Consistent practice is perhaps the most important ingredient of getting better at anything, including martial arts. To really advance in your martial arts training, regular self-practice outside of class/lesson times is essential.
In this article, I suggest several ways to boost and sustain motivation in your training over time. First and foremost, it is helpful to adopt a particular mindset in viewing your training. Training is not mindless repetition. Instead, training should be a form of consistent deliberate practice and a process of discovery/exploration. Every training session can be an adventure, where you can uncover new or modify previous insights about both your own body and your chosen art.
A good training routine should:
- be performed consistently.
- not be monotonous (your art is brought alive by you). Feel free to mix up different aspects of training within one session. E.g. In Wing Chun, you may do wall bag punching and Siu Nim Tao on one day, and dummy form + stance training on another day. Or try out new techniques. Keep things interesting – to you.
- be enjoyable. Starting the session is the hardest part. But I have never once regretted a session after I did it. Remembering that you’ve always been glad after you practice makes it easier to make a start.
- rejuvenate you. I personally feel more connected/in-tuned with my mind & body after I practice. You may also feel an increase in energy and calmness.
Once you’ve established a regular training routine, results will follow. Listed below are strategies that have helped me to stay motivated and progress in my own training. You don’t need to attempt all these strategies simultaneously – this will only overwhelm and make you feel burned out. Just pick 1-3 strategies that appeal to you and try them out.
The Mini Habit Approach (book) – Set a very small minimum amount of training you will do each day
Because the hardest part is starting a training session, setting a small minimum time of practice lowers brain’s perception of the size of the task. E.g. A mini-habit goal might be to do (and be happy with) at least 5 mins of training per day (anything more is a bonus). This works to increase and sustain motivation as you are meeting your goal each day. Frequency of training is more important than length of a individual session (i.e. 10 mins per day is better than a 1-hr session per week).
You may read up more on the concept of the Mini Habit approach via the book.
Tracking Your Training – Keep a Journal
Whenever you need help forming a new habit, a good way is to setup an online spreadsheet, or write on a big wall calendar. Each time you complete a training session, record it. As the number of consecutive training sessions build up, you will be more motivated to not break the chain of successes.
Creating a tracker reminds you of your efforts and past successes, and encourage you to continue on.
In addition to tracking training sessions, it’s tremendously beneficial to write down insights/discoveries/feelings you gain during your training. Write down new techniques you’ve learnt during lessons. Write down things you want to work on. Write down everything (I personally use Evernote).
Set Some Goals
Create a short- or medium-term goal can spur motivation to train. For example, you may set a 1-month goal to become more proficient at Chum Kiu footwork, or be more smooth in executing chi sau traps, etc.
Set goals that are of interest and meaningful to you. Similarly, pick those aspects of your art that you feel like practicing on any particular day. Do anything to make your training more meaningful and enjoyable for you.
Watch movies & videos, read books, and attend events
Another great way to motivate training is to watch online videos/movies related to martial art. Reading martial art books can also lead you to new training ideas, or give you new perspectives.
You should also attend workshops and events. Meeting other people devoted to your art can be great inspiration.
Attend chi sau gatherings. Friendly rivalry can spur your to train harder to better equip yourself.
List and remind yourself the reasons for training
The more reasons you have for doing something, the easier is to do it. For martial art training, you reasons may include enhancing long term health, developing combat ability, cultivating mindfulness and boosting positivity, having better energy during the day, etc. Write your own reasons.
Create self-challenges – E.g. You may challenge yourself to practice Siu Nim Tao 10 mins daily for the next 30 days straight.
If all else fails, there’s always the Just Do It method. This can trigger automatically when you’re finally sick and tired of all the excuses (whether legit or not), and realize that there is no ‘perfect time’ for training. The perfect time is always today.
A few good books on deliberate practice:
- Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson, Robert Pool
- The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence by Josh Waitzkin
- The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
- The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner