My teacher often teaches seminars in Presas Arnis to folks he's connected to in the empty hand arts, usually folks who are karate or taekwondo stylists.
I love helping out at these seminars. I love sharing my art, for one. My art is somewhat obscure in the scheme of things and introducing it to new people is so fun. I love helping people become proficient and confident in what we're teaching them, too. It's a blast.
The bonus at the seminar is that I am usually his highest ranking Arnis student there (often his only student there), so I got to be uke for most of it. I don't get to be uke much, especially at seminars, because honestly, showing bad-ass techniques on a short middle aged woman isn't usually that impressive.
We often start off with double-stick single sinawali - aka "diamond pattern" or "basic" sinawali - and then taught a lot of material from there, using single sinawali as the "base" drill. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I am a big-time believer in sinawali and what it teaches us (read about it here and here).
It's a simple drill, though, with lots of great opportunity for repetition with both hands. Here's a video of Brian Johns explaining the drill and how he teaches it to kids:
There was this specific time when I was working the room helping out at one of these seminars.
I noticed some people doing the drill with their shoulders scrunched up, their arms and legs stiff and planted, and with intense looks of concentration on their faces. These are not kids or kyu-ranked folks, mind you - these are black belts, and several were higher degree black belts to boot.
You experienced, long-term martial artists out there - does that sound familiar to you? Does that sound exactly like what white belts do in their first few weeks of training, regardless of your style?
They needed to RELAX.
I worked them through a quick exercise I often do with new students who are stiff and tense. I had them take a deep breath and tense up every muscle in their body - toes to face and everything in between - and hold it for a few seconds. Then I had them let it all go. I then told them that the relaxed feeling they had after all that tension is how they should feel doing Arnis.
Sure enough, they relaxed, and their shoulders went down, and they started moving more naturally - and lo and behold, they got better at sinawali really quickly.
Relaxed muscles are fast muscles, and our art is all about speed (power comes through speed and the mass of what is coming at you, be it a stick, a pen, or a fist). I also notice that people who are tensed up tend to have a harder time targeting properly (never mind getting the footwork down).
There is more to it, though, that just physically relaxing.
They needed to chill.
Think about the times when we've been learning something new - in the martial arts, or in other parts of our lives.
We need to let our worries go a little bit so we can comprehend what we're learning.
We need to not fret about screwing things up and making mistakes - because we will. It's part of the learning process.
We need to not allow the worst case scenarios dominate our thinking early. In learning sinawali, generally speaking, that'd be the fear of either hitting your partner or getting hit yourself. It's not that bad, promise.
When we're new to things, it seems like there are an overwhelming number of things to learn and skills to master. Over time, though, we discover pretty quickly it's typically simpler than we think it is, right?
To master skills in the martial arts, just like other things in life, we have to relax and chill.
As my oldest daughter would say...
How do you help new students "chillax"? What are some of the ways you help yourself "chillax" when you're working on something new? Let us know in the comments!