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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

4 Lessons in the Martial Arts (I Keep Re-Learning)

By now, I'm not exactly a martial arts newbie.

I started in April 2008, and except for a period when I was pregnant with my younger daughter (I still did a bit of tai chi during that time, though) I've been training pretty continuously since that time.

So you'd think, by now, I'd have internalized certain core lessons that I've literally been being told by my teachers since 2008.

You'd think.

Here are 4 lessons I keep relearning in the martial arts:


I think most of us do this sometimes.  We are working on a kata or a drill, and we just cruise through it as fast as we can, thinking that doing it fast is doing it well.

But you and I both know that fast doesn't equal good, or powerful, or even correct.  It only demonstrates that you know the sequence of motions well enough to not have to think hard about them.

I would argue that you're completely missing the point if you speed through what you're doing.  We're supposed to be thinking about what we're doing while we practice.  We're supposed to think about our stances, our transitions, our targeting, our hip rotation, our blocking, visualizing what's going on in the form (bunkai)... all that stuff WITHIN the form or drill we're practicing.

If we aren't going slowly enough to think about it, I don't think we're getting all we can get from a drill or a form.


Related to the above, working to the point where things are not discrete motions in space, but a series of motions intended to be continuous and related to one another.

It's a scatter plot vs. a line graph.

Be like the right side, not the left.

The way to make the transition happen is to slow down and work on being smooth.  If you can do this, speed and power comes naturally.  Smooth motion and correct technique makes one powerful, not just being strong and using muscles in itself.

This is super important if you're a stubby little middle aged woman like yours truly.  I will never be able to defend against bigger and stronger people if I don't slow down and learn the proper technique that helps me overcome lack of pure strength.

This is a lesson I've been re-learning over and over and over again as I study kobudo weapons.


Long story short, tense and bunched up muscles are slow muscles. Relaxed muscles are fast muscles.

But also, relaxation isn't just about the body.  It's about the mind.

Don't let all the worries that are going through your head - I'll never understand this thing, I don't like what I'm doing right now, ugh I'm so bad at this why do I bother, why won't my body move the way I want it to... and so on and so on...

Let it go.  Relax.

For example, I really struggled when I was first learning sai.  It took me a while to realize why I was having so much trouble (other than I have zero natural talent with the weapon). I was tense and hard and trying to use my muscles to generate power than technique. My brain was going 100 miles an hour as I was trying to think about how to make that weapon move and work (and not drop a sai on my bare foot, which is not a non-trivial problem).

Once I realized what was happening, I didn't let my mind and body tense up when I was practicing, and it made a big difference. I don't think I'll ever be super-great with sai, but when I just relax, I don't completely suck with them any more.


I'm not a gifted athlete, not by any stretch of the imagination.  And I'll never be.  I'm not born that way.

But by putting in the time in practice, I can overcome that lack of talent to a certain degree.

This is important to realize when you're in a class and you see talented natural athletes around you picking up everything way faster than you do, and you feel discouraged seeing how good they are and how bad you are.

Some people are just naturally good at stuff and some of us are, well, me. And that's okay. I have to work harder and practice more on things like fundamentals. I like think that makes me know them a little better than the folks who learn everything easily do (I understand the fine details and the why - I have to).

My road is longer and harder than a natural athlete's, but it still leads to the same place.

So what lessons are you re-learning over and over again in the martial arts?  Let us know in the comments!

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