being initiated through the wrist, arm shoulder, or leg. Even so, the participants must movement with an idea of your own in mind (intention), not necessarily the prearranged sequences. To free up the movements, both participants must have good control of attacking techniques for safety.
Without intention, a martial arts practice can become little more than a dance. Martial arts skills involved in the successful defense of one’s body will not increase. This is true no matter how graceful your steps are, how fast your offense or defense is or how loud a noise you can make on a hand target or a bag.
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg