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12 Rules for Training, Part 1

lesson learned mentor Oct 07, 2019

by Dave Kovar


To be quality martial arts instructors, we must keep up with our own training. Over the decades, I’ve relied on a dozen rules that have helped me develop my skills and maintain my longevity in the dojo.

The rules started as unconscious habits, but as time went by, I became mindfully aware of them to such an extent that I solidified them into rules. Whenever I put them into practice, good things happen. I’m confident you will find them as valuable in your training.


1          Empty Your Cup

Most martial arts instructors have their students bow onto the mat before they train and bow off the mat afterward. They do this for a variety of reasons, but the one that’s most important for me is it helps me empty my cup. Bowing can remind you that the world outside ends the moment you step onto the mat.

By making this action a ritual and consciously trying to clear your head before every training session, you will find it easier to maintain shoshin, or beginner’s mind.


2          Focus on the Present

It’s easy to get distracted during class. Your mind can wander from the skill you’re practicing to what happened at work to what you’re going to eat for dinner. You must remember that the more aware you become of your distractions, the more easily you can overcome them.

As the old saying goes, “The secret of true concentration lies in the acceptance of endless distractions.” The trick is to not beat yourself up when you’re distracted. Instead, simply acknowledge the distraction and then re-focus on the task at hand. Over time, your focus will improve dramatically.


3          Don’t Compare

It’s natural to compare ourselves to the other people with whom we share the mat. Sometimes, the comparisons make us look good, and other times not so much. The thing to remember is that these comparisons are never fair. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. We all are running our own race.

If you’re like your peers, you also may compare yourself to the martial artist you were when you were younger. This is not fair, either. The best thing you can do is focus on doing your best at any given moment no matter how those around you are doing. This is easy to say and hard to do — but definitely worth the effort.


4          Warm up Thoroughly

As we age, this rule becomes increasingly important. Beginning your training with a complete warm-up is advised for people of all ages, but it’s a necessity for older martial artists. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I could have avoided many of the injuries I sustained over the years if I’d warmed up properly.


5          Focus on One Detail at a Time

Like most martial artists, I know that I have room for improvement in certain areas. And I know that if I try to fix all my flaws at the same time, I’ll get nowhere. I’ve found a better approach: Focus on one detail at a time. Once you feel like you’ve made progress, focus on another detail. (This is the same approach I encourage my students to use in training.)


6          Visualize the Application

After I’ve practiced a technique sufficiently for it to become part of my “muscle memory,” I try to imagine a situation in which I might apply that technique, whether on the mat, in a ring, in a cage or in a back alley. The more clearly I visualize the context, the more prepared I become. Chances are this will have the same effect on you.


(To be concluded in the next issue of MASuccess.)


To contact Dave Kovar, send an email to [email protected]

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