Whether you have years of experience or are beginning martial arts for the very first time, you’ll find yourself trying to learn techniques that feel unnatural or counter to your usual way of moving. It can be quite a challenge to force your body to do things it has never done before, or that feel awkward.
For those of you unaware, Lori O’Connell Sensei works in the movie industry when she’s not in the dojo, and I work in the security industry. Both of us have been training in the martial arts for a lengthy period of time, and we’ve both recently begun adding new physical skills to our repertoires for our work outside of the dojo. Lori Sensei has been working on her fight reactions for stunt work, while I have been working on my handcuffing skills. We have been practicing together, and it has led to some challenges.
Some of the movements are familiar, and are quite easy to pick up, while others are too similar, making them difficult to do because our bodies are already trained in a specific way. Other techniques are so very different that we have the same trouble, in that our bodies would much rather do something else entirely.
In both cases, I’ve been presented with some challenges to overcome. A while ago, I took part in two short courses on handcuffing taught by an RCMP trainer, and I found the movements he taught very intuitive and picked most of it up. I didn’t realize how much I’d picked up until doing the provincially sanctioned handcuffing course for security professionals a few weeks ago. While mostly quite similar, there are some differences, and I found myself, when under pressure, defaulting to the RCMP method.
In exchange for the opportunity to practice my handcuffing on Lori Sensei, I have been assisting her in her fight reactions. The challenges I have faced there are very similar to those I’ve been doing with handcuffing.
For instance, when conducting a movie fight, you’re not actually supposed to be aiming for the head, but about 8-inches in front of it. But when landing shots to the body, you can actually make contact, but not with much force. Both of these movements are very counter to my training, and I found myself routinely missing her by fractions of an inch as I pulled my punches at the last second, or landing shots to the body with a bit more force than necessary. It’s also difficult to exaggerating the strikes in larger, more telegraphing motions when I’m used to small, efficient movements.
In order to overcome my bodies trained reactions, I have been focusing on 3 different points.
Take Away The Stress
In order to make my body more open to doing something different, I remove all the potential elements of stress. I remind myself there’s no urgency, I ask my partner to keep any resistance to a minimum, and I…
I go slow… very slow. I focus on each movement and element of the technique I’m doing and work myself through it. I keep my brain engaged, and make it give orders to my body to overcome the trained reactions my body has. As I get more fluid with the technique, I can start to take my brain out of the equation, and speed will naturally start to develop. I get there by…
Practicing At Every Opportunity
Anyone who was at class yesterday would have seen me during open training running around handcuffing everyone in sight. In the case of Lori Sensei’s fight sequence, every time we run across each other while not teaching we run over the fight sequence. That doesn’t mean having to spend half an hour a day going through the moves, but just making sure to do it once or twice a day, in little two to three minute gaps. And that can be done performing the techniques on someone, or just mentally walking through the steps required to get the movement correct.
The methodology for overcoming the challenges of going against muscle memory I have recently been facing is not restricted to martial artists working on expanding their repertoire, but is also a good basis for anyone learning any new physical movements. Start by performing the techniques in a relaxed, comfortable and safe environment. Go slowly – speed comes with fluidity, and fluidity is developed by careful and repetitive practice. As with anything in life, if you want to improve, you have to practice at every opportunity.
Are there mental tricks you use when learning to do something new? Is there a certain approach that works well for you? Everyone learns a little differently, so please share your experiences in the comments and perhaps it can help someone else.