by Dr. Jason Han
As a physical therapist, I take the fundamental movements of the human body and connect them to an activity — not just physically, but mentally, too.
I probably didn’t know it at the time, but I applied this mind-body connection throughout my career as a martial artist. Any student can work to achieve a mind-body connection, but it’s a process that requires a shift in mindset.
Coaches Tim Thackrey and Antony Graf from the Juice Athlete Compound and I had an important discussion several years ago about the efficiency of a training session. We asked ourselves, “How were we able to get so much out of a single 60-to 90 minute training session, where it seems some of our opponents had to do two to three trainings to match our benefit?”
The answer was simple: We valued quality over quantity. When we stepped on the mat, we were all business. We left whatever drama we had going on in our personal lives at the door. We made every repetition count because we valued our time in the dojang.
For our purposes, martial arts consists of numerous techniques to strike, block, hold and throw an opponent. If you refer to my last column, I broke down movement into five fundamental pieces: lower-body squatting, hip-hinging, upper-body pulling, upper-body pushing, and rotation.
Once the individual has competency moving in these planes, the next step is not to add load or resistance. Mental application of these movements is often the missing piece for many athletes. It essentially bridges the gap between impeccable movement and adding strength, endurance and power.
There are three components to mental application: Intention, Intensity and Acute Focus.
Intention: As a martial artist, would it be more effective if we were just squatting because it makes your legs stronger? Or, so you can develop the right muscles to side kick your opponent so he flies across the mat? The intention behind each strength and conditioning movement, whether it’s a squat, deadlift, bench press or a dumbbell row, is essential if you want carryover to your martial art.
How you engage your core, shoulder blades, forearm and hand muscles with a pull-up are very similar to how you would grip and pull an opponent toward you in practice. If you can train your body and mind at the same time, the possibilities are endless. Anyone can grab a weight and perform an exercise, but it takes someone willing to understand the importance and carryover of the movement to make it successful.
Intensity: Do your students bring their A-game every time they step on the mat? Are they able to maintain a level of effort needed to accomplish the tasks you are having them do?
I’ve personally always been the guy that wanted to know “why” we were doing something. It gave more meaning to what I was doing, so I could push my intensity, even though sometimes, I admit, I would much rather have taken a nap.
A certain level of intensity is needed for training to be beneficial. I don’t expect students to give max intensity effort during a long stretching session. But when it comes to a drill that involves three to five strikes or takedowns, they have to make every movement count.
Acute Focus: Can your students “turn it on” at the drop of a hat? If we were ever to encounter a physical altercation in the real world, we don’t necessarily have the time to get mentally prepared. If you think of practice as a music piece, there are specific times when the energy and intensity increase.
And that’s what we’re looking for in practice. We need to develop our students’ abilities to get acutely focused when the time is right. Once they finish their water break, they are ready to go. When you’re teaching a new technique, they are ready to go. When they are about to break a board, they are ready to go!
From a mental standpoint, there are many factors to creating the most effective training environment possible. Having a certain level of Intention, Intensity and Acute Focus will not only lead to better performance and less injuries, but longevity within your program.
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